Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Chris Haslam’s EL SID

Another Great Read

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It's not very often I have feelings of loss or nothing to look forward to after finishing a book, but my latest read had me totally gutted when I turned the last page and read, the end. El Sid by Chris Haslam, is the last book he wrote following the Alligator Strip and his first book, Twelve Step Fandango.

Chris Haslam works as a journalist in London and gained food for the mind through various experiences and some diverse jobs from around the world, including a ski guide and firearms instructor. You get a sense of his research skills when reading his books and feel as though he has been to the places he describes so vividly.

We start in present day, meeting Sidney Starman ?El Sid' at the penultimate episode in his life. He wants to spend his last time on this planet looking for gold and to find out what happened to a lost love. He entices the help of a couple of troubled likely lads who are more than likely to scupper everything they tried to do to reach the goal.


This is a journey into the past, unravelling the truth by flitting back to 1937. When El Sid was a soldier with the foreign brigades in the Spanish civil war and was embarking on an unauthorised covert operation, led by a hard-ass American, named Cobb and a dodgy German killer called Kreuz. They travel across enemy lines to stop the execution of a Gypsy thief, who knows the whereabouts of a hundred boxes of stolen Spanish gold, a part shipment of a larger hoard on its way to Russia, naively for safe keeping.

The progression of their road trip and a combination of bad luck and listening to El Sid’s stories force Sid’s companions, Lenny and Nicholas, to become more and more sceptical along the way whilst facing their own inner demons and questioning their own worth. The journey starts across the bay of Biscay and Santander, Alhambra, Palencia and eventually on to their destination of Montalban, Teruel province in Aragón.

Numerous visits to Spain made sure the historical side is well researched and chilling to think of a world that existed like that, not so long ago and how cheap life was then.

As usual in Chris Haslam’s books, like twelve step fandango and the Alligator strip. The ending starts to collect momentum and finishes with several directional choices, with the author choosing a less than obvious route. 

Two ex-cons are promised a share in a hoard of stolen Spanish Gold, taken in the Spanish civil war. The brains behind the caper is Spanish Civil war veteran, Sidney Starman. Now on the last leg of his life, he wants to return to his past, pulled by the curiosity of a lost Love and the need to know, is the gold still there.

Reasons why I liked this book so much

El Sid

First the characters, you can look at an older person and think that what you see is what you get, in regards to their lives, judging them by how they are and look now and not really putting any thought into how they were. Even at my age, my daughter is astonished when I know the words to the latest hit song. She not realising it is a remix from my youth.

The author gives us chapters in present day, and then contrasts it with events that took place in 1937, the two subordinate characters, Lenny and Nick, treat old Stanley like a doddering old fool. Yet when we read what he was up to in the war, it’s amusing and shocking. We share the secretes that Sidney has been hiding and get a feel for what he is capable of, it also shows in contrast how much these ex-cons are loses. I have some more reasons, but I think they could spoil it for those that may read the book.

Towards the end you realise just how powerful and heart-breaking Sidney’s journey is. Remembering what had happened in the past and painfully thinking what if, as you shift uneasy on your seat, wondering where this is going.

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Twelve Step Fandango

Alligator Strip

Twelve Step Fandango introduces us to Martin Brock, a likable, yet amoral anti-hero and drug dealer living up a mountain in a forgotten pueblo with a wild and bitter, German Chica, whose unquenchable habit and deceit lands them on the wrong side of some scary French gangsters. This is a cringing, kick ass ride at break neck speeds.

Once I read it I had to get his next book Alligator Strip, about the same character, but this time starting in Marrakesh Morocco, the place he fled to at the end Of Twelve Step Fandango. He eventually ends up in Florida, dodging bullets, ex-husbands, tornadoes, and falling in love with a hot pole dancer, whilst working a scam with a gold coin dealer. Superb!


The Best Comfort Food

Delicious Tomato Soup - Comfort Food

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There are many categories of comfort foods, and I prefer the one that describes comfort food as sentimental and nostalgic, evoking a positive feeling.

Certainly when I have my chosen flavour it reminds me of a time in my past that felt and seemed positive. There are a lot of recipes out there and variations; seems like everyone has their take on this popular soup.

My favourite recipes I have hunted down and tried because I was looking for a particular version that is as close as I could get to a leading brand. That brand holds a lot of memories...

Image Shearart 

Comfort Food and Nostalgia

Now and again when I was ten or eleven I used to walk home at lunch time to eat, as my mother had mentioned, she would also be home for lunch (a rare occasion), and there waiting for me was a bowl of cream of tomato soup. Okay I’m not going to lie and suggest my mother made it, she had an hour at best for lunch, and was a bus ride away from work.

No this was out of a tin, ‘Heinz’ and we didn’t have it often. I’m not sure if my mother added something, or if it was simply the memory of spending half hour with her that for some strange reason, at this time of the day, was different, less stressed, and almost cheerful, or the hot crusty cobs(bread rolls) she would layer on with butter like she didn’t care. That’s my earliest memory of comfort food, Ice cream, chocolate bars and sweats in general, notwithstanding.

Soup of my day

Image Shearart   

Tomato Soup


  • 7 tablespoons olive oil.
  • 1 clove of garlic.
  • 3 large carrots peeled and diced.
  • 1 large onion sliced.
  • 3 28-ounce cans whole peeled Roma tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil crushed.
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat adding the onion, garlic and carrot, cook until soft, add the basil and cook for five more minutes.
  2. Stir in the broth and add the tomatoes, bring to the boil and then simmer for 20-35 minutes.
  3. Add the saucepan contents to a blender and purée, and strain back into the saucepan.
  4. Now over a low heat stir in the cream and heat it through to the desired temperature and season to taste with ground black pepper and salt. Kitchen Shark collection from ShearArt ten different designs to choose from and four apron colours, great for BBQ get togethers and boat parties.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Father's Day Gift to Raise a Smile

A Fun Gift For a Father

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I wanted to do something for a father, and a friend of mine, he has a strong sense of family, four teenagers and a new born. He had bestowed on me the honour of godfather to his new son. Like a lot of parents, he would rather just give to his children, so even though this is his gift it is something he can share with his family.

My first idea was to make him an nostalgic number plate, he had shown me a picture of his first car, back in Venezuela when he was younger, he smiled, as if he remembered something deeply personal about it. I notice that you could see the license plate.

My idea was to either make him a license plate or have one made, so he could hang it in his shed or man cave. Just to be sure he would like it I asked his wife, first describing my first idea and then I mentioned his car, her face contorted at the mere mention, she took deep breaths and said he would love the first idea.

A Comical Family Tree It Is!

I have seen cartoon family trees before, but Cartoon Bill was the first to create funny family trees Cartoon Bill offers a Funny Family tree service and his work is superb. 


First I made a serious of sketches of the family members and added each individuals pet or hobby.

I’ve included his car from years ago.

I also included his brother on a massage table and his sister in-law pole dancing, both based on personal jokes.

His eldest son ensconced on the sofa with a bowl of chips clasping the remote control and his other sons engaged in their favorite sports.

His wife is in the shower and his daughter standing with her pet hamster.

Finally his baby son climbing after his teddy bear.

The only book you need to get started drawing caricatures

This was the first book I purchased when learning how to draw caricatures, the practice exercises are effective and if you follow them and keep doing them you will get there. you can also use this book to learn and improve your face drawing skills.

Comical Family Tree

Pastel on thick water colour paper

The Two Boys

Image Shearart

Monday, June 23, 2014

Crazy Festival Spain

Haro Wine Festival - Batalla de Vino (Battle of Wine)

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Haro in Northern Spain, is in the middle of the wine growing region of La Rioja, and home to the annual Haro Wine Festival and the Batalla del Vino. Where the locals all arm themselves with water pistols, and splash each other with tens of thousands of litres of wine, turning everything purple.

Spain is not short of crazy festivals, but what seems silly to some, is part of the culture and traditional to others.

Of course, there are those that staunchly support this festival just for the wine - owe but for the wine. 

La Rioja Wine

I remember first hearing about Rioja in a Chinese restaurant in Nottingham England. A friend at the time was having a surprise anniversary bash for his wife, and I had drove up from London and sat at a large round table, set for five couples, three of which were already there.

We had something in common, all trying to avoid sounding pretentious, admitting that we all liked French wine, and decided to order a couple of bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild. The absent seats were filled by a couple who made an entrance, fresh in from Tenerife, suntans and blinged out.

A forty-something fella, accompanied by a rather younger provocatively dressed twenty-something blond – we tried to ignore the cliché, but the first thing they did was spin the centerpiece, grab one of the bottles (we had opened to breath), and splash it into their glasses, without a breath downed the wine and declared, to the rest of the table “it aint quite a Rioja but it will have to do”

Now there is Rioja and there’s Rioja – I later discovered.

Haro Wine Festival

Researching for this Lens, I asked my significant other if she had heard of any crazy weird or strange holidays festivals that was going down in June, she replied “yes euro 2012 football/Soccer” – So no then.

My neighbour on the other hand, couldn’t wait to tell me about his home town of Haro in the Rioja wine region. He jumps up, and goes next door, and reappears, grinning shinny eyed, clutching two bottles of wine he had made himself, declaring this is the wine he used to throw about in the Batalla de Vino (Battle of Wine) I remember most of what he said..

Fiesta del Vino de Haro the 29th of June is penned in on all the calendars of this town, celebrating San Pedro and as usual in a Spanish fiesta it has parades and a battle.

The village parades up to the small chapel with the statue of San Felices led by the mayor on horseback, after placing the city’s flag at the top of the rock, the battle commences all the way back to the Town’s Bullring.

There are windmills, but no Don Quixote, as arms spin around throwing buckets of vino on each other, and some stories are best left unmentioned. When the levels of testosterone and home brew splash about, especially when a quaff of suppressed rivalry rears its head.

This all sounds a bit silly, but watching my neighbour tell his stories with passion and a nostalgic tear, coupled with the fact that I have been to a lot of Spanish fiestas, I would suggest it’s worth a visit.


The wine's not just for throwing!

 Photo with permission from

Time to dry off

This is a file from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Tiger Nuts

What Are Tiger Nuts?

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Tiger nuts, are small tubers, and not as the name suggest nuts, first used over 4000 years ago, and goes by many names: yellow nutgrass, earth almond, rush nut, edible rush and Zulu nut. In Spain it is called a Chufa.

There are many uses for the Tiger Nut, and one of them is the popular Mediterranean coastal drink Horchata (vegetable milk), which is well known and sold all over Spain, originating in Alboraya Valencia - Horchata is a refreshing sweet drink, that has a texture and flavour similar to coconut, and is usually accompanied by churros or fartons (spongy sweet bread-stick).

Tiger nuts are high in fibre and energy: natural sugars, fats, starch and proteins they also are rich in soluble oleic acid and glucose. Tiger nuts contain minerals such as, potassium and phosphorus and vitamins C and E.

Tiger Nuts are popular as fishing bait, and also the oil from the tiger nut is extracted for industrial use, cosmetics and flour for consumption.

Image Source

Horchata de chufa

250g dried tiger nuts
1 litre water
120g sugar

Step 1

Tiger nut milk Place the Tiger nuts into a bowl and re
hydrate by soaking them for twenty four hours in the refrigerator this will also plump them out.

Image Source

Step 2

Drain and add 750ml of water and blend until pureed for about 2 minutes.

Image Source

Step 3 Drain off the tiger nuts using in a fine sieve or squeeze through a cheese cloth, extracting all the liquid from the Tiger nuts.

Image Source

Step 4 To the milky liquid add the sugar and the rest of the water, stair until dissolved.

The rest of the water can be in ice cubes if this is going to be drank immediately or water and placed in the fridge.

Image Source


The finished product

 Optional: Lemon or cinnamon can be added.


Tiger Nuts Contain

 Image Shearart

Tiger Nuts

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Village of Polop Alicante

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Polop de la Marina is a small village, 20 minutes inland from the Mediterranean coast, in the province of Alicante Valencia.
The first thing you see when you drive up from the coast and on the outskirts of La Nucia, is the tower and ancient cemetery surrounded by the remnants of Moorish walls at the pinnacle of the pueblo.

Looming over the village is a sleeping lion - the bulking Mountain Ponoch, awash with thorny browns, chinks of terracotta and pastel greens.

Polop has roads named after the composer and contemporary Spanish musician Oscar Esplá who lived there. Polop is more famous for its water supply and the Font dels Xorrets, which has 221 waterspouts in a square, decorated and representing each town of Alicante.

Writing about a staycation (holiday at home, rather than traveling away) I feel I have a small advantage in regards to how much to write about as 20 minutes down the road is Spain's largest and most popular holiday resort Benidorm, but even closer are the parks, Terra Mittica and Terra Natura. 

Polop de la Marina 



Theme Parks

Terra Mítica is a theme park located in Benidorm/Finestrat and divided into 5 themed zones: Egypt, Greece, Iberia, Rome and the Islands.The park has plenty of scary high altitude, breakneck speed rides with names like Titánide, SynKope and Inferno.

There are over 35 daily shows and a friend of mine works on one called El Regreso de Barbarroja – The Return of Barbarossa – the horror of the seas!
The show is set on board a Pirate Ship and in Spanish but there is plenty of action to entertain.

Terra Natura

Terra Natura is parkland next to Terra Mitica and has over 1,500 animals from 200 different species, 50 in serious danger of extinction. The park also has over 2,500 examples of more than 160 species of trees, shrubs and ground cover plants.

The park is divided into four themed areas America, Europe, Asia and the entrance area. The park is designed to enable people to get closer to the animals removing many physical barriers.

Some of the Animal attractions include Big cats like Lions, Tigers and Jaguars also Elephants, Monkeys, Rhinoceros, Buffalo to name a few.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Simple Summer Recipes

Mussels -Moules Marinière

this lens' photo The first time I tried Moules Marinière was upstairs in the French Horn Upton, Newark, Nottinghamshire in the 80's. I had never tried them before that because I was a little apprehensive, I'm glad the French Horn did a good job, as they have been a favourite for years.

Here in Spain we do most of our cooking outside in an outdoor kitchen, usally consisting of work tops, a sink and a large grill. Mussels are easy to cook on the grill and the whole dish only takes a few minutes.

Belgium's eat them with French fries we like to eat them with Avgolemono Potatoes or Papas Arrugades and Mojo sauces and of course, a round of French/Spanish style baguette.

Below I have included a mussel recipe and the recipe for Avgolemono Potatoes.

For Mojo Sauces and Papas Arrugades

Moules Marinière

  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time:
  • Total Time:


  • 1.8kg/4lb or 2.3 l/4 pt Fresh Mussels
  • 2 Onions Chopped
  • 2 Shallots Chopped
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
  • 2 TBLS Chopped Fresh Parsley
  • 150ml/1/2 PT White Wine
  • 40 G/11/2 oz Butter
  • Salt and Ground Black Pepper
  • Crusty French Bread To Serve


  1. Clean the Mussels and throw any away that are cracked or stay open when tapped.
  2. Simmer the onions, shallots, garlic, 1 tbls of parsley, wine and 150ml/1/4 pt of water for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the mussels; cover and leave to steam over a gentle heat for 5 minutes or until the shells open, shaking the pan occasionally. Drain the mussels by tipping into a colander set over a bowl.
  4. Throw away any mussels that have not opened. Pour the mussels liquid from the bowl into a saucepan. Put the saucepan over a low heat, whisk in the butter and add the salt and ground black pepper.
  5. Put the mussels in a soup tureen or wide bowl. Pour the sauce over the mussels and sprincle on the rest of the chopped parsley. Serve with the French bread to mop up the leftover sauce. Provide a large bowl to discard the empty shells.
  6. The best way to pluck the cooked mussels out of the shell is to use an empty pair of shells, which are still hinged, this can be used as pincers.


Mussels with French Fries

Avgolemono Potatoes

Image Shearart
  • Serves: 4
  • Prep Time:
  • Total Time:


  • 450G/ 1LB small scrubbed new potatoes.
  • 15G/1/2 OZ Butter
  • 1TBLS Flour
  • 150ML /1/4 PT Hot Vegetable stock
  • 1 egg
  • Juice of 1 small lemon


  1. Cook the potatoes in a pan and drain and keep warm.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, add the stock, stir until boiling and thickened.
  3. Beat the egg in a bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and tbls cold water.
  4. Pour the hot sauce onto the egg mixture in the bowl. Mix well and return to the pan. Stir the sauce continuously as it heats through avoid boiling or it will curdle.
  5. Pour the hot sauce over the potatoes and mix gently coating all the potatoes evenly.
  6. Serve cold or hot.


Add Sweet white wine and Saffron.
Also some people add cream.

Caught On Camera

Some Crazy Moments Photographed On My Travels

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I have taken a lot of photos over the years, and always had a camera on me (35mm film), usually due to work, being on holiday or simply traveling.

Sometimes I managed to be in the right place at the right time or wrong depending how you look at it, and captured some strange happenings.

One thing these images have in common are, they happened in front of me and bring back memories of that day, at the time it was just a coincidence that I happened to have a camera, unlike now days most people have a camera on them, in their phones, pens, and even their watches.

I've collected a few of these photos from Spain and included their stories for your entertainment, I hope you enjoy.

Smoke and Flames

Image Shearart First in the series of photographs, a tree burning for no apparent reason in Benidorm Spain, you could see the flames and it looked serious as it loomed over a shop full of people. The Spanish shop keeper climbed up onto his flimsy roof and threw a bucket of water at it which failed to hit the tree.

Benidorm Costa Blanca

Image Shearart 
 The shop owner evacuated the premisses, cleared his stock first and then called the Fire Brigade and Police.

Palm Tree Fire

Image Shearart Eventually the Fire Brigade turned up and extinguished the fire. The culprit of the fire, well the clue is in the shop owners mouth, a cigarette. Probably thrown from a window from the apartment block above, apparently this happens often.
 Faulty Hand Break 

Aguas de Busot

Image Shearart This happened whilst I was working on a house across the road and up the hill in a small Spanish village, a skip lorry – rubbish container. Smashed into the wall, demolishing the kitchen wall and most of the inside, flooding the place, eventually a crane and the police turned up to remove it.

Images taken by ShearArt at the time.

New work opportunity

Image Shearart After the crane had gone, and several days later, the home owner who was absent at the time didn’t seemed too fazed with what had happened, but he did get a little irritable when I gave him my card and asked if I could give him a quotation for the rebuild. A-B-C.

Collapsing Gardens 


Rogue Builders

LA Nucia Alicante

Image Shearart I was called to a job after the whole garden had cracked and the patio around the swimming pool had collapsed, next door’s ended up down the mountain after a heavy rain.

Temporary Repairs

Image Shearart What really happened was the pool guy left a hose on filling the pool and it over ran all night, washed away the mountain. The whole garden had dropped and the owners had people booked into the house for the summer, so he asked us to re-concrete and tile it as if nothing had happened.


Image Shearart The owner had a company build a stack of concrete blocks underneath on top of the collapsing stone hill. They managed to go through the summer without any more movement and then got locked into a legal battle that lasted years with the original Spanish builder. His attitude was, by the time this goes to court he will be retired.

Bad Santa 

Drunk on the job

Image Shearart 
This was at Christmas in a Tenerife hotel, the kids waited for Santa to give out gifts but he had other ideas and sat at the bar drinking in full view, it took four waiters half an hour to drag him out, by that time he had blown his cover.

The Same Hotel

Image Shearart Speaking of Spanish waiters, these guys risked holding up a ladder so one of them could climb up to change a light bulb, it swung dangerously close to the stairwell window which had a fifty foot drop on the other side. So there’s the answer to that one, it takes four waiters, three to hold the ladder.

This happened all in the same hotel and also my new, at the time expensive cell phone was lifted from a table. The phone company issued me with a new Sim card and the same number, six months later I received a call from a Policeman in Manchester England, they had raided a house and recovered a bag of Sim cards he seemed surprised that I answered. I was not surprised that my phoned wasn’t in the bag with it.

Blanket Trip

Image Shearart This bus was on its way to the popular tourist attraction village of Guadalest, inland on the Costa Blanca Spain. The tourists complained of the smoke in the back from the engine but the driver wouldn’t pull over, he eventually did and managed to get everyone out of the bus before it went up in flames. The company, Green tours is no longer running trips.
Image Shearart 

Crazy Gang

Car Chase Villajoyosa Alicante

Image Shearart I ran out my apartment block late one night to watch a car full of youths chasing down a lad on foot, they drove around the car park at speed chasing him and smashing twenty three cars. The runner hid behind the car in the picture above, so they rammed it. He took a trip to the hospital and a few miles down the road they were apprehended and jailed.

Tornado off the coast of Villajoyosa Costa Blanca

Tornado off the coast of Villajoyosa Costa Blanca

28th February 2013

Image ShearArt February