TP32 Header sunsetI know there are those who believe that an early flight is the way to go so that you can ‘make the most’ of your weekend away. For Mrs. Panda and I, it is a gruelling trial by ordeal which we will undertake only when no other options are available.

That said, our Ryan Air flight touched down in Jerez just ahead of time and with minimal fuss. The flight had not suffered the ‘United’ curse of being overbooked and no one was dragged bruised and bleeding from the aircraft by security before we departed. I had indulged in a passable cup of Lavazza coffee and a cheese and ham croissant delivered by a cheery flight crew (probably at the start of their shift). Despite the early hour, I’d even managed to keep my eyes open for a whole episode of Bates Motel on the old iPad. Possibly the most trying part was the seating of the Essex equivalent of ‘Family Guy’ behind us and his relentlessly crying and complaining offspring, but even that could not temper the excitement of our forthcoming excursion!

Jerez is the land of sherry and one of my favorite tipples – Carlos I Brandy, but no time to hang around, Cadiz awaits. We had already established a small wrinkle in that Mrs. Panda had intended to be chief hire car driver but forgotten her driving license –  so I would be drafted in. By the lengthy queue at the car hire booth we should have got an indication that the ‘jobs worth’ factor was pretty high. If you have ever wondered why anyone would go to the famous, more expensive car hire firms when the local ones which are so cheap – well THIS is why! Turns out that despite the fact she is standing right next to me (with a passport to prove it) it was impossible for them to handle that my wife had made the booking but that I would be the main driver and apparently, we would need to completely rebook on line. While she told them politely but firmly to ‘get stuffed’, I wandered off to see what a taxi would charge, quite relieved that even the most sporadic and occasional driving wouldn’t in any way interfere with my wine, sherry and brandy consumption over the weekend.

TP32 Playa VA pleasant taxi driver ferried us the 30-minute drive to Cadiz, imparting nuggets of wisdom as they do and in a jiffy, we were pulling up outside the Hotel Playa Victoria Palafox. A couple of kilometers from the Old Town of Cadiz, yes, but placed squarely in front of one of the best stretches of sandy beach I have seen within the confines of a European city. Even though it was a mixed sky of cloud and the occasional sun beam, one could imagine that  expansive golden sand on a day of blistering sunshine. Being only April, we could only hope we would be lucky enough to see one.

13 kilometers. That’s what we walked on that Friday and it set the pace for the whole weekend. After a trouble-free early check-in to the hotel, we set off in search of…. well Vino y Jamon (wine and ham), which if you believe my friends and family is the main reason I go to Spain (and they are not entirely wrong). We satisfied our immediate hunger with authentic tortilla patata, jamon, olives and sliced manchego over a glass of house red in an understated locals’ café, before seeing whether we would reach the old town on foot.

Fortifying ourselves along the way with the odd café con leche, vinto tinto and as the temperature heated up, cerveza, we began our exploration of the old port town of Cadiz which was to last for the next 3 days.

Immediate observations were that it was a city with pride. Clean and well kept. Even the windswept sand is painstakingly returned to the beach and levelled every day my municipal workers. The old town is charming with a mix of quaint shops, cafes, bars and restaurants filling its narrow cobbled streets, which open up into impressive squares and patches of small organized open space with gardens and children’s playgrounds.

Being situated on an jutting strip of land, walking in any direction other than back to our hotel would eventually lead to the coast and a breathtaking view of the Atlantic.  Cadiz doesn’t strike you as a tourist place and nothing like the ‘Costa’ culture of the Mediterranean coastline. There are a spattering of tourists from Britain and Germany, but most of the time you are sharing the city with local people either going about their business or taking time out in their hometown. The result is that the place doesn’t seem like it’s ‘trying too hard’ as many tourist traps do. The pricing and quality of food and services pitches itself toward locals who are likely to be far more discerning than tourists!

TP32 TeatroI haven’t got on to the gastronomy yet, but before that there is a visual feast to enjoy. From the grandeur of the twin towered cathedral that is certainly worth a visit, to the Moorish architecture of the ‘Gran Teatro Falla’ theatre and the old cannoned port walls to the remnants of a Roman amphitheater, your cultural appetite is sated. Heading to the sea-facing tip of Cadiz, the old town has its own cove beach, sheltered and calm with an imposing pavilion where you could imagine the ‘well-to-do’ would have frequented in days gone by. Just down the road and facing out to the ocean is the Hotel Parador. A modern five-star hotel set next to the Botanical Gardens, which looks much more impressive in real life than in the rather dour and clinical website photos. There was a slight moment of ‘look what you could have won’, but to be honest, I’m not sure the extra star could make up for the view and access to Playa Victoria that our own hotel had to offer.

I have made no secret that our Cadiz trip was predominantly food inspired and we owe considerable thanks to celebrity Padstow chef Rick Stein for showcasing it on his ‘Long Weekends’ TV series. Based on Cadiz, when it comes to my stomach and taste buds, wherever Rick’s going – I’m going!

Of course, as a port town, seafood is top of the menu. I could not have been more delighted when my humble glass of beer at the nearby beach bar was accompanied by a generous plate of Boquerones (plump, battered and fried anchovies) on the house. In England, I’d have been lucky to get a well fingered half bowl of peanuts if anything at all! Ice cold beer, a crisp and fresh anchovy and my toes in the warm sand. I’m not sure how I was ever dragged away!

We enjoyed our share of cafes and restaurants, but when it came to shining a spotlight on the gastronomy of Cadiz, the Central Market is not to be missed. I have never been to a market that so deftly represents the commercial centre and social hub of a small city. Even if markets are not your ‘thing’ I would highly recommend a peek at this one. The covered centre is a traditional commercial food market with venders selling fish, meat, cheeses, fruit and vegetables. The variety left nothing to the imagination with huge tuna and swordfish laid out across the ice and glistening jumbo shellfish ripe for the picking. However, for the casual market explorer greater delights lie just outside the covered area as it is literally ringed by a corridor of food stalls – all naturally relying on the market for their fresh ingredients. We visited on a Saturday afternoon and there was this great feeling of community. It was as if the population of Cadiz has popped out to catch up with friends and family in the shadow of the market.

TP32 marketDotted through the corridor of vendors peddling their gastronomic delights, were tables, stools and benches. where if you were quick, you could grab a seat to enjoy your latest mouthwatering bite with a glass of crisp sherry or luscious red wine. On that subject, it’s a joy to be a country that realizes that there is a huge difference between being served your wine and sherry in plastic cups and goblets (as so often happens at outdoor events and markets) and enjoying it in a proper glass. Here the market bars simply charge you a Euro deposit for your glass and give it back when you return it. Alfresco dining with class!

Gadisushi, mentioned in many online reviews, is one of the most popular market vendors. Cadiz is renowned for its fresh Tuna, particularly in May. We were a little early, but it was still plentiful and delicious. The Japanese influenced Tuna carpaccio was sublime. I could have eaten it all day if there wasn’t just so much else to choose from (and if the empanada stall wasn’t calling to me from across the way!)

For our final eating experience before leaving we chose Casa Manteca. Again, its referred to in many an online review with good reason and was a stop along the way for Mr. Stein in his TV show. It’s very much an old traditional Tapas Bar on the corner of two narrow old town streets, a block or two back from the sea. Founded by a retired bullfighter, the wood panelled walls are coated with photos, posters and memorabilia of a life in the arena. On a Sunday, like many watering holes in Cadiz, the doors will not even creak open after lunchtime until 8.30pm in the evening. The barmen/waiters are an engaging breed who will serve you an impressive house red while you ponder the small but perfectly formed tapas menu and give you excellent recommendations of its highlights. Enjoy some fresh boiled peeling prawns in a paper cone bursting with the flavour of the sea – no seasoning required, while you consider theTP32 Boquerones various Pork dishes. Pork or ‘chicharon’ is big in Casa Manteca. Delivered in amazingly marinated wafer thin slices on greaseproof paper (as are all tapas dishes) the serving is over far too soon. However, I think my favorite must be the small raw Tuna and cheese skewers (yes, it’s that Tuna again!). Those and the complimentary marinated anchovies (more Boquerones!), this time not fried, but in oil and vinegar which is offset by the sweetest of tomatoes, diced and juicy. They were so good that when Mrs. Panda ordered dessert, I jokingly ordered more Boquerones and they dutifully arrived along with the most deliciously sweet fortified prune wine (again on the house). Thank you Casa Manteca, for a last supper worthy of your town!

Our prayers were answered on the last day of our long weekend with a cloudless sky and temperatures hitting 25 degrees. The beach which had so far looked impressive but a little windswept and deserted erupted into life! Tourists grossly outnumbered by local families and friends by enjoying the start of the what is likely to be a long warm summer. Beachside restaurants which had looked to hold promise but thus far seemed a little forlorn and empty, had customers spilling into the streets, enjoying their fried dogfish, shrimp fritters and ice cream to finish.

TP32 RumAfter a doze in the sun plus a brave and (extremely!) quick dip in the still rather icy Atlantic, we found ourselves again equipped with massive Cacique rum and cokes watching the sea lap on the sandy shore at Potito Beach Bar. Anyone who has visited Spain will know how generous the measures are when you order a drink and the waiter will generally keep pouring until you tell him or her to stop! In front of us a group of friends, clearly locals, had gathered for a drink and a chat, knocking back spirits and mixers encouraging more friends to join them and arguing over where the cheapest parking nearest the beach was. As the most vocal and jovial of the group had his glass topped up with whisky, the waitress paused just a little too soon and he encouraged her to keep going “Give me more happiness, more happiness!” he begged.

With the sun on my face, the sound of the ocean in my ears and the old town of Cadiz on the skyline, I was confident that my happiness had been topped up quite sufficiently already!

Still, another rum and coke couldn’t hurt, could it?

TP

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TP31 - Theme 2

A historic week for Britain approaches. The great EU referendum arrives at our doorsteps after what seems like a lifetime of painful, bad tempered and often fruitless campaigning. I shall be happy when it’s over.

The economic, scientific and artistic arguments for staying have been offered and countered vigorously, although vacuously, by the leavers, despite the voices of reason andTP 31 EU dice experience generally sitting in the Remain camp. So is there a explanation why, despite the often more solid case to remain and the majority of politicians who have held any real power in recent years telling us so, a sizeable slice of the British population intends to vote Leave?

It’s not just about the all-time-low in our trust of politicians and our apparent need to put our faith in colourful characters who have no substance and perhaps no integrity either.

The reason, is that the vote on Thursday 23rd June is intrinsically an ideological and emotional choice for many people.

Are we an insular island nation that is choosing to ‘take our ball back’ when the game gets hard? Do we no longer see the value in sharing cultures, in a smaller more varied and exciting world? Do some of us actually and truly blame the EU that Britain is no longer the land of Jeeves and Wooster, afternoon tea, leaving your front door open, street parties and standing up for the Queen’s speech? That immigration has apparently taken all of this way, as well as our jobs (although those usually being the ones we plainly feel too superior to do!)? Have we become so insecure that we actually believe that our noble culture and heritage, nurtured and built over thousands of years is really at risk from being part of a broader community…of a larger world?

Or…

Are we a forward looking country that sees its place in the world as an experienced ‘statesperson’, ‘spokesperson’ and ally of justice, battling unfairness, building a safer and more equitable world for us and everyone else in it? Do we realise that time has moved on and turning your back on the march of time doesn’t mean it stops, but rather that it just tramples you? Do we understand that to achieve the best in us and recognise or leverage the best in others, we must work as a community, as a team and improve from within not without? Do we see ourselves as shapers of the future, or happy to let others get on with it while we stay at home and perfect the art of making a damn good steak and kidney pudding?

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Before you put that cross in a box, forget your opinion of Cameron, Farage, Osborne, Gove and Corbyn. Think about who YOU are! Try to look past the transient challenges like the economic crisis of 2008, of war-fuelled migration and think to how we sent our builders to the EU in the 1980’s when our own economy tanked. Remember how our cooperation with the wider world since World War II has bought so many good things. Think big for your children – allow them to aspire to be citizens of the world not just a big fish in a small pond (one that is probably evaporating due to global warming).

The Panda chooses to ‘Remain’ and urges you all to think carefully for the future of our descendants and the increasingly smaller world that we cannot turn our back on. Think before leaping into the dark hole that the Leave campaigners have decorated at the entrance with shimmering lights and the prospect of sherry trifle for all. It will not be a soft landing.

Let’s truly be a part of this world and have our say.

Oh yes…and those under 25’s….please get out there and vote. We are relying on your untainted and unjaded optimism and your vision for the future to steer your sometimes misguided, older forbearers into a fairer, brighter, more cooperative future.

The Panda has had his say. Let the cards fall as they may.

TP

Background3 - My Life on TVAll the Singing, none of the Stinging!
Conrad De Souza explains his new musical project: Macrowasp

Tarantino Panda catches up with Conrad De Souza (who has previously talked to us about the art of songwriting and home recording) to find out what is behind his new album ‘Byte Size Matters’ and his intriguingly titled virtual band ‘Macrowasp’.

So where did Macrowasp come from?

“These names and ideas spring from the weirdest places! My wife Yessica has never been a fan of flying stinging insects and one day, in her native Spanish, she loudly christened a particularly large and terrifying creature that was troubling her round the swimming pool, as a ‘Macrowasp’.

I carefully stored the name at the back of my mind, thinking it was a great name for a band or project. I recall us sitting in a pub in one of my favourite towns, Bath sometime later in around 2009 and over a large glass of red wine telling her how I had big plans for the name!”

What exactly is the concept?

“When I first started thinking about Macrowasp, I had grandiose plans to make an album of my own songs, but differently to my previous outings. I toyed with inviting numerous friends and musicians I had worked with in the past to contribute to the songs. In effect Macrowasp could be a musicians’ collective rather than a band or specific group of people. Unfortunately, I didn’t really think through the practicalities of such an endeavour. Much of my love of recording comes from having a studio at home that I can crawl into at a moment’s notice whenever I have time and slap some tracks down in my pajamas if the mood takes me. Involving a raft of friends and fellow musicians, although exciting, means a good deal of planning, rehearsing and some loss in the spontaneity (and after all, they probably wouldn’t want to see me in my pajamas!).

As a result of this and over time, Macrowasp morphed into something else more akin to what Damon Albarn did with Gorillaz or Paul McCartney did with ‘The Fireman’. It became a vehicle for me to freely explore a direction that I may not have pursued as vigorously on a typical ‘Conrad De Souza’ album. In essence Macrowasp is very much a musical alter ego.”

Psychiatrist ThumbnailSo what direction did Macrowasp take you in?

“On my albums to date there have always been at least one or two tracks that sit more firmly in the ‘Electro-Pop’ bracket than my staple British Guitar Pop. Although bands like the Beatles were my initial and biggest inspiration and the guitar is my instrument of choice, my formative teen years were submerged in glorious and colourful electronic 80’s pop and in many ways that has had a major influence on my perception of a cracking pop tune.

I decided that through Macrowasp, I would surrender to that 80’s influence and combine it with my current style of songwriting and arrangement using the plethora of studio tools available to me in a 21st century home studio.

Songs are at the heart of all my projects and irrespective of musical style, the words and melodies are the most important thing. The new album will be accompanied by a handful of lyric videos including this one called ‘My Life on TV’, which I hope will help listeners delve into the lyrics a little further and let the story stimulate the imagination.”

What else can we expect from the new album ‘Byte Size Matters’?

“As the title suggests ‘Byte Size’ is a direct reference to the increased electronic ingredients on the album. That said, you will still hear some funky guitar and what I hope you will find both infectious and catchy tunes with intriguing lyrics and a satisfying groove! IMacrowasp album cover 2 - CD Baby Proof have aimed at creating an unpretentious, (possibly guilty!), pleasure that listeners will enjoy and want to listen to again. Many of the tunes are new, but I deliberately hand picked a few that I actually wrote back in the 80’s, when I would have been directly influenced by the sound and culture of the time, in order to give the album a little more authenticity and depth. There is an album sampler on You Tube for anyone that wants a quick tour of how it sounds. I just hope that people ‘get it’ and enjoy the fun vibe and tongue-in-cheek nature of some of the songs”

Are we likely to hear more from Macrowasp in future or is it a one-off?

“It’s hard to say at this point. I suppose it’s like asking Daniel Craig if he’ll do another Bond movie when he’s just finished the last one! I feel like I’ve come to the end of the chapter and its time to move on to the next project.

Back2 - Monday Morning MiracleI already have over half the songs planned for my next ‘Conrad De Souza’ album and those are by no means ‘Macrowasp tunes’. I expect I will veer away from the electronic to a more raw and acoustic sound on my next release. It’s good to keep things fresh.

I think the reality is that Macrowasp will return, but only when I have a song or songs that I feel fit that concept and production style. I can’t imagine another whole Macrowasp album for quite some time, but if this one finds an audience, I’d like to think the black and yellow buzzy thing will release the odd single from time to time!”

Byte Size Matters, the new album from Conrad De Souza & Macrowasp was released on 8th April 2016 and is available to download or stream from most online music providers including iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon, CDBaby and Spotify.

The Panda is definitely buzzing!

TP

24adTP - modern family 2The Last Advent Panda

24th Dec 2015: Modern Families

Well we made it Panda followers! It’s Christmas Eve and the big day is just round the corner.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my Advent ramblings with my mixture of reminiscing, ranting and hopefully, some uplifting moments have helped you on your pre-Christmas journey.

This blog post isn’t funny, ferocious or farcical and sits firmly in the sincere category.

We now live in a different and diverse world where families are not what they used to be. Children often have just one parent or perhaps up to four! Men are married to men, women are married to women and friends are sometimes closer to us to than family.

It does not matter who you love, how you love, what your faith is or even whether you have one. The coming days present an annual opportunity not to be missed.

Christmas by its very name may have originated in christianity, but it need not stay limited to those bounds. Whoever you are, whatever you believe in, use this holiday season as an opportunity to connect or re-connect with those you love – family and friends.

Make memories that will last, recount people and places of the past – life is fleeting and moves so fast. Press the pause button and take a little time to enjoy it.

The Panda will return in 2016, but until then, I wish you, your families and friends, the very best that the festive season has to offer, together with a peaceful and hopeful new year.

Advent TP signing out.

23adTP - turkeyThe Advent Panda

23rd Dec 2015: Collecting the Turkey… ‘Gobble Gobble’!

A long time ago in a country far far away….
….before farm fresh
….before additive free
….before carbon footprints
….before ORGANIC….

We used to just toddle up to Tesco for a frozen turkey, cram it into our already bulging freezer and hope to the stars that we remember to take it out early enough for it to defrost in time for Christmas dinner. I’m sure many a family ate at 9pm having not anticipated the thawing time for their plump, now featherless friend.

Now, we set out on Christmas Eve to the local farm (that on other weekends doubtless holds a farmers’ market) to collect our completely fresh, carefully reared and very recently expired turkey in its own carry carton with roasting instructions and even a handy cooking thermometer!

We wait patiently in a queue surrounded by talkative types in designer wellies, while farm hands in santa hats try to keep us entertained with mulled wine and hot slices of their best home-cooked sausages on wooden sticks.

Mock if you will, but it beats being stuck in a supermarket till queue pondering whether to throw a packet of Polos or Juicy Fruit into your basket!

TP.

London snowmanThe Advent Panda

22nd Dec 2015: Still dreaming of a White Christmas?

Christmas snow is rare in the South East of England, despite what tradition and fiction would have us believe. The chances of you getting out there and building a snowman before tucking into your Turkey is pretty slim.

I think for the UK gamblers, the payout is dependent on a single flake of snow falling on the roof of the Met Offices in London during the 25th of December. I’m not quite sure how that works? I know they’ve got lots of equipment up there but I’m sure it doesn’t cover the WHOLE roof. I have a picture in my head of several hardy chaps in scarves and bobble hats sitting equidistantly from each other on the roof and keeping vigil for 24 hours whilst passing round large flasks of coffee. It may not snow, but its bound to be pretty chilly up there!

What are the qualifications for a professional snow spotter and what do they do for the rest of year?

I suppose it’s just another of those great Christmas mysteries…

TP.

21adTP - birthdayThe Advent Panda

21st Dec 2015: Birthdays at Christmas…no short straws please!

There’s a nice sense of balance to having your Birthday somewhere in the middle of year. It spreads out the celebrations and indeed your allocation of gifts!

However, there are those who came hurtling into this world in late December not realising that they were crashing the rest of the world’s party.

Its not their fault and lets not penalise them for it.

Joint presents are a complete no no!

Play nice and give them a separate present or presents for their birthday. Plan a distinct party as you would if their birthday was in August (maybe not a barbecue if you’re in the northern hemisphere)!

Only when you have celebrated them properly can we draw a line and get back to talking about what that jolly fat chap in red will be carrying when he scrambles down the chimney on Christmas Eve.

TP.

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