Tag Archives: Bizarre

Alas Myth and Cones: Counting the Costa traffic jams in a city of red lights

18 Jul

I am lucky enough to have two homes. One is a sunshine villa 30 minutes’ drive from Alicante airport, the other a modest semi 18 miles north of Manchester’s three flight terminals.

An airport trip at the English end is subject to an electrifying hazard in the form of 50 sets of traffic lights. The consolation is that no more than 47 tend to be stuck on red at any given time.

If you are lucky enough to actually catch your flight, you do at least face a delightful evening discussing traffic lights with the Spanish cabbie driving you to Guardamar on the N332.

Mention the super-hazard of every street corner in Britain and the taxi driver’s conversation is likely to consist of a quizzical look and the words ‘Que es trah-fick-lie-eat?’

Odds are he won’t know what you are talking about because, believe it or not, there’s not a single set of the things between Alicante and my Costa Blanca home.

At the Manchester end one can, of course, avoid the red-light menace by heading for the airport via the city’s Park-And-Don’t-Move service, otherwise known as the M60 motorway.

That trip is no fun either, aRoadworks on the A21nd unless you give yourself at least two days to get to the airport, a couple of hours with your head immersed in 50 Shades of Red may well be less stressful than counting traffic cones.

Either way, both routes to the airport provide ideal material for a ‘100 Reasons to Escape Manchester’ publicity blitz.

What sort of voyeur gets a kick out of watching traffic cones breeding on the M60, for heaven’s sake? Last time I used the so-called ring road I counted 428 million giant ice-cream cornets during a six-mile crawl to the Trafford Centre. The 14-hour trip was marginally quicker than taking the car but my knees didn’t half hurt by the time I reached my destination. And I was suffering from orange-and-white colour blindness into the bargain.

One of the few perks of driving to Manchester airport via the city centre is that you can stop off for a coffee and a bacon butty. The down side is the £60 parking fine you’ll inevitably get in addition to burning off eight gallons of unleaded in a desperate attempt to park sideways on the single metre of kerb untainted by double yellow lines.

I appreciate that comparing the Costa del Salford with the Costa del Sol is akin to confusing Bury Market with the London Stock Market. But that’s a bourse-case scenario.

There are, in fact, many leisurely compensations for those who choose not to drive in what must surely be the wettest part of the UK. One is enjoying a morning swim to the office in downtown Mancunia’s high-street ocean, known to the aquatic community as the Sea of Umbrellas. The rush hour is so busy that there’s no choice but to do the crawl, and not only because the breast stroke is illegal and a butterfly as rare as an English Mark Spitz.

Which brings me on to football or, for the gob-fearing amongst us, the mouths of Wayne Rooney and Kompany.

Manchester is of course home to two top football teams, namely Bury and Oldham Athletic. Fortunately I don’t support Man United or Man City either, which is a bit of a relief since I don’t speak German (heaven help whoever puts the names on United players’ shirts) and with my flight back to Spain only 24 hours away, I’m pretty low on Sterling too (boom boom).

Oh, a geeky friend just called to say there are actually 49 sets of traffic lights between my Whitefield home and Manchester Airport. Using the bacon-butty route, that is.

I believe there are also 49 million traffic cones between Anfield in Liverpool and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

All paid for in Sterling, of course.

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How Peter Andre opened a door to happiness for sick Daisy

14 Dec

Daisy in hospital recently

Daisy in hospital recently

THE last four months have been a living hell for my granddaughter Daisy.

She’s spent roughly half that time in hospital, has lost two stone in weight and her once-rosy cheeks have been replaced by a ghostly white complexion.

She is currently on a medical regime which involves taking 32 pills a day…plus a fortnightly injection she describes as ‘’like a really bad wasp sting’’.

Even when Daisy is not in hospital, she’s bent double in agony much of the time and cannot go to school. Such is life for a 12 year-old with a particularly aggressive type of Crohn’s Disease.
At what should be the most exciting time of her life, she’ll become a teenager next month not knowing what the future holds. If she is lucky, the ulceration of her bowel will respond to treatment and the digestive spasms that crease her up will ease – just as they did for her older sister Rosie, 21. She has the same incurable illness as Daisy, but has been in remission for four years.

If she’s unlucky, Daisy will require major surgery. It all seems so unfair for a youngster whose dad suffered a massive brain haemorrhage when she was three years old and has been in hospital, paralysed and blind, ever since.

Last Friday Daisy was discharged from her latest hospital stay, even though she was far from well. The lives of her medical team would have been at risk had they refused to let her go. Her mother Hayley  had booked tickets to see Peter Andre ‘Up Close and Personal’  at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre and this was one event she was NOT going to miss.

Two years ago, Daisy was photographed with singing heartthrob Andre at a CD signing at a local ASDA store in Manchester – and prayed for the day she could see her idol in concert. Now it was actually going to happen…with family friend Louisa, a qualified nurse, joining Hayley’s entourage at the Apollo in case Daisy’s pains became intolerable during the evening.

We’d been racking our brains for a way to contact Peter Andre in the hope he might just find time to say hello to her. We knew it was a forlorn hope…and with 3,500 fans yelling for his attention at the Apollo, that forlorn hope quickly deteriorated to ‘no chance’. Their seats were four rows from the back…just about as far from the stage as it was possible to get.

Frail Daisy was dwarfed by adults vying for the best viewing points and as everyone leapt to their feet to welcome their hero, she was left staring at people’s backs. In desperation, she stood on her seat to get a better view and was immediately ordered down by the fans behind her.

In tears, she resigned herself to the worst. At least she could hear her idol, she reasoned. That was better than nothing.

Then fate took a hand in the most dramatic way. Someone pointed out a free seat in the very back row; here was a chair Daisy could stand on without fear of being ordered to sit down and where she could get an uninterrupted, if distant, view of her beloved Peter.
The six-stone waif was about to enter dreamland.
In the distance, Andre left the stage as his dancing entourage began a routine to the tune of John Lennon’s Imagine.

Then the hand of fate took over. ‘Suddenly Peter emerged from a door just to Daisy’s right, singing – and started walking along the aisle behind us,’’ says Hayley.

“Daisy turned round and he saw her straight away. She was crying hysterically and Peter came straight over to her and started singing to her. He touched her face and she grabbed his arm…and then he moved away.

“Daisy somehow found the energy to jump over the seat and run after him but was held back by one of his minders.

daisy with peter andre

HAPPY DAY: Peter signs a CD for Daisy in 2010

“But it was an amazing experience for her and a fantastic pick-me-up that none of us could have dreamed of.’’

Daisy is still overcome by the experience: ‘’I can’t believe what happened. I and lots of my friends had been tweeting him for two weeks hoping he might just agree to say hi to me but it was more in hope than expectation. Then it just happened all by chance. I actually felt the muscles in his arm and I can tell you he smelt wonderful!’’

A great perfumance, you might say – and one that brought a rare smile from a child whose happy personality has been knocked sideways by her health problems.

We all know that pain and happiness just don’t mix. But for those few wonderful seconds at the back of the Apollo, agony turned to ecstasy for a sick child…and the hand of fate showed its gentle side.

Thanks, Peter.

Published in The Courier (www.thecourier.es) December 7, 2012

How my psychic dog proved mutts DO have a sixth sense…

18 Feb

I love both cats and dogs – with a marginal preference for moggies. And that’s because they have cleaner habits than poo-ches, whose noses should be avoided at all costs because you know exactly where they have been.

Anything clean and healthy is not to be sniffed at as far as Fido and his pals are concerned. Far better to savour the pungent pong of canine excreta at any opportunity and then lick the residue lovingly into their owner’s face.

Some dogs, however, are extra special. Like Carrie, who was my best friend for 15 years until I found her frozen body on the back doorstep of our home in Manchester one frosty winter morning. But more of that later.

Carrie was a small sandy mongrel with white markings – probably a whippet cross because she hared across the local park so rapidly that I swear she overtook herself half way across!

She was around two years old when we inherited her from our younger daughter’s best friend, who was moving abroad with her family. We already had a couple of cats and whilst initially Carrie and the moggies treated each other with caution, they quickly became great mates and indeed would often snuggle together in a basket at bedtime.

A few years earlier we had invested a large sum in a pedigree Irish setter puppy and inherited nothing but trouble and stress. Our attempts to house train the beautiful but highly-strung creature were a disaster to the point that visitors had difficulty working out which room was the toilet.

With the the red setter in grave danger of becoming a dead setter at the hands of her furious owners, something clearly had to give. And Beauty of Belhaven duly bounded off with her new owners six weeks later as the entire neighbourhood breathed a huge sigh of relief.

With Carrie it was entirely different. Calm and good natured, she was nothing like as excitable as Beauty. And she never had to ask to go out to do her business – she would squeeze her body though the cat-flap, albeit with some difficulty, and then squeeze back in when she had finished.

When we went out, we’d take her with us virtually everywhere and she adored sitting on the back seat looking out of the rear window. What she saw and how it affected her we had no idea – until one night when she demonstrated a sixth sense that was truly uncanny.

Perhaps once a fortnight my other half and I would have a meal at a casino three or four miles from home – and we’d occasionally take Carrie for the ride. We’d leave her in the car under the supervision of the car-park attendant while we dined and had a quick spin on the roulette table.

Carrie had been to the casino no more than three or four times – and always in the car, her eyes focused on the road behind as we headed towards our destination, and then home a couple of hours later.

One night, we went as a family to a restaurant for a meal, leaving the dog at home with the cats. When we got back, Carrie had disappeared but we weren’t overly concerned. Presumably she’d just gone out for a wee and a wander.

Then the phone rang. ‘‘Hello, this is the Salford Albion Casino,’’ said the voice on the other end.

‘‘Do you have a dog called Carrie?’’ Cue panic – and the thought that something dreadful had happened to the dog. ‘‘Yes, we do,’’ I replied nervously. ‘‘Well, she’s here wandering around. The parking attendant recognised her. We got her name and your number off her name tag.’’

I was flabbergasted. She had obviously gone looking for us, but how on earth had she got there? I mean the casino was several miles away, across at least a couple of main roads including the busy A56. And she could not possibly have followed a scent because she had only been there in the back of a car.

As we drove to the casino to collect Carrie, the only explanation we could come up with was that she had somehow remembered the route, even though she had never been there on foot and therefore could not have picked up a trail. Or could she? Who knows what goes on inside a dog’s brain – and how many extra senses they possess?

It’s 15 years or so since Carrie died that fateful December day. Fifteen years old and suffering from a heart complaint, I guess she had squeezed out through the cat flap during the night to do a wee, and suffered a fatal coronary attack as she tried to get back in.

She went to meet St Bernard at the Furry Gates still carrying the secret of her mysterious trek to the casino that remarkable night. Indeed, to this day I have no explanation how she found her way there.

Carrie gambled with her life during that bizarre trek to the casino on highly-dangerous roads that night. And with her courageous if unnecessary mission to find us, she won even more of our love. RIP, little one.

Beyond belief: My close encounter of the weird kind

18 Dec

The real world really can be stranger than fiction. My reunion in a remote Costa Blanca bar with a dark stranger from my youth takes some believing.
I was driving my visitor John home from a mini shopping trip in Ciudad Quesada last summer when – not for the first time – he decided he fancied a beer. Hardly surprising on a hot summer’s afternoon in the tranquility of Doña Pepa. 

ALL MUSCLE: Doug in his bodybuilding days

‘’That place looks friendly enough,’’ said my former Sunday People colleague as our eyes fell on half a dozen people chatting happily over a drink in the sunshine.
We were in a sleepy sidestreet, not exactly a hotbed of tourist activity. And certainly not the sort of place to revive distant memories of my teenage years in South Wales.
The sunshine six, four women and two men, were clearly enjoying themselves. And my ears pricked up when one of the women suddenly giggled:
‘‘You Welsh – you’re all the same!’’
Nosey dragon that I am, I got up and sidled over. ‘’So who’s Welsh here, then?’’ I grinned, summoning up my best valleys accent.
I actually left Wales when I was 20, but my celtic patriotism remains a strong as ever –no doubt a reaction to being overrun by Mancunians since moving north in the ’70s.
It’s a bit different out here in Spain, of course, where there seem to be more Taffs than smoke-sodden bars.
‘’I’m Welsh and proud of it,’’ piped up a curly-haired mixed-race guy about my own age. ‘’Where are you from then?’’
‘’Well,’’ I mused, trying to condense my complicated  roots into a single sentence. ‘I lived in Barry, Cardiff and Caerphilly as a child but I started my working life in Pontypridd.’’
‘’Hey, I’m from near Ponty myself,’’ said the dark stranger. ‘’Who did you know there, then?’’
‘’Well, I knew Tom Jones – or Tommy Woodward as he was then,’’ I grinned. ”In fact, I gave him his first-ever newspaper write-ups.”

THE FULL PONTY: Donna and Doug's mentor Ray Thomas interviews Tom Jones in Pontypridd in the mid 1960s

‘’We all knew him,’’ quipped my new soulmate, to laughter from all corners. ‘’Who else did you know?’’
My mind immediately conjured up memories of the larger-than-life journalist who was my boss and mentor at the Pontypridd Observer. As a school leaver approaching my 17th birthday, he and his wife took me in as a lodger – and over my three years as a trainee reporter they effectively became my surrogate mum and dad.
‘’Well, my landlord was a guy called Ray Thomas, who was chief reporter of the local newspaper…’’ I ventured, expecting a blank reaction.
STRANGERS IN PARADISE: Doug, wife Kath and Donna celebrate their new friendship

Instead, my new acquaintance all but turned white with shock. I could see the name had a special significance to him, too.

In a flash, everything came together in my head and I realised in amazement just who this guy was.
A cold chill went down my spine. As forgotten images of a dusky teenager flashed before my eyes, I blurted out: ”My God, you’re not Doug are you?”
He nodded slowly – and the six other people realised this was a special moment for the both of us. ”We all came out in goose pimples,” one of those who witnessed the liaison told me later.
The two youngsters Ray and his wife Margaret had mentored in those dim and distant times had been brought face to face in the most unlikely circumstances. And Doug realised who I was at virtually the same moment.
I had heard so much about him during my time in Pontypridd. He had moved to Stoke-on-Trent with his family when he was eight, but the Thomases never stopped talking about him. You’d have thought he was their own son and they perpetually chatted about wanting him and me to meet because we had so much in common.
It never happened – but I did see many photos of him, most of them taken on his occasional visits back to Pontypridd when I never seemed to be around.
And he confided: ‘‘They were special people in my life and I was so jealous of you because you were living with them and I wasn’t.’’
Doug had been born to a young local woman in the nearby village of Abercynon, Ray’s birthplace, near the end of World War Two. His father was a black American GI who promptly disappeared back to the States and Doug was brought up in his mother’s all-white family, the only mixed-race child for miles around.
His childhood had naturally been difficult and he got into so many scrapes that it was almost inevitable that he would later become a professional boxer and champion body-builder.
Because of his unusual background, and his bond with Ray and Margaret, Doug’s name had remained vivid in my mind for well over four decades. But the chance of us ever meeting was remote in the extreme – even in the more likely surroundings of Pontypridd or Stoke.
As you might guess, Doug and his wife Kath, who also knew of me from her husband’s dim and distant past, are now among my best friends.
Indeed, Doug regularly jokes to me: ‘‘This is a friendship that is NEVER going to end.’’
He and Kath have been holidaying in the southern Costa Blanca for many years and cynics might say our meeting was pure coincidence. But although I am not a religious person, I am convinced the meeting was orchestrated from above.
You see, Margaret passed away just months before I finally met Doug. And I truly believe that she and arch-joker Ray – who died in the ’70s – set it all up from their new celestial home.
There is nothing they would have wanted more than for Doug and me to meet and now their wish has finally been granted.
Was our freak encounter merely a bizarre coincidence? Or did Ray and Margaret set it up from the grave? That’s for you to decide.
Article first published in Female Focus magazine, May 2010
You can read more of Donna’s tales and grumps at www.eyeonspain.com/blogs/donnagee.aspx and www.donnagee.blogspot.com