Saturday, 28 June 2014

Endurance...& Saturday smiles


Endurance:- staying power; patience; survival; stamina; fortitude; continued existence

Last week was a time of endurance, a family bereavement causing extreme sadness for myself, my husband and my immediate relatives. It made me think of the endurance necessary to see you through the dark days, especially for those closest to the one who has died.

Endurance was also a feature at the new visitor destination - The Helix Park - that my husband and I popped in to on our way home last Thursday. It was a diversion to our normal route, chosen in order to 'take our mind off' recent events.

Another reason for making the brief visit was due to my extreme interest in the statues designed by Andy Scott- named The Kelpies. I've been following Facebook posts from The Kelpies page during 2013/2014 and kept up with the progress of the installation of the fabulous statues you see in the photo above. Officially opened at the end of April 2014, I've been desperate to catch a glimpse of these amazing sculptures. Another blog will follow soon on these iconic statues, designed to highlight the endurance of the Forth and Clyde canal workhorses of former days, and to incorporate the Kelpies mythology of central Scotland. The Kelpies sculptures are immense and have a beauty of their own, but are not the only aspects which make the area a great one to visit.

The video at the URL here is worthy of the few minutes and gives a great explanation of the vision of the park.

The Helix Park is a recent development project in central Scotland, near the industrial areas of Grangemouth and Falkirk. On what was once unused land, a new urban green space has been created: vision and endurance playing a huge part in the project becoming a reality after many years. The extent of the park is intentional, a fabulous space for family and individual recreation and exercise. Nostalgic for me, the parkland paths are also designed to join communities between Falkirk and Grangemouth. These new paths now connect the village I once lived in for around a decade (Polmont) and the school I taught in during the late 1970s (Westquarter). Back then, the only way to walk the six miles or so, between my home and school, was via the main single carriageway road. This road was extremely busy and dangerous in places with speeding cars and buses, and over most of the stretch there was no pedestrian pathway. It has to be said that I rarely walked the route. 

The Helix Park is now a perfect place to walk, ride a bike, run, skate or ride. (No cars allowed beyond the car park) Kids can enjoy the amenities already in place, like the timber play park – with, I believe, potentially more fun activities to follow. The huge green space has been created with a strong emphasis on enhancing the ecology and biodiversity of the site and improving connections around the parklands. The natural wetlands, formerly not easily negotiable, have been enhanced by walkways whose design does not interfere too much with the natural habitat, disturbance to wildlife as limited as possible. The natural woodlands within the area are sensitively managed, woodland management providing a sustainable environment. The lagoon, shingle beach bordered, is designed for water-based activities- with visitor facilities nearby.

The Forth and Clyde Canal is a feature, the Kelpies Hub being a dramatic place to view the huge statues guarding the canal locks at the eastern mouth of the Forth and Clyde canal.  The canal towpaths are well maintained to encourage safe cycling and walking along the stretches.

Each distinct area of the development is worthy of its own blog post, and if I can find the time I will write them.

To the south of the Helix Park, part of The Antonine Wall cuts through the area. Expect another blog on that soon since the Roman aspect is an exciting one for me, as readers of my Celtic Fervour Series will already know.

I only had time for the quickest of glimpses of The Helix but I intend to revisit as soon as I am able.

Slainthe!  


Amazon UK Author Page 
Amazon US Author Page

Monday, 23 June 2014

Monday Moments meets ...Teun Zeger

My Monday Moments are with Teun Zeger, one of my characters in Topaz Eyes.

Most authors, I assume, have a mental image of what their character may look like. I generally have a vague idea of character traits for the initial stages of the book, but I tend to forget details far too easily as I write. My strategy for improving this is to trawl my favourite image site for a photo I can use for my 'character board'. The cork board behind my desk is full of printed out images -  what I imagine my characters to look like.

Once I've chosen an image my character then gets rounded out a lot more as I go on to write the whole plot. So far, I've only once needed to make any changes to the image I've acquired and that was the eye colour of a female character. The face I downloaded was perfect for my needs, though not the eyes. My easy solution was to use a marker pen to change to the colour I thought best for Nara, the heroine of Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series- The Beltane Choice.

When I download the image from www.123rf.com, the site I mostly use, I'm happy because having purchased the use of the image means I'm able to use it for all promotional material and for my book trailer videos.

So, let's meet Teun Zeger. At this point we are only a few chapters into the story.

Hello, Teun. Can you give us an idea of what you think are your best attributes?
That's a good question. I'm pretty levelheaded. My analytical scientific background training, I believe, means I'm rarely impulsive. I usually can get a feel for what's going on and can plan accordingly.

Does that mean you're also an even tempered guy?
That would be a no. Keira calls me a stubborn, bad tempered idiot sometimes so I guess other people see me as being a hothead. I'm not an agressive person but I will defend people who mean a lot to me.

Does Keira mean a lot to you?
I don't know her well enough, yet, but I'm getting the feeling she just might become very important to me. She's a very good looking woman but that's only part of what I find attractive about her. Her involvement in my family intrigues me.

I heard someone summoned you to Heidelberg in Germany? Were you happy about that?
I was reluctant at first. I'd never heard of Jensen Amsel far less that he was my third cousin before he contacted me. It was only after I did a bit of family digging that I found out he genuine and is a far flung relation of mine.

Why did Jensen want you to go to Heidelberg?
He's got some notion that a bunch of precious emeralds, once belonging to a Mughal Emperor, have been scattered amongst my family. He thinks I might know where some of the hoard are hidden.

You don't sound like that's true?
Would you believe it? If my parents or grandparents had the chance to profit from some fabulously expensive emeralds they wouldn't have lived the poor life that they did live sometimes.

I'm thinking you're not entirely sure of your third cousin's motives?
You'd be absolutely right!

You can find out what happens in TOPAZ EYES by buying an incredibly cheap ebook copy this week during the Crooked Cat Summer Sale. Topaz Eyes is only 77p, or equivalent of 99c (+ tax) on Amazon. Get your copy now of this 'thoroughly engrossing mystery' that has kept readers guessing right to the very end! 




Slainthe! 
 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

77p! Grab your bargain now!

Hello. It's a happy 'clicking' Sunday!


It's a bright summer morning, a day after the solstice, and I'll be visiting the SUMMER SALE. No, I'm not trekking around the shops looking for something summery to wear. I'm going to be BOOK BROWSING at the CROOKED CAT SUMMER SALE.

My publisher often surprises me by announcing a flash sale and this time almost all of the ebooks are priced 77p. That means my Celtic Fervour Series, 3 full length historical romantic adventures can be bought for the incredible sum of ONLY £ 2.32. (incredible because it took me hours and hours to write them, but great for you - the readers - to get wonderful kindle bargains)

There are some Crooked Cat books I haven't read yet and I'll be popping them onto my kindle.

How about you?  Grab that bargain.
Click on my author page at Amazon to access my books easily. 

Amazon UK
Amazon US

I'd love to know what you think of my writing, so please let me know by leaving a review on Amazon or by sending me an email. Thank you and enjoy!

Slainthe!


Friday, 20 June 2014

Rachel Brimble returns to Familiarise Friday!


Happy Friday to everyone!

Today, I'm saying hello to a returning guest- Rachel Brimble. It's been a while since Rachel guested on Nancy's Novels and she's done a lot in the interim. I met Rachel through The Wild Rose Press but she's now published by a number of different publishers. She's here to tell us about her novel - The Temptation of Laura - published by eKensington and to give us a Familiarise Friday short interview.

Here are some questions I put to Rachel:
Where are you originally from?
I am originally from the historical maritime city of Bristol but moved to a small market town in Wiltshire thirteen years ago. I have the famous city of Bath a thirty-minute drive in one direction and the beautiful Cotswolds and Salisbury within an hour’s drive in the other. I love where I live!
What’s your main occupation just now?
Writing! I am lucky enough to be a full-time stay at home mum who gets to write every day. I work whenever the kids are at school and as much as possible when they are at home. At the moment, I average two 85,000 word books a year – I hope to write more as the kids get older. At 15 and 13 they are still surprisingly demanding, lol!
How would your significant other half describe you?
Funny
Caring
Intuitive
Worrier
Impatient
Sexy (!)
Smiley
You want to change your lifestyle. What would you change first?
Start exercising! At the moment, I don’t take any exercise at all and at 40 it’s starting to show. My husband has just bought me a bike so hoping things will start to change soon…
Do you enjoy travel?
I am a home bird but love to travel and wish I could do it more often! The farthest I’ve been was on a three-night trip to New York but it was a whirlwind visit through which I had jet-lag most of the time! I’d love to visit Italy so that’s next on my wish list. We are going to Rhodes in July for two weeks and I cannot wait!
After a weekend cruise last year, I would say cruising is the best way to travel – SO relaxing J
Who, or what, are you trying to avoid most just now?
Wine!
Ah! That's a guilty pleasure of many of us, Rachel. What is your most valued possession?
My children – if you mean material…my wedding and engagement rings J
 
Rachel- I'm totally happy with your answer of children. They are the most precious, followed closely by grandchildren.

One word answers, please, to the following easy peasy questions:

STAYING AT HOME or WANDERING THE WORLD? Home
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY or RESTING? Resting
SWITZERLAND or HAWAII? Hawaii
WATER or WINE? Wine!

I quite fancy going to Hawaii as well, Rachel! And now for...

Laura Robinson has always been dazzled by the glamour of the stage. But perhaps acting and selling one’s favors are not so different—for Laura must feign pleasure with the men she beds to survive. Now, with her only friend at death’s door and a ruthless pimp at her heels, escaping her occupation seems impossible. Hoping to attract a gentleman, she attends the theater. Yet the man Laura captivates is no customer, but a rising star and playwright…

Adam Lacey has been driven to distraction since the moment he saw Laura. She is his ideal leading lady come to irresistible life—and so much more. Certain they can make the perfect team on and off stage, he is determined to win her heart—and discover her story. But that is precisely what Laura fears. And she has no idea that Adam harbors shameful secrets of his own. Will the truth free them to love—or destroy all their dreams…?






More about Rachel:
Rachel lives with her husband and two young daughters in a small town near Bath in the UK.  After having several novels published by small US presses, she secured agent representation in 2011. In 2012, she sold two books to Harlequin Superromance and a further three in 2013. She also writes Victorian romance for Kensington--her debut was released in April 2013 and she has since signed for three more.
Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and Romance Writers of America. When she isn’t writing, you’ll find Rachel with her head in a book or walking the beautiful English countryside with her family and beloved black Lab, Max. Her dream place to live is Bourton-on-the-Water in South West England.
She likes nothing more than connecting and chatting with her readers and fellow romance writers. Rachel would love to hear from you!
Links:

Thank you for visiting today, Rachel. Best wishes with all of your writing!  
Slainthe!



Thursday, 19 June 2014

Only 22 days late!

Hello!
Here is my late update on The People's Book Prize Award Ceremony of Wednesday the 28th of May 2014.

The main reason this post seems to come late is because immediately after I attended the Award Ceremony for The People's Book Prize 2014, at ' Stationers' Hall' in London, I went to Glasgow for a few days before flying off to the island of Madeira for a holiday. Some of the photographs in this post have only recently been acquired by me and I'm now finding time to update on the evening event, having promised to do so.

On arrival at Stationers' Hall we chatted in one of the chambers - nominated as the Green Room. The wikipedia description of a 'Green Room' goes like this..."In show business the green room is the space in a theatre, studio or similar venue which accommodates performersnot yet required on stage. The green room functions as a waiting room and lounge for performers before and after a performance, and during the show when they are not engaged onstage." 

And so it was for us, since our presence at table wasn't required for more than an hour.


It wasn't in the least lonely in the Green Room since there were six of us who were Crooked Cat Publishing finalists. We had already met through virtual communication- mainly Facebook and our blogs - the social media sites being invaluable for recognising someone from their profile photo.It was fantastic to actually meet my fellow authors.

I was incredibly lucky to have met Trevor Ripley at the top of the St. Paul's Tube station as we spilled out to find Stationers' Hall, which was only a block or so away. I'm not in the habit of calling out to well dressed gentlemen in London but as I moved from the top step of the Underground staircase I clutched my husband's arm, shouting "It's him!" I was so stunned to see Trevor that I couldn't say his name at first. Hubby Alan was saying '"Who is him?" .... " It's, it's... Trevor!" In all of the hundreds of people around the Undrground I was amazed to see someone I recognised.My husband was also glad to know I wasn't accosting strangers. (BTW- Although Alan accompanied me to the venue, so that I'd not get lost in London, he went off elsewhere to have his own fine dinner in the company of an ex- colleague he hadn't seen for a while.) 

Courtesy of a Crooked Cat -Laurence methinks?
The line up of finalists is from Left to Right: Jeff Gardiner; Tom Ward; me; Trevor Ripley; Lorraine Mace (writing as Frances di Plino); Richard Hardie.

courstesy of Laurence Patterson (?)
and another (?) from Laurence Patterson
From the Green Room each author was requested to make their way to another chamber where they were given a TV interview. Any preparation I made for this went out of the beautiful stained glass window, my burbling almost incoherent. I do not want to ever see that interview!  (red face, methinks)

After the circling - and we did talk to other non Crooked Cat authors - we were invited to take our seats in the Great Hall prior to a splendid dinner.

The venue- The Guildhall of The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, commonly known as Stationers' Hall, London - is fabulous. Stationers' Hall has undergone many changes over the centuries. The earliest building was originally on the site of Abergavenny House, purchased by the Company in 1606. That Hall was destroyed when fire devastated it during the Great Fire of London of 1666. Rebuilt by 1673, Stationers' Hall has survived many other turbulent times. Fortunately, little damage was done to the Hall during the World War II Air Raids of 1940, though there was some ceiling damage to the Court Room.
During the blitz many other Livery Halls were totally destroyed.


My named place setting was this side of the first banner- I think the first full one seen on the window side of the table.

The ceiling decoration was worthy of a better look but too much was going on to be so nosey. 


The ancient banner under glass, and shields, also needed more time but site-seeing wasn't my purpose! 


The great north stained glass window (seen below) depicts William Caxton with Edward IV and his Queen. The window was presented in 1894 and replaced a painted window of 1800.

 
It was extremely sad and disappointing that no Crooked Cat authors were winners this year, though one of us was very close, but I thoroughly enjoyed the fabulous experience of attending the ceremony. 

I was proud to display my Crooked cat novel - TOPAZ EYES - to the assembled company. I give my heartfelt thanks to my publishers Steph and Laurence Patterson for nominating my novel and to my readers and friends who voted to get me to the finals.

The last photo - a very nervous but happy me setting off from my hotel!

Courtesy of my husband - Alan Jardine



Topaz Eyes is available to buy from: 

Crooked Cat Bookstore http://bit.ly/12NR4z5


  

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Trifolium attacks!



It’s a trifolium attack!


Am I talking about a three pronged sword? Not quite, but it is a three pronged attack that I need to focus on. The downside to having a three week break away from home is coming back to an overgrown lawn and rampant weeds around the garden.

My holiday break is certainly over. I tackled the mountains of holiday clothes washing on Sunday, cut the grass on Monday, and will now tackle more of the tidy around the garden tasks today (Tuesday).

And my trifolium? Well, let’s say I’m not as happy ‘in the clover’ as some might be. I think I have both white and Dutch clover growing on my ‘lawns’, and more than a carpet of lesser yellow trefoil, which in turn is a bit euphemistic since there is actually more moss and weeds than real grass blades.

Trifolium - a three leaved plant which is a herbacious perennial and don't I know it! It's an excelllent, abundant,  forage plant for animals but since I don't have any then it's not actually of much use to me for fodder. Clover can be used in salads, though they're a bit hard on the digestion of humans. A process of boiling makes this easier and the leaves can be used to make herbal teas but I've not tried this.Dedicated vegetarians can probably name other uses for clover in bread and soups etc.

 (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trifolium_repens_Leaves_2009December13_DehesaBoyaldePuertollano.jpg?uselang=en-gb)

Wikimedia Commons



I did the ‘lawn feed weed and mosskill’ thing some weeks ago, but it clearly needs to be treated again. This is no surprise as it’s a constant battle. Whether I do a short cut on the grass, or a long cut as was needed yesterday, since it was so long, the clover continues to thrive. So what is it about this plant that makes it tenacious?

It’s a hardy little plant which is too widespread in my garden to be lifted out with a hand fork. If I did that, I’d be on my knees all day long and I don’t really fancy that. Trifolium Repens- Dutch clover - is particularly resistant to weed killers, but I have sometimes managed to keep it under control by strengthening the grass using sulphate of ammonia. When I know that my granddaughter is not going to be running around the area (which happens most days since she lives here) I’ll get out my handy lawn spreader and treat it again.
Wikimedia Commons

My resident child isn’t the only issue to consider when I make the treatments- It’s also very weather-driven. I’m not supposed to use the lawn weeding product till 3 days after a grass cut, but I can’t always time it so neatly since it has to be applied on a dry day i.e. when the grass is dry. Applying the lawn feed weed and mosskill product needs the ground to be watered within a 24 hour period after the spreading. In Scotland, that’s not often a problem but just sometimes sod’s law prevails and I have to get out the hose to water it in!

So, a dry day to apply - at least 3 days after mowing- and watering within 24 hours after the applying. Check!

It’s dull today but it has rained overnight which means the grass is not dry. I guess I’ll be checking the weather again tomorrow, but by then I’ll be involved in other garden tasks and will need to make a note to remind me.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trifolium_repens_flower.JPG?uselang=en-gb

Another constant battle I have presently is finding enough time to do my writing. I haven’t managed any new writing for some time, family ties too pressing, but during my holiday I did start on my re-write of ‘Take Me Now’ the task being to restore it to the pre- publication version by The Wild Rose Press. Like Monogamy Twist, my contemporary mystery novel- Take Me Now – was a lot less sensuous when I wrote it. It’s now going back to an earlier and non-sensual version.  My problem, of course, is that I don’t have a saved early version, but that’s good because it is honing my editing skills and that has to be a good thing. 

Clove is a three leaved plant so where's the third editing task? My time-travel novel for early teens is still simmering. Oh, dear.

See you later… 
Slainthe!

Read samples of my published writing - my Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures, and my dynasty based mystery thriller Topaz Eyes- available from  AMAZON

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

More Madeira? Just a little sip...

My camera was jam packed, so I'm posting some more of those lovely flowers that would be great to raise in my garden if the average Aberdeenshire climate was at least 10 degreees warmer.


On the terrace outside the apartment, by the balcony railings over which I could view the ocean (BTW I'm now back in Scotland though not yet home) there were some pretty white flowers which I haven't managed to identify. What was surprising, when I took a closer look, were the pineapples growing in amongst the white flowers! Can you see the pineapples?




 This is a cute little spot. 


I'll be posting lots more photos of Madeiran floral displays on Pinterest when I get the opportunity. Keep tuned.

Slainthe!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Doors are boring? Not here...



8th June 2014

Sunday and our last day on Madeira for exploring. We took a local yellow bus to the downtown terminus stop which happens to be at the Cable Car / Museum area.  Since we’d already had a ride in the cable car it was time to hop into the museum to find out the historu of Madeira. It’s a small visitor centre which doesn’t disappoint someone like me who enjoys reading wall displayed information. The presentation is newish and very clearly displayed in four main languages, the colour coding easy to follow.

I enjoyed my hour or so ambling around absorbing the information. After that we walked around the local cobbled streets – a bit sore on the espadrilles – but great to see the 'older' architecture.

Doors are entry points to what is concealed behind them and are generally quite boring. NOT on the central streets of Madeira. How recent the innovation is, I don’t know, but it seems common to ‘paint’ your door in such a way that it both entertains and enlightens the old street and, in some places, crumbling buildings.

They may not all be eminent works of art, but they did take some creating.

 These are only a few of the selection...

Slainthe!

Sparkles, strawberries and champers


Hello it's the 8th June - still on Madeira 

Yesterday was mostly a laze about day where I read a book and caught some very patchy suntanning. We weren’t too fussed about doing touristy things during the day since we were booked to watch the evening Funchal fireworks from the catamaran – ‘Sea the Best’.

Funchal fireworks are world legendary and we have been lucky to be around for the first of 4 Saturday displays in June. Different companies who produce firework displays are competing against each other during the June Saturdays and the one reckoned to be the best display gets the task of setting up the NEW YEAR firework display, which is filmed for worldwide consumption: hugely famous in firework demonstrations. Yesterday, Saturday 7th June, was the turn of a Portuguese firework outfit; next week’s company are based in Canada, followed by 2 more that are Portuguese.

To start the evening, we taxied from our time-share apartment to Funchal harbour and had a wonderful dinner at a ‘reconstructed’ restaurant named ‘The Golden Gate’, one street up from the waterside. 

There has been an original ‘tea room’/ eating house on the site from Victorian times but the initial d├ęcor had subsequently been replaced over time. Around the millennium, the original plans were resurrected and a ‘reconstructed’ version created to give the old ambience- a very well done rebuild.  



Opposite our balcony table was the beautiful Banquo de Portugal building and a statue commemorating Joao Goncalves Zarco. 

I haven’t yet encountered statues for the other 2 main navigators who settled on Madeira, but if there’s one for Zarco I imagine there will be similar accolades for the others. Perhaps a task during the downtown walkabout planned for this afternoon? (Sunday)

After dinner, we wandered down to the harbour to find our catamaran, passsing the old fortifications buildings at the sea front- where the main defensive action took place in years gone past when the many pirates attempted to land on Madeira. 




The marina is full of beautiful and sleekly expensive boats, I’m not even going to try to say what types - I’m pretty sure there was every kind there. 






Sea the Best
The firework display is set off from the end of the long pier where the cruise ships dock – though there was no cruise ship in port last night. People converge on many different places to watch the fireworks, the Casino being a popular venue. My sister-in-law, whose time-share apartment we are using, recommended we try to watch the fireworks from the water. She has seen the firework displays from different viewing spots over the years of coming to holiday in Madeira, so we followed her suggestion.

The catamaran- Sea The Best - is used for many types of day trips. You can do dolphin and whale watching, and hope to view giant sea turtles and a variety of sea birds. Sometimes it’s possible to snorkel or swim from the catamaran, weather permitting. 

For our evening ‘fireworks’ trip, the deal was around a couple of hours worth of powering out from the harbour with a slow sail along the coast. As the sun set, the clouds rolled away to leave a clear starlit sky. We gently puttered along, a little way out from the shoreline and were able to admire the tiered lights of Funchal as they clothe the mountainside. By the start of the display we were in position opposite the end of the long pier, the engine idling. The crew had our champagne and strawberries ready for the first blinding flashes.

It was a spectacular display seen from such a wonderful vantage point. My photography skills are limited at the best of times, though are even more challenged in capturing fabulous sparkling fireworks from a slightly undulating catamaran. The firework show was naturally accompanied by suitable music relayed to us on the catamaran via the local TV/radio station which had a fashion show event on a red carpet catwalk on the harbour side. 


Ubiquitous it may be, but – it was a great night out! 

Tune in for more from Madeira, though today is our last day. This is where a non-smiley face is appropriate.    
Slainthe! 




Saturday, 7 June 2014

It's flowery around here!

Happy Saturday to you.

I've managed to get online! What a treat, so I'm going to post some photos of the orchid garden in our hotel/ time-share complex. All of the gardens areas are fabulous, and so well tended, but the Orchid Garden is a beautiful little retreat from the sun and warm winds.

You'll also find me at my every second Saturday slot on Writing Wranglers and Warriors where there's a slightly different post about Madeira.  Hop on over and see some different photos.


I'm not sure what they all are but I'm just sharing for pure enjoyment. 






Pretty sure this is a banana tree!

Celosias (?) add bold colour.


Others are more delicate


Add caption


I'm off now to catch some sun.

Slainthe!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Sampling Madeira


This blog post comes from Funchal on the island of Madeira, part of the archipelago of Madeira, which is situated in the mid-Atlantic Ocean. It lies about 1000 kilometres (621miles) to the south-west of Portugal and is about 600 km (372 miles) off the coast of Morocco on the African continent.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Locator_map_of_Madeira_in_EU.svg?uselang=en-gb

The islands - two now inhabited named Madeira and Porto Santo, and two uninhabited ‘The Desertas’- were discovered in 1418 by Portuguese navigators Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira (apologies for the lack of the proper Portuguese accents on the letters) when they were blown off course by a fierce Atlantic storm. Landing on the island they named Porto Santo (holy harbour) they realised the nearby large shadow was not a ferocious storm cloud, but was another island. 

The following year, 1419, they returned with the backing of Infante Dom Henrique de Avis, Duke of Viseu, better known as Prince Henry the Navigator. That does not mean that they were the first to chart the islands, since the islands are mentioned elsewhere before 1419, but is merely that they were first to claim them for a European crown. None of the Madeiran islands had native inhabitants and first colonisation was by the above sailors, their families, a few aristocrats, some people of ‘modest condition’ and some prisoners used to work the lands. Since Funchal is virtually carved out of a very steep mountainside, that was not an easy task as they built houses, created cultivation fields and irrigation channels.  


As mentioned in a previous blog, I took a sail around the Bay of Funchal in the replica ship Santa Maria de Colombo, a reconstruction said to be typical of the ships used by the above navigators. My pirate navigators were all far too handsome to be nasties, and I met Vasco Da Gama, resident parrot!

Though engine power was used to get in and out of the harbour, the day had sufficient wind for us to be under sail power for part of the voyage – a fine and gentle experience as we slowly passed along the coast which has the most fantastic geological strata.

The name Madeira means ‘wood’ in Portuguese, originating from the dense wood cover of ancient trees (laurisilva /laurel); the rich biodiversity of the island a beauty to behold. Madeira’s worth in the plant world gained it the title of a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1999.

Funchal was declared the capital of the island, by Royal decree of King Manuel I in 1508. The name comes from ‘funcho’ meaning fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). By the nineteenth century, European physicians were sending their clients to Madeira for recuperation believing that its pleasant and soothing climate would cure their respiratory problems. The temperature is mild, a typical summer day around a high of 26 Deg C (79/80 F) and a low of 18/19 Deg C (64/66 F). Winter days are typically 19 Deg C / 66 F. For me, coming from an often cold and rainy Scotland, any day on Madeira is a great day!

The above is the official Portuguese version of the claiming of the islands but those of us who know my writing of Celtic/Roman times will realise I was particularly pleased to find out that the historian Plutarch makes a mention of the military commander Quintus Sertorius having discovered islands on his travels in 72 AD -‘The islands are said to be two in number separated by a very narrow strait and lie 10,000 furlongs from Africa. They are called the Isles of the Blessed..’ This description is believed to refer to Madeira.

Pliny- author, naturalist and Roman commander- who died in 79 AD at the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (though he is thought to have died from natural causes rather than volcanic asphyxiation) also refers to islands which lie in the correct geographical location for Madeira as the ‘purple islands’. From my short stay on Madeira that’s good enough for me!  

Products of Madeira are bananas (the small curvy variety) sugar cane, sugar beet, grapes, fine embroidery ...other products... and Madeira wine. Tourism also plays a huge part in keeping the economy vibrant.

My husband and I went on an evening tour to a traditional restaurant which offered traditional food and entertainment- a fun evening! We ate a simple home made tomato soup (could also have been vegetable) preceded by a round of traditional bread - Bolo de Caco - which was delicious served with garlic butter. 

The meat course was Espetada - large chunks of beef rubbed in garlic, salt and bay leaf. They are marinated in a mixture of Madeira wine, red wine vinegar and olive oil for the duration of an afternoon. After being skewered onto a bay (laurel) stick the meat chunks are grilled over smouldering wood chips. We had the beef served to us on a long metal brochette (skewer) which was hung from a custom made slot in the candle holder bolted to the table.  

The food was served along with a Madeira wine aperitif (sherry like), some local red or white wine and ended with a Madeiran liqueur chaser- also of the 'sweet sherry' taste. 

The traditional dancing was different from any other Mediterranean style I have encountered before. There was a lot of bending from the waist with one arm behind the back – very energetic formation dances full of movement with lots of colour in the costumes worn. Unfortunately, it was difficult to take photos since the action was very close to our table. The music was from a set of almost unknown instruments, the accordian and simple drum being the more recognisable. The 'Clacker' on the right of the above photo was like a toy for adults or children- little figures suspended from pull-strings which made a fantastic accompaniment to the clapping  of the dancers. 


Diners were encourged to join in at the end of the evening, yours truly not having a clue what to do in what turned out to be a sort of line dance after a lot of initial clapping! 

More updates will be forthcoming on our Maderia trip. Keep tuned in… for my next post of fine orchids.

Slainthe!