This morning saw us pick the first orange of winter off one of our trees. Although we only have a few fruit bushes, it usually produces a small harvest which will last until the spring's second crop. Add to this the extremely long summer this year which has thrown a number of fruit and veg harvests out of sync and you have an unexpected bounty of all things summery in the form of the exotic foodstuffs expected to flood the Christmas markets, now that is a good sign!

However, it takes more than a bit of cheap fruit and veg to keep some people from choosing to return to whence they came. I'm talking about an exodus of more than the usual number of ex pats from all over Europe who cannot endure a life of so called 'living the dream' any more, returning to all they left behind while once again fuelling the hoards of negates who they once thought as friends eager to impart those immortal words 'I told you so'!

Shame as it is, but it's the time of the year again when people look to the past rather than to the present or future, thinking of family, friends, even old employers, forgetting in an emotional instant the reasons why they moved out here in the first place. It's hard everywhere at the moment, we all know that, but hey, isn't that the reason to look to or pursue something else?

I have to admit, our Christmas this year, though fraught with the same yearnings for the familiarity left behind almost eighteen months ago now, is set, I believe, to be a happier and more prosperous one that that of last year.

My whole family have worked hard to overcome or control the feelings of self doubt, both here and back in England, to integrate and socialise outside the box which is deemed normal. For us it's been trying to build a business that pays for all the extras outside of existence. Yes, I have to say that life, although so far removed from all we knew and the imperfections of a generically unstable world, is at least stable and on the up!

And I say that in the spirit of one who has been called 'lucky' and 'fortunate' by those who choose to remain in the 'normal and safety zone'. But we are lucky, and though not a religious man in any way, I thank the stars that at least we both are fit, well and alive. Morose you may say? No, just thankful after witnessing a remembrance day service paying homage to the people who, if given the chance, would live anywhere at anytime, would love the chance to moan about their lot, would love to be part of the so called doom and despondency of life's daily challenges, but are sadly instead, forever silent due to giving the ultimate sacrifice of life for their country and for their belief in peace and a better world. I just wish more people would stop and remember those whose memorial icon is the red Poppy I wear with pride.

It abhors me that this little flower is incredulously scorned by some as a symbol that should be forgotten and not harped on about.

But to those I would say, just stop and think of all those gone before and look back in your family tree where I'm sure you will find somewhere, at some time, a relative or distant friend who bore service or support for the same chances of freedom that I and a lot like me believe in today, and then tell me it should be forgotten! Is it because of my service past? Is it because of my son's service careers? Well, in part I suppose, but I find it even more incredible that I can stand outside of a supermarket here in Spain and while an Englishman passes by with a sneer, a Spanish man will donate his change with possibly more understanding of what the Poppy represents than a lot of my ex fellow countrymen. So here endeth a lesson from one who will never forget!

All too soon, the first part of the festive season was over and Joe had to leave. Being in limbo with regards to his college closure over the holiday period, he had arranged to stay with a friend back in Weymouth until he could return to his billet. He flew back on the 27th of December and I can honestly say his departure at that point was very upsetting and I missed him dearly. We went on with preparations for a night out on New Years Eve, but it wasn't the same, which was silly, because as we reflected, when we had been in England, the last few NYs we had celebrated without the boys anyway as they had gone to their own like-minded friends parties and get togethers. But just knowing we were without our boys again was a horrible feeling, and one even now I can never get used to. But I digress. With the second major festival only a day away, we wondered how people celebrated in the town, I mean, was there music? Did people dress up? Was drinking allowed? Did the traditional clanging of bells ring out at midnight with a chorus of 'Auld Lang Syne'? Well, we needn't have worried, because I can honestly say, New Years Eve celebrations here are loud and mad enough to rival any I've ever experienced.

We met up for a meal with a few friends before driving into the town as far as possible whereby it was but a short walk to the Church square where we were informed everything would happen.

I can honestly say, this Plaza in the town which I have rarely seen with more than a handful of people milling around, was packed wall to wall with an estimated 5000 people. All with a bottle or two, all in fancy dress of some sort, and all singing and dancing as midnight approached. There were a number of TV cameras present; the steps to the church had been taken over by a stage with men and woman dressed up as brides and grooms, and loud music was playing through PA speakers dotted all round the square. But the one thing that amazed me was the sight of three policemen, in fact the only policemen we saw ALL night, standing with a group of young Spanish revellers, bottles of beer in hand, laughing and joking while joining in with the festivities.

Can you imaging that sight in any town in Blighty? No, didn't think so, well, possibly at the Notting Hill Carnival, but even that ends in some kind of violence.

In fact, the last few New-Year nights out I've encountered, the police have outnumbered groups of revellers and have been more than a little heavy handed in their approach. I'm not saying they have an easy job to do, as they certainly don't, but sometimes they make it hard for themselves. Maybe taking a page out of the book of the three coppers I saw that night would defuse any situation. Just a matter of whether their Sergeant down the station would see it that way, Ha!

We learnt prior to going into town that there is an old custom here in Cóin whereby at the first stroke of midnight, people are invited to eat twelve grapes in the time it takes between the first and last gong of the church clocktower bell. Well, easy enough I thought, especially with my mouth! But it's not until you start and the bells chime that you realise it's not that blinking easy!

I had twelve medium sized grapes and as the clock struck, I proceeded to consume, chew and swallow as fast as I could. At six grapes I was doing well, trouble was, my grapes contained pips and by number eight, I was half choking. Still, I managed to cram them all in as did half the people present to raucous encouragement and laughter from the crowd. I have to admit that there were more grapes running down my chin than throat, but I took it as a success on the twelfth gong which meant for that year, good luck and health would shine on me and my family. Only remains to be seen really. After witnessing fireworks we tossed our empties on the pile in the corner along with everyone else's. By midday on the first, the local council had cleared all the mess away, amazin' eh? We walked home at around 3am, still laughing, very inebriated having witnessed a truly fun night with no trouble, no fighting, no police and no fear of being accosted on the journey home. Seems they've got New Year pegged really.

We're looking forward to this years celebrations and I've been practising all year with liquid grape juice to try and beat my record. What do you mean 'not the same'?

Colourful Characters

Back to the indigenous population. As with Mia, our resident quintessential Spanish washer woman, there are a number of shop owners that have endeared themselves to Rose and I and other immigrants who have attempted to integrate and as such have benefited from good service.

Xavi, our local paper shop owner, Junio, the boy that runs the jardinier ferreteria and Maria Antonia of the paint shop have always had the time and patience to assist when the language seemed to be failing.

Xavi (Habee) sells English newspapers now which are welcome when we're looking for a bit of light relief in reading. He also does photocopying and sells all manner of office supplies.

We acquired two of our rescued cockatiels from Junio at the pet shop, well that's what I call it, but being a ferreteria, it sells just about everything from pet foods to hosepipes to nails to livestock to door handles, not dissimilar to the chandlers shops we had in Liverpool when I was a lad.

And as for Maria, well, now I'm heavily into villa, hotel and every other kind of painting, she has supplied and taught me more about painting than I ever knew, and she gives me the same discount as the Spanish traders, which is very important. If you can get money off without asking, you know you're in!

These three traders make life just that little bit easier and therefore more acceptable, and have helped make us feel very welcome indeed.

Worth a visit

Torremolinos has developed more in the last 40 years than in the last thousand. It does have a very long history, but because of its high profile tourist status, very little is known. Prehistoric human skulls have been found in the limestone caves that litter the mountain behind the town. (Possibly the first northern Easyjet holiday makers ever recorded!) One of them known as the Tapada cave yielded evidence of Bronze Age inhabitation in the shape of a Bell Beaker burial of around 1500BC. Just to the north below the Malaga main flight path is the location of Cerro de Villar which was the site of the Island City in the Phoenician period.

Torremolinos first attracted the crowds in 1498, (ah, so before Easyjet!) when the Catholic kings and their vast number of troops camped there during the siege of Málaga. The original name was "Molinos de la Torre" (The Mills of the Tower). In 1502, it came under the rule of Málaga with the name of "Torres de Pimentel" (The Towers of Pimentel), in honour of Rodrigo Pimentel, Count of Benavente to whom most of the lands were given in thanks for his co-operation with horses and food during the siege of Málaga. The town evolved as a thriving centre for fishing, primarily centred on La Carihuela; an area just east of the town where a few bona fide fishermen still remain and some of the best seafood restaurants can be found. Bars and restaurants opened by the hundreds and visitors came from all over the world and have included well known writers, artists, as well as starlets, aristocrats, seasoned travellers and of course, tourists. The Day of the Tourist (end September) is a more moderate but equally important concept. The town hall will organise free events such as entertainment and the cooking of huge Paella which is free for all. I know, I had seven helpings last time. Torremolinos is one of my favourite coastal visits which Rose and I pop to at least two or three times a month which has more to it than just the tourist areas. Walk away from the beaches and explore, there's loads of things to experience away from the hotel dominated seafront; parks, gardens, shops and the inevitable hostelries, all undiscovered but for the most adventurous who enjoy getting lost.