My perfect day

Warm autumn days are perfect for family walks - no need for jumpers or sunhats.

Sunny, warm autumn days are perfect for family outings.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

Collecting acorns with Papi.

The other night I was at the Taller de Habilidades Sociales para Padres – a local parents’ group run by a psychologist where we vent our frustrations, fears and anxieties about raising children.

One of the recent exercises was asking your partner (another parent in the group, or your other half at home) to “interview” you about what you think your most important skills are – self-esteem is a big part of this series of sessions. I am hopeless at these things, as they always make me think more about what I want/would like/hope to do, rather than what I can/already do. “I wish I was more xxxx”, “Why can’t I be more yyyy”, and so on.

All this day-dreaming got me thinking about how my perfect day would be, and I thought it seemed like a fun idea for a spontaneous blog post – rather than the anally over-planned ones I normally produce.

My ideal day would go something like this:

Weekday: Get up when the alarm goes off (rather than hitting the snooze button seven times and getting up stupidly late); shower, wash and blow-dry hair before husband, so there’s enough hot water; get dressed and prepare fresh, delicious, healthy snacks for school rather than the standard dinosaur biscuits. Children are already awake and pleasant-tempered. They get dressed in suggested clothes (three-year-old must dress herself, to astonishment of other mothers at swim class), or choose their own, without objecting vociferously to lack of favourite pants/socks/dress/T-shirt etc, or insisting on princess/fairy outfit/bikini/sandals. They eat breakfast provided without rejecting, spilling or knocking over anything; brush teeth unassisted, find and put on coat/gloves/scarf/hat, each remembers to pick up their bag and any extra items needed for today, get in car. At no point do I get impatient, lose my temper or shout.

While they’re at school, I do the usual food shopping, house cleaning, clothes washing, work at the computer, receiving emails accepting my pitches for articles and offering well-paid, interesting work for prestigious publication(s) with reasonable deadlines, with no hours wasted faffing about on Social Media; perhaps have a coffee with a friend, who tells me about an amazing new potential client.

I'm all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

I’m all for artistic and sartorial self-expression, just not before school.

Collect children, take to activities, park, birthday parties. Older child does homework without need for prompting, chiding or removal of distracting toys (explaining and helping are acceptable). The two children play nicely together, doing creative, constructive play – building, drawing, dressing up. Their father takes part too (now we’re solidly into the realms of fantasy).

The Knights of Flores.

The Knights of Flores – I adore Lola’s princess/lady-knight set, complete with scabbard.

Make healthy dinner – featuring our own home-grow veg* and other local, organic ingredients – which is eaten in its entirety and praised roundly. Older child reads story (in English) fluently to younger child. They have their baths amicably, clean teeth unaided and go to bed when asked first time.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Getting dirty is entirely acceptable, to the utter bemusement of Spanish mothers.

Weekend: Children sleep in till 10am, then get into parental bed for stories and games. Husband makes breakfast for everyone, having already been out to get the papers – scrambled eggs on toast, fresh orange juice, cereal, hot chocolate (there’s a first time for everything). We go for a long family walk in mild sunshine with dog (woods, beach, hills). Identify plants, trees, flowers, animals; learn about history, nature, animals. Father teaches children about local crafts, environment, which berries they can eat (as in the lean Franco years), how to weave esparto grass etc. Getting messy, jumping in muddly puddles and splashing in streams all to be encouraged (waterproof suits, wellington boots and change of clothes advisable). Everyone has a roaringly good time.

Walking the dog is one of Lola's favourite occupations.

Walking the dog is one of Lola’s favourite occupations.


Post-prandial rest.

Post-prandial rest.

Have picnic in bucolic spot with healthy, tasty, home-made food, which children eat in its entirety without complaining or requesting alternatives. Then everyone has a siesta in the shade. Go home (with no squabbling on the back seat), play in garden, have dinner outside (barbeque if it’s warm enough), bath and bed as above. Remember to ask them what the best bit was, what we’ve learned.

Husband and I share a bottle of wine and mull over our lives. It’s been a screen-free experience: no TV whatsoever, for anyone, at any point; and I don’t look at my beloved but dangerously addictive iPhone or computer once. An active, fun, outdoor family – finished off with a decent dash of alcohol.

What’s your perfect day like?


*Our huerta (kitchen garden) is currently a work in progress – we’re still at seedling stage. Watch this space.

A review of four new children’s books by an expat-in-Spain author

One of the delights of blogging for me – and indeed, of being a journalist in general – is the variety of things you get to do, see, experience, write about… So I was quite chuffed when someone sent me some children’s books to review. I’m an avid reader and want to communicate to my children the joy of books, so it’s a pleasurable task to be charged with.

I was sent them because the author, Anita Pouroulis, who is South African, is also an expat living in Spain. Anita lives in the residential development of Sotogrande on the Costa del Sol with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. This coastal resort has some of the most expensive real estate in Spain, allegedly. Sort of like Sandbanks in Poole, except newer, and with sun.

Anita has written four children’s books, for ages 4-7 – my son Zac is just six, so he’s perfectly placed within the age range. Each book is illustrated by a different artist, so they all have their own look, though what they do have in common is being bright and colourful. The books are written in rhyming verse.

The first one we read was Mum’s Cronky Car. I’d never heard the word “cronky” before – it sounds like an amalgam of “cranky” and “wonky” – the only online dictionary I could find with a definition was a colloquial one. It said “shaky, dodgy, falling apart, in poor condition”.

Mum’s car is an old banger which doesn’t work very well – it stops and starts, chugs, coughs and lurches. The little girl is embarrassed and says “I wish that I could hide in the boot!” and “I just want to pull out my hair in utter despair! This car is so beyond repair!” After pages of complaints about the “cronky car”, which I found a tad repetitive (I was surprised the editor hadn’t cut them down), we have a welcome diversion in the form of a voyage into dreamland: the girl rides an elephant, a hippo and an ostrich; then the car takes off and flies through the air, over the houses, a la Harry Potter, and also meets a plane. My son was thrilled by the animals and the flying car, and liked this book in general – boy+car+flying (he’s currently obsessed with helicopters)=guaranteed success.

Next we looked at Oh, What a Tangle! which is a about a girl’s messy barnet – she doesn’t like to brush her hair. I have curly, hard-to-control hair, so I can identify with her torment. This girl, Kiki, uses her hair as a brolly, a herb garden, a bird sanctuary, and to clean windows. Finally, her mum gets fed up and chops it off. I thought it was quite funny, but Zac wasn’t impressed, as it was “too girly” and “too smelly” (don’t ask me), but he did enjoy the mum getting annoyed with smoke coming out of her ears (probably because he’s used to seeing me like that).

Pancake Pandemonium was better received, although it was about a girl (called Polly), but with no car or aeroplane. Unfortunately Zac doesn’t like pancakes, so that part of the appeal was  lost. This book is about a girl who yearns for an endless supply of pancakes, so she decides to set up a Heath Robinson-style factory in her back garden, complete with cows for the milk, chickens for the eggs, and bees for the honey. Again, Mum isn’t happy when the animals escape, trashing her garden and attracting the disprobity of the neighbours. The idea was great fun, especially the chickens sitting on their funnels, and the eggs being carried along on a conveyor belt.

My Monster Mayhem was the last of the four books. This one is about a superhero girl who has to fight monsters in her house with wonderful names like Scrapadapadocus, the Limbobo and Noctanonoes. Zac found it “too scary” – he “didn’t like the monsters” (this is a child who sleeps with the bedroom light on – the main light, not a nightlight – so I wasn’t going to push it), although he did love the bath scenes with the drain-dwelling Biver Quiver. There was one particularly frightening sequence, with a nearly dark page showing a beastly shadow, then on the following page, a many-eyed ogre who said “BOO!” It even made me jump!

Some of Zac’s reactions may have been down to a lack of enthusiasm on my part: these books didn’t really grab me. We’re used to a diet of the peerless Julia Donaldson (The Gruffalo, Zog, The Snail and The Whale), who has rhyming tales down to a fine art, so it’s hard not to compare the two writers. Donaldson’s couplets flow beautifully, bouncing along with no extra syllables, rhyme perfectly, have beautifully-structured stories with wonderful characters, and and are a joy to read, and wonderful to listen to.

So, from my point of view, it’s hard for other rhyming books to match up to the standard of hers, although these characters did have some interesting quirks. Anita’s books are full of fun and great ideas and adventures, but they’re not as well-crafted as Donaldson’s – they don’t read as smoothly (see lines quoted above). They’re  are also too wordy and long, in my opinion  – not that I’m one to talk; self-editing is not my strong point.

The illustrations were an interesting mix. My Monster Mayhem was sort of in the style of Dr Seuss, with eccentric-looking beasties, and other books from the same era. We’re big Dr Seuss fans – Green Eggs and Ham is a great book for a keen young bookworm like Zac to flex his reading muscles - so that was good. The cronky car pictures were nice, friendly illustrations, although there were too many similar pictures of the car stuck in traffic – labouring the point somewhat. Art is very subjective, I know, but personally I didn’t like the illustrations in the other two books. In the hair book all the faces looked bizarrely like Viking masks, and the pancake book ones were  too CGI-cartoony.

Having said all that, these books have some nice touches, such as word searches and spot-the-differences in the back, and find the creature hidden in pages throughout the book. Each book has its own app with various zippy interactive features such as objects you can find and move around, which my kids loved, roaring with laughter at the meowing cat which frightens the mum at the start of the My Monster Mayhem app. Nail-painting and changing hairstyles are probably of more interest to girls than boys – the books are more girl-oriented in general, with all-female protagonists.

I think whether or not you buy these books comes down to how you choose what your children read – is it you or they who make the selection? I mostly buy online, picking ones I’ve been recommended by friends, or by authors we already know. Living in Spain, English books are prohibitively expensive, so a trip to a bookshop when we’re back in England is a big treat. And our local library there is heaven, of course – they can take exactly what they want. I don’t know if my kids would go for these books if they saw them on the shelf – that’s the real test. The covers are great, as you can see, but the content didn’t win me over, and my children weren’t convinced either. Check out Anita’s website (see below) for yourself and see what you think.

Pancake Pandemonium, Mum’s Cronky Car, My Monster Mayhem and Oh, What a Tangle! are all published by Digital Leaf as both paperbacks and ebooks priced £5.99 and £2.99 each respectively. The apps cost £2.99; all except Mum’s Cronky Car are available now; MCC is out in early December. See Anita’s website for more games and activities.

Ship of Dreams – Titanic The Exhibition comes to Seville

Boarding the “Ship of Dreams”.

It’s already been travelling around Spain for years, spending up to one year in cities such as Valencia, Barcelona and Bilbao, as well as across Europe – Berlin, Stockholm and Amsterdam. It takes around three weeks to disassemble and set up again, and is carried in seven trailers. It has 200 original objects, from letters to clothing. And now, in the centenary year of the disaster, Titanic the Exhibition is here in Seville, at the Pabellon de Navegacion on Isla Cartuja, where it will remain until April 2013.

Everyone knows something about the story of the Titanic, from the James Cameron mega-movie, to the aesthetic and financial disaster Raise the Titanic. Stories of feisty Molly Brown, the brave orchestra, stalwart Captain Smith, not enough lifeboats, the Carpathia. First class luxury, third-class dreams.

So seeing it all brought to life with personal possessions of passengers on the ship – both those who survived, and those who perished – is a moving experience. This exhibition traces the history of the ship, from its conception, design, building in Belfast shipyards and launch, to the fateful night of 14 April 1912 when the ship hit an iceberg in the Atlantic and sank, with the loss of more than 1500 lives (out of 2,207 on board).

The whole Titanic story is one of high emotion and drama – it’s called “the Ship of Dreams” and “the World’s Greatest Steamer”, “A Floating Palace”. This exhibition starts with the birth of “the most legendary ship in history” (for all the wrong reasons, clearly). White Star Shipping Line wanted to compete with Cunard, by building vessels far bigger than any which had sailed before.

Postcard illustrating the length of the ship compared to the tallest buildings of the day – it was 269m.

Construction began in 1909 and took 27 months, with 3000 men working at the shipyard in Belfast. Some of the memorabilia includes part of the ship wall, to show the screws – welding wasn’t used then; a photo of a propeller next to a bus, to show its massive scale; and information about the ship’s designer, who was so meticulous that he supervised all the work himself and wanted to be on the maiden voyage to make sure everything worked correctly, and take notes on any possible improvements. Yes, it’s all steeped in anticipation of the tragedy-that-we-know-is-to-come.

Plans show the 15 water-tight compartments – if one floods, the others will be closed off, up to a maximum of five; lifeboat drills were deemed unnecessary, as the Titanic was “unsinkable”. The original passenger list, showing name, surname, age, nationality and class of each, sent shivers down my spine. Poor bastards.

You follow the ship’s course after it leaves Southampton on 10 April 1912 on its maiden voyage, to its first two scheduled ports of call Cherbourg, where Molly Brown boarded, and Cork, where mostly 3rd class passengers join those already on board.

The salon of a first-class stateroom – as luxurious as any hotel suite.

You see a massive scale replica, complete with little figures and doll’s house furniture in the cabins; you hear a recording of the echoing sound of the ship’s horn, and see the actual horn itself, rescued from the sea; chairs and dishes from the dining room; reconstructions of third-class (bunks, room service, lights out at 10pm) and first-class cabins with brocade walls, and sofa and desk in the salon; one of my favourites was the deck chair (yes, used on deck) with White Star Line logo and logo-ed blanket.

Third-class cabin, which slept four in bunk beds.

But what pulls at your heartstrings are all the hand-written notes, postcards, letters from Irish, English, American, Swedish and other passengers to their families which show snapshots of their lives. Many are leaving their own countries in search of a better life in the Promised Land – the United States of America; they plan to make their fortune, and then return home. The writers of these missives never dreamed this voyage would put such an abrupt and brutal end to their plans, or a delay in the case of the lucky ones. You can see wallets, coins and watches recovered from bodies, as well as those contributed by survivors and their families.

Kate Phillips’ pendant, presented to her on board by her lover. She survived; he didn’t. Their story was the inspiration for Jack and Rose in the movie.

Kate with her daughter Ellen, born nine months after the Titanic’s sinking.

There were three stories which really caught my imagination. The first is of the couple who were having an affair, called Harry and Kate. They bought tickets under false names – he was married; he gave her a pendant as a token of his love. Kate took the necklace when she left the ship. Harry didn’t survive, and Kate gave birth to a child on 11 January 1913 – the baby, Ellen, was probably conceived on the Titanic. The pendant Harry gave to Kate was the inspiration for Rose’s Heart of the Ocean jewel in the movie.

The suit of Spanish Titanic victim Victor Peñasco.

The founder of Macy’s and his wife were some of the more high-profile victims, while especially poignanct here in Spain were Victor and Josefa Peñasco, a wealthy young couple from Madrid who were on a one-year honeymoon. While in Paris, they decided to buy first-class tickets to New York, pre-writing postcards from the city for their butler to send to her mother so she wouldn’t worry – she was scared of boats. Victor ceded his place in a lifeboat to a woman and her child who, along with Josefa, survived. You can see Victor’s dinner jacket laid out. He was one of ten Spanish passengers on the Titanic, of whom three died.

Luise Kink shown in New York, wearing her leather boots.

The boots worn by Luise when she escaped from the Titanic.

The third story is of a third-class passenger – 75 per cent of these died, including many Scandinavians – I had no idea there were so many Norwegian and Swedish passengers on the Titanic. Four-year-old Luise Kink was travelling with her parents and aunt, and all were rescued. Luise’s little leather boots which she was wearing at the time can be seen, along with a photo of her still wearing them when she arrived in New York.

At 11.40pm the iceberg was sighted; engines were put into reverse and ship turned to port, but it was too late. The moment when the ship struck the iceberg, at 11.50pm, is described as “a slight bump, like a train pulling into a station – just a slight jerk”. Someone else tells of the ice – you can “smell a keenness in the air”. The rivets holding the plaques in the ship’s carefully designed compartments broke, and five compartments flooded. The order to abandon ship was given, SOS signals sent out by Morse code. But there weren’t enough lifeboats, and many jumped into the icy Atlantic, where survival time was 20 minutes. Most victims died of freezing rather than drowning. There’s a big chunk of ice for you to touch, to remind you how cold the water would have been.

Front page of Mundo newspaper from 24 April about the sinking of the Titanic.

Captain Smith stayed on the ship, as did the orchestra in first class, who carried on playing till 2.10am, to calm the panicked passengers. Regaling their audience with “Nearer My God To Thee”, they didn’t even try to escape, and the eight musicians “died at their posts”.

One of the last items of this exhibition is a list of all the dead on huge boards, so you can see the 1500-odd names. In the hundreds of third class, there are long lists with the same surname: families travelling with their children to seek a new life – many adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s with children of all ages. In first and second class, they tend to be older, aged 50 and 60-something – established, prosperous either by their own means, or through successful careers, making the journey for pleasure, in the smartest, most high-tech ship available – its most expensive staterooms, the presidential suites, cost £512 (the equivalent of 80,000 euros in today’s money).

I hope I’ve told you just enough to either pique your interest and make you go, if you can, but without revealing too much; or to entertain you, if you can’t. There are many, many more fascinating tales of the ill-fated passengers of this famous ship, as well as those who survived that fateful night. It is well worth experiencing this exhibition, which brings it so vividly to life, at first hand – I spent nearly three hours there. It made quite an impression on me, as I’m sure it will on you.

The Pabellon de Navegacion, on the river, where the exhibition is being held.

Some practical information

The audioguide (included in the entry fee) is an essential part of the exhibition, with a clearly-explained exhibit-by-exhibit commentary. It’s a little melodramatic and cliched, with the inevitable soaring orchestral music – the ship “carried the hopes and dreams of more than 2,200 people” – but then this story is all about human drama on a massive scale. I found the MP3 machines themselves a little unreliable and difficult to operate. Each display box has an information panel in both Spanish and English.

The Titanic exhibition is in the Pabellon de Navegacion, although it operates separately from the pabellon’s own permanent exhibit space, with its own entrance at the front of the building, facing the river. The exhibit is open seven days a week, from 10am to 8pm, and you can either buy tickets on the day, or – to avoid queues, especially at weekends – book online, where you get a choice of two sessions: either 10am-3pm or 4pm-8pm.

Entry costs 10 euros including audioguide (Mondays 5 euros, except holidays); 8 euros for students under 25, children aged 7-14, the unemployed and over-65s; 3 euros for children aged under 7 with audioguide, or free without audioguide. See the exhibition website for more information or to book your ticket.

This website is an excellent resource for information on all those who sailed on the Titanic, with lists of survivors and victims including their ages, professions, the fare they paid, and even which cabin they were travelling in.

Sleek decor and period uniforms at the Cafeteria Americana.

There’s a cafe, in a refreshingly contemporary style with white leather-effect furniture and huge windows, and staff wearing Titanic-era white uniforms. I didn’t try the food, so I can’t vouch for it, but they have tapas and montaditos for 2.50 euros. To get to the cafe, which is at the front of the pabellon overlooking the river, you have to go up some stairs outside – not ideal if it’s raining.

In the shop you can buy all the usual kick-knacks – keyrings, Tshirts, reproduction plates; on the way into the exhibition, they take a photo of you on the gangplank (mine’s at the top of this post), which you can choose whether or not to buy when you leave – it costs 5 euros mounted in a mock-up newspaper folder. A fun, if pricey, souvenir.

Ladies sing the blues

Soprano Angel Blue looks the part at the glamorous Jazz and Blues concert, part of the Placido Domingo Festival in Seville. Photo: Benjamin Mengelle

Fellow soprano Micaela Oeste in full flow at the Jazz and Blues concert at the Alcazar. Photo: Benjamin Mengelle

Seville has been quite the cultural hotspot over the past few weeks, with the Placido Domingo Festival, followed by the Seville Film Festival. Both have been high-profile, well-attended events which have brought international attention to the city for overwhelmingly positive, uplifting reasons – a welcome change from the usual media focus on economic doom and gloom.

I managed to make it to one concert and three films, which is not a fantastic showing, but all four gave me plenty to think (and write) about.

When I saw the programme for the music festival, hopefully the first of an annual tradition, the two events which grabbed me were the opera Thais, starring Domingo himself, and a Jazz and Blues concert at the Alcazar. Other events included piano and guitar recitals, but the hottest ticket by far was the maestro in the lead role of Massenet’s opera at the Maestranza theatre. It was to be the first time Placido had sung here in Seville since the Expo in 1992.

As the maestro’s performance only had a limited amount of press tickets available (or at least that’s what they told me), I settled for the only non-classical event. This was a very satisfactory proposition, since I love jazz and blues and, even better, a night-time concert in Seville’s royal palace is an experience in itself.

At the press launch of the festival, I was intrigued to see the great tenor himself. Now in his 70s, he was surprisingly quietly-spoken and seemed genuinely pleased to have been invited to head up this festival, which took place in two cities this year – Seville (its base) and Malaga; the second city may change to Cordoba or Granada in subsequent years. Domingo is still very active, although has largely switched to baritone roles now, he told us.

Angel Blue with yours truly at the press launch of the festival. Top lady.

Among the other performers there to meet the press were the two lady singers who would be performing at the jazz concert – both American: a slim blonde (Micaela) and a warm African-American (Angel). They knew each other already, having performed together on various occasions, were very chatty, and seemed delighted to be in Seville for the festival – the delights of the city must be an added bonus for artistes who have to stay here for an extended period.

The Alcazar by night – people arriving for the concert.

Thursday 1 November was a national holiday here in Spain, an ideal day to dress up a bit and go to a superb night of music at my favourite palace in Seville. I went with a friend who had already been to another concert earlier in the week, and had been most impressed by the music and general set-up. Everyone was smartly dressed for the concert, with sequins and bling in evidence, and my friend said people were more glam that night than at the event she had attended.

Free wine and sherry, courtesy of Uncle Joe.

An email had informed me that as press we weren’t allowed to take photos of the concert, so I just took a few iPhone shots of the surroundings, hence the less-than-crystal-clear-sharpness of these images. The first two, of the performers themselves at the concert, are official photographs – though they’re not quite up to the standard of mine, obviously.

The Salon de los Tapices in the Alcazar (Royal Palace) where the concert took place. Note the suitably regal red and gold chairs.

The heady atmosphere of a warm autumn evening (for it was not raining) was enhanced by the nice men from Tio Pepe behind tables groaning with glasses of wine and sherry. Nothing to complete the experience like a drop of free alcohol (in moderation in my case; I was driving).

Walking into the room where the concert was about to start, I was struck by what a special venue these concerts in the festival had. Historic tapestries showing Carlos V’s military victories hang on the walls, which have seen centuries of royal celebrations. We sat on extremely posh upholstered red velvet chairs, and it all felt very sophisticated. Walking through the palace, on the way to the Salones where the concert and reception were held, Moroccan lanterns had been placed on the floor, giving a marvellously medieval feel to the passageways and alcoves.

With such a build-up, the concert had to deliver big-time. And it did. The two young sopranos were both outstanding, and the audience lapped up the programme of Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin classics. Angel has a rich voice, which suited such classics as Summertime from Porgy and Bess, and Mack the Knife and, for me her high point, It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. Her “ba-bam, ba-bam”s were as good as any chanteuse’s, and she looked like she was having the time of her life. The girl’s got style (and rhythm too, obviously) – a natural on the stage with abundant star quality.

Micaela’s selection include Anything Goes and La Vie En Rose, which she sung with great animation; her voice is more classical. They also sang some duets, starting off with Cole Porter`s Friendship. Somehow the singers’ elegant evening frocks and the setting went beautifully with the period which most of the songs were from – the 1920s and 1930s.

These two singers complemented each other perfectly, and after an interval where we enjoyed more complimentary vino de jerez, including straight from the barrel poured from on high by a maestro with the steadiest hand I’ve ever seen, the concert resumed. Our evening rounded off with the Irving Berlin number, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better – which was a great opportunity for some playful vocal one-upmanship. Angel and Micaela repeated this as part of the encore – the repartee looked as much fun for them to perform, as it was for us in the audience to watch.

While the concerts at the Maestranza were quite pricey, the Alcazar ones were subject to a voluntary donation to the Banco de Alimentacion (Food Bank). A very reasonable arrangement for seeing such superb performances in a such a magical venue; the presence of Placido Domingo at many of the concerts added extra cachet. I am sure I’m not the only one who is hoping very much that the festival is not a one-off.

The Patio de Monteria of the Alcazar, with the Giralda behind. Any concert in such a privileged setting would be memorable, but this one was extra-special.

Friday fotos: curves

Friday photos – or #frifotos – is something I look at with great interest, without ever managing to take part in (story of my life).

But this week’s theme, Curves, was screaming out to be illustrated with some shots of Metropol Parasol, our mushroom-like waffles shades here in Seville which were finally finished last year after endless delays and controversy.

The entire raison d’etre of this structure is curves – sinuous, winding buildings which undulate around a square space lined with rectangular buildings. Designed by German architect Jurgen Mayer-Hermann, Metropol Parasol is the largest wooden structure in the world, at 150m x 20m x 25m. When Sevillanos finally got to see it, they were divided between forward-thinking marvel, bringing their city into the 21st century, and hideous carbuncle with no place in a historic gem like Seville.

Once you climb up to the walkway, it’s hard not to be convinced. It all feels so smooth and flowing; not a hard edge in sight. And the views down those snaky paths… superb. Back down on ground level, even the flowerbeds are rounded.

And just in case you’re left in any doubt as to its curviness, here’s official confirmation – the plaque celebrating its official inauguration. You could almost say it’s a Barbapapa. And you can’t get curvier than that, can you?