Monday, 24 October 2016

The Joy of Mushroom Foraging

I've rediscovered the pure joy of mushroom foraging! My Dad introduced me to it when I was little and we used to go into the pre-pyrenees mountains to look for them.  

Not sure what it is - but I'm guessing toxic!
Yesterday, after a week of photo exchanges on the family WhatsApp group, not only my Dad but my brother had been showing off their finds, I decided it was time to see what Mallorca had to offer. It's rained a lot this week so I thought it would be a good time.

Rovellons or esclats de sang- the prized mushroom of my childhood - like wet, mossy ground in pine forests. That's all I know really!

Cute but what is it?
Husband and I headed off mid morning to... ha, no true mushroom hunter ever reveals where he goes. Let's just say, it was in the south west of Mallorca.

It was Sunday and our destination was disappointingly full of cars. Cars filled the off road car park. Cars were lined up along the narrow country road. Our expectations were low. We didn't even take a basket. 

I've recently read, when collecting mushrooms you must use a basket so that the spores can scatter as you walk through the forest.

We got out of the car and immediately saw a mushroom beside the back tyre. It was not one I recognised but it seemed like an excellent sign. A few minutes down the road, we saw another bright yellow one. Definitely toxic, I thought.  Google agreed. A minute after that, we spotted another.

Beautiful but poisonous!
None of the four types of mushroom we spotted in the first five minutes of our walk were edible, and yet I was already jumping up and down with excitement. I felt high on nature, high on being on this grown up treasure hunt.

(I'm giving a business consultant feedback on her book about 'personal power'. There's a part about how we should raise our energy levels by reconnecting with our passions and dedicating time to doing things that makes us feel joyful. What was the last thing that made you really happy? Do it!)

Our plan was to join a hiking route, but half way before we got to the start, we decided to go off road and check out a mossy patch. Immediately we saw two more species of mushroom. The thorny bushes were vicious, cutting up our legs and arms, but we couldn't resist continuing.
Rovellons - edible and delicious!

My husband spotted the first rovello. It was a little paler than I was used to but I got down on my knees and scraped around it to check the colour underneath. There's a trickster mushroom called un rop which is almost identical to the rovello but white underneath. 

This one was pink underneath. Result!  Beside it there was a smaller one... and not far from it... another and another and another! It was incredible. We had only been walking ten minutes and we found 11 in one spot!

In the evening we fried garlic in olive oil and then added our mushrooms. The idea is you fry them until all the water leaves them. We had them on toast with a glass of red wine. It felt quite something to have foraged for your own dinner. 

After his first successful mushroom trip, my husband feels very confident. He thinks it was as easy as picking them up from the supermarket. Tomorrow we'll head out again and we'll see if it was beginners luck!


Extract from my book Shop Girl Diaries (Diary entry: 2nd October 2008)

It was just me and my Dad on the trip. Mum stayed to run the shop.
          We arrived in the village at night; the air smelt of earth and blown out candles. This was the village of my childhood. It was where I’d learnt that lizards lost their tails when in danger and a Calimocho was wine mixed with Coca Cola.
          In the morning the sun was shining.
          Time expanded.
          Old men sat on benches chewing toothpicks. They grunted and stared.
          Everyone who passed by was under scrutiny.
          Papa and I sat out on the balcony with our books, pens and newspapers.      
          The Spanish papers had adopted a tabloid tone for that week’s disaster. The stock exchange was collapsing; the banks were in trouble.
          Papa rubbed his hands together and looked excited.
          ‘I’m getting very worried!’ he said.
          I looked across at the sleepy plaza.
          The sun was out and a breeze was gently lifting the pants on the washing line.
          I could hear the clang of cow bells.
          It was hard to muster any worry in the pueblo.
          Perhaps If I’d had money I would’ve been a bit more concerned. It felt good not to own anything.
          In the afternoon we headed into the forest.
          I felt about twelve years old with my wicker basket and as free as a mountain goat.
          Rovellons are like big, fat orange buttons sown into the earth.
          There weren’t lots about and I was thrilled by each one I found.
          ‘We’re going back to our roots, aren’t we?’ I said. ‘We’re hunters again!’
          In the evening, Papa fried the mushrooms with garlic.
          ‘What else could we find in the forest?’
          I had a devilish desire to shoot a rabbit.
          ‘Cauliflower,’ Papa said.
          We followed the same simple pattern each day.
          I wrote endlessly, plotting my novel about the phoenix until my head hurt.
          It was perfect.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Unproductive Days and Changing your Mindset

I was listening to a podcast as I do when I'm fishing for wisdom on an unproductive day. The kind of useless day when everything seems so impossible and frustrating, and everyone so annoying and demanding. The sort of day you want to throw yourself on the floor and thrash your arms and legs about like a furious toddler suffering some terrible injustice. Like not being allowed to shoplift Peppa Pig or shovel M&Ms up your nose.

The subject was the Successful Author Mindset and I was half listening, half observing the familiar knot of anxiety in my stomach caused by the feeling this day was not going to be salvaged. A few words on the podcast caught my attention and I rewound the cheerful voice of Joanna Penn. She was talking about a book called “The Success Principles” by Jack Canfield.  
The first thing it says is take 100% responsibility for your life.
100%? I considered my unhappy predicament, my restlessness and angst. 100% seemed rather a lot of responsibility.
Was it true? Should I?
I suppose I hadn't got much done today because I was tired. I was tired because we'd had a friend to visit and we'd treated Monday like a Saturday night. We'd drunk quite a bit and it takes me at least two days to recover from a hangover. So that did explain why I wasn't feeling very focused. I could have drunk less so I guess I had to take responsibility for that.
What else was wrong?
Okay, I'd been feeling a bit sorry for myself which was contributing to my weariness. I was feeling sorry for myself because I'm not yet a rich, bestselling author with books translated in every language from Chinese to Chamicuro*.
(*Chamicuro is a language from Peru and apparently has only 8 native speakers. It's probably only oral so it's a silly example, for which I apologise half heartedly.)    
But wasn't the reason I wasn't a rich best selling blablabla my responsibility too? I could have become a plastic surgeon if I'd wanted to make some money a bit quicker. And if I wanted to be a best seller then it was up to me to write more than three books, wasn't it?
Oh, I thought. And I realised I had no one to blame for my terrible day and no reason to feel any more terrible than necessary.

It cheered me up knowing I could take so much responsibility for my life. Now to decide what to do with it... 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Palma Marathon - finishing line!

This is just a short post to let you know I made it to the finish line! After training in my hilly neighbourhood my fitness level was better than expected. In fact, I really enjoyed the half marathon course and felt great until kilometre 19.... fortunately by then the end was in sight!

ProActiva Opens Arms will have just received the 100 euros I wanted to raise - thank you for the support! I really believe every little helps!

Would I run it again?  Definitely. 

Would I ever run a full marathon? I doubt it very much!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Writing vs Running - #PalmaMarathon

There are definitely parallels between running long distance and writing a novel. For starters, I never feel like doing either. Not at first, anyway.

Once I start though, I'm pleasantly surprised by the initial flow. 

This is amazing! I think. Why didn't I start sooner?

Five kilometres later, or 50 written pages, it's another story.  

What on earth was I thinking? This isn't fun at all!  

And after I've pushed through the pain barrier and I've found my rhythm:

This feels so natural! I could do this forever! I was born to do this!

And a little later:

I can't go on! I'm getting a cab back!  

Then finally the elation of reaching the goal:

I did it! I feel amazing! I'm going to do this every day!

Sound familiar?

At the moment I'm actually really enjoying writing my new novel. Running however, is proving more challenging. The Palma half marathon, (21 km), is in less than three weeks and I need to up my game. I only run once a week, and although 14 km certainly feels a lot, I should be running more regularly.

The other day I was feeling like pulling out when I received a donation in my inbox. I'd only made a tentative announcement I would be donating any money raised to ProActiva Open Arms so it was quite a lovely surprise. It also means I can't quit now!

You probably haven't heard of them. ProActiva Open Arms is a charity made up of coastguards from Barcelona, who were so horrified by the amount of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, they headed over to Greece to help. While governments talked, these guys got practical. Their facebook updates reveal how hard they are working and how many lives they save each day. I know there are so many charities needing our help, but I'd love to be able to raise 100 95 euros for this inspiring crew of people!  

Every little helps, really. The race is on 16th October. Thank you so much for reading!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Story of an African Adventure - Chance meeting with adventurous author Roxana Valea

It was obvious as soon as I arrived in the plush beach club that I wasn't supposed to be there. It appeared to be a networking event for Germans. Not any old German, but rich German business men.

Conversation dried up seconds after I shook each hand. It didn't take long for people to discern I wasn't a CEO of a huge company and move away to talk to someone who might be. 

It was supposed to be a social meet up, an event forwarded by a friend of my husband's. I may as well have stumbled into a board meeting.

We sipped our free champagne and did our best to engage the stiff audience. It was so awkward it was funny. A woman wearing a blazer complained of the heat. I could have suggested she took it off, but I don't think she wanted to upset her uniform. We hadn't got the memo about the uniform. Everyone was wearing the same: suit jacket, shirt, smart jeans and loafers with no socks. In 35 degrees heat. Rock on.

We might have gone if she hadn't arrived. Dressed in a pretty blue and white dress and sparkly earrings, the woman seemed brighter and bubblier than the whole party put together. Hearing she spoke English I headed over hoping for a bit of relief from the stilted small talk. I didn't know that this woman and I were about to become firm friends. That we would end up touring Mallorca together and sharing ideas for our future books.

From the very first conversation, my husband and I were gripped by Roxana's stories. She told us how she had given up a stable job in Switzerland to travel through Africa with two strangers she'd met over the internet. The eight month journey in 2002 had taken her from Morrocco to Nambia, travelling through war-torn countries and desert, surviving threats from corrupt official and enduring the most challenging modes of transport!

She must have told these stories a million times, and yet she delivered them with so much enthusiasm and humour. I was utterly hooked. We invited her to watch a football game in a much less posh tapas bar the next day. Being the sort of person who says Yes, she came.  

Roxana gave me her book a week ago. It's called Through Dust and Dreams, and recounts her journey through Africa. I was slightly concerned. There's nothing worse than someone you like giving you their book only for you to discover it's rubbish or badly written. You then either have to pretend to like it or tell them you haven't got around to reading it yet. I told myself that if her verbal storytelling was anything like her written, it couldn't be that bad!

I'm relieved to say, her book didn't disappoint. Her journey is epic. As a reader I thoroughly enjoyed being taken to places I doubt I will ever go in real life. Places I feel curious about, but am quite happy to learn about from the comfort of my sofa! Through deserts, down rivers, piled into boats and squeezed into trucks, there are moments of great exhaustion and great elation. 

It isn't just the story of a demanding physical voyage, it's also a story of an internal one. She describes the tensions between her travel mates and the struggles within herself. 

"Africa taught me that as soon as you give up trying to find a solution, it finds you," she writes. Many of the lessons she learns on her journey will make you pause to reflect. Some might even inspire you to start living a little differently!

When I find a book I love, it gives me great pleasure to share it. If you're in need of an adventure, if you want to escape to another world, if you want to switch off from the order of your life, go ahead and buy it. But let me warn you, this isn't the Africa of safari parks, this is far more gritty and uncomfortable! 


Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Moving Country: What do you miss when you're away?

"You've got to watch the meat," she warned me. "Spanish meat is a bit funny."

I was on a flight to Mallorca. This was it. I had no return ticket or any intention of getting one. I was heading to my new home. Beside me were two young women who were going to the the island to work as night club promoters in Magaluf for the summer. It was 9.00 in the morning and they were already on the booze. Between their alcohol intake and my excitement we'd struck up a conversation.

"When we're there we survive on pasta," her friend went on. 

I nodded and pretended to be on the same wavelength. The truth was, I wasn't at all concerned about the meat in Spain. When I thought of Spanish meat, I thought of tender lamb chops on the barbeque and peppery sausages.  Growing up, my Mum only visited the butcher when were in Spain. Lately my Dad had started bringing over packets of the finest cured ham, Jamon de Bellota, to London. Now I was moving, he wouldn't need to do that any more. 

"It gets cold too around October," the girls said. "We had to wrap ourselves in towels last year."

My eyes widened in sympathy, but really I was wondering why they hadn't bought a blanket. Spain might not have meat to their taste, but it definitely had lots of shops!

It's been over a year since I moved and for the first time I woke up the other day and I wished it would rain. I wanted it be cloudy, rainy and cold. Ha, I thought, Mallorca has finally cracked me. But to be honest the feeling didn't last. I wouldn't give up this sunshine without a fight!

I bet lots of Brits abroad miss the taste of British milk and butter. However I've been coming back and forward to Spain all my life and have got used to the flavour of their milk. As for butter, I haven't eaten much of it in years. I'm happy rubbing tomato, oil and salt on my bread. In Catalunya they call it pa amb tomaquet, in Mallorcan pamboli.

I miss ginger beer. Yep, Enid Blyton would understand. I bought some rum for a party the other day and suddenly craved the fresh taste of ginger beer and rum mixed together with lime. It was one of my favourite drinks in England. Here, the option is coca cola, and I hate mixing drinks with coke because in the end it just tastes like coke.

And other than food and drink?

Boots. I miss Boots. Not the shoes, but the shop. In Boots everything you could ever want is on display. Over here, you have to go to the pharmacy and ask for everything over the counter. What can I say? I get embarrassed easily. I love the anonymity of Boots.  Plus medicine and vitamins here are a lot more expensive.

Among the cast of characters in the new novel I'm working on is a retired British couple. They are facing the challenge of life in a new country with varying degrees of enthusiasm. It got me thinking...  

BACON! Sorry. I forgot about that one. Britain does the best smoked bacon. Once my relatives brought serrano ham to England, now they bring British bacon to Spain. I didn't predict that one!

What do you miss when you are away?

N.B. To friends and family, don't be offended, obviously I miss you a bit!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Will our narcissistic selfie culture ever end?!

I know what you're thinking. Who am I to judge, right? 

My social media accounts are all about me. I've got a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and I'm on Instagram. I write a lot about little me and my wonderful little life. 

But at least it's about writing, travel, books...  At least I'm not just taking the same picture of my face over and over again. If that ever happens, unfollow me and send a therapist. 

Last week I went to the beach and watched as a girl spent over an hour standing in the water taking selfies of herself with the aid of a tripod and selfie stick. I'm not exaggerating the time. She was still at it when I left the beach. She probably is at it now. She'll probably emerge at some point and discover fish have nibbled off her legs. But as long as her pictures make it look like she's having the best time ever, she probably won't care.

I get it! A solo traveller wants to show they are somewhere nice. A group wants everyone in the photo together. Fine! A couple of photos is okay. A lovely memory. But a whole photo session of yourself endlessly posing, trying desperately to prove what a fabulous time you're having is pitiful.  

Every time I go to the beach it's the same story. I want to shout at these desperate photographers, That's enough! Put a snorkel on! Go explore! Live a life worth documenting!

Half the time selfies don't even show the background. No I can't see that amazing sunset because your face is taking up the whole screen. If you'd just asked one of the dozen people around you to take the shot, like we did in the old days, it would have made a decent picture. Instead no one knows where you are, plus you've got a double chin. 

Frankly it's a big bonus if there's a fancy background at all. Plenty of selfie-takers are satisfied taking their picture in the bathroom. It's always the same practised smile. The same arranged hair. These photos are so boring I want to cry.

When will it end? When will we stop feeling the need to photograph our face every time we move. Please God, let it be soon.  

N.B. Quite possibly illustrating this post with a selfie has come across as hypocritical. My other option was...

...but I thought this was more about oversharing than selfies, which I've also ranted about in my post The Oversharing Sickness, do you have it?