Tapas & Tantrums. December 2013.

Dear Rowley,

If I hear one more politician or BBC newsreader referring to the late Nelson Mandela as Madiba I will sneak up behind them with a vuvuzela and give it to them hot. Isn’t Madiba a tribal term of endearment? If so acquaintances such as David Cameron have no more right to use the word than they do to call Her Majesty The Queen Lillibet. I’ve noticed an insidious trend within the BBC to indoctrinate us with inappropriate opinions.

On Radio 4, Islam is now pronounced ‘Issssssshlam’ with a caressing purr of satisfaction. I am of the opinion that the only religion in England that it’s acceptable to beat like a pinata is Christianity. Jan Moir wrote a sharp column in the Daily Mail today about a Catholic lady who was studiously ignored when she complained in Urban Outfitters about cards printed with the sentiment ‘Happy F****** Christmas’. As Moir rightly said, the PC brigade would close a shop down should it sell cards reading ‘Happy F****** Ramadan’.

While we’re on the subject of inappropriate behaviour, what did you think to David Cameron, Barak Obama and that Danish blonde at Mandela’s memorial service grinning like monkeys as the Dane took a ‘Selfie’ of them all. Michelle Obama’s face – as stony as Mount Rushmore – told the world that she was well aware this behaviour was both childish and insensitive. To be honest, I thought most of the Brits who attended treated the memorial like a jolly excuse to network. Boris, Blair, Milliband, Clegg and Cameron really had no business being in South Africa at all.

I was on my travels this week after a charming invitation from author David Garcia Bragado to attend the launch of his book Vestirse Por Los Pies in Santiago di Compostela for which I’d written the foreword. I am a complete stranger to Northern Spain though did know Santiago because the Cathedral’s shrine to St James was and is the conclusion to the Pilgrims’ Way. The Cathedral took five-hundred years to build and is thus a mad melange of Gothic, Perpendicular, Baroque and even Chinese influence.

As you know, I said never again after this year’s excursion to Belgrade but must admit that authors find it almost impossible to ignore the siren song of self-publicity when it is offered. I flew in to Santiago di Compostela on Tuesday afternoon and must admit to have been enchanted by the Old Town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and is thus a perfect time capsule of Medieval architecture. The facade of practically every building is crowned with heraldic shields, saints’ heads, mythical beasts and minarets. Decorated for Christmas, it was magical.

The book launch was held in the magnificent 15th century Hospital that stands at right angles with the Cathedral. The Hospital of the Kings of Spain was built to minister to the pilgrims who made their way to worship at St James’s shrine; many of whom sought sanctuary there and never left. The Hospital is built around four quadrangles and is an architectural masterpiece complete with deconsecrated chapels, chapter houses and a room set high in the chapel walls called the ‘Room of Misery’ where lepers could hear the mass without contaminating their fellow patients.

The Hospital is now a luxury hotel called the Paradores and our fabulous guide told me all sorts of scandalous morsels about the architecture. The top flight of a four-storey Medieval stone staircase was apparently used by pregnant women who would be given miscarriage-inducing herbs before jumping down the steps vigorously. Around the ceiling of one quadrangle are carvings of more than seven deadly sins to be discouraged: my favourite being a naked lithe young man mooning.

What can I say of the book launch? I decided to read my Foreword in front of the hundred-strong audience; rather a challenge when I realised not one of the audience spoke English. They stared up at me like nodding dogs with a bemused look on their faces clearly longing for me to shut-up and the translator to do his stuff. David had hired a five-piece brass band to play in between each speech…not something one is used to at book launches in London but delightfully bonkers all the same.

I do like short hops to the Continent but travel isn’t for cissies is it? I booked an EasyJet flight which is so no-frills you half expect to be asked to help yourself to the drinks trolley then patrol the aisles with a plastic bin liner cleaning up after yourselves. That said, on the EasyJet flight home on the 12th, I had seat 1C and the first five rows were empty so had a lovely bit of banter with a charming steward who gave me a copy of the Times to read with my G&T. I tell you the British papers are the thing I most miss when abroad.

Off to the Henry Poole & Co Christmas party tonight which if past experience is anything to go by ends up like a re-enactment of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. I had my bi-annual love in with my Thames & Hudson publisher Lucas last night at the fabulous, glamorous Rosewood London hotel bar. It’s a winner Rowley as were the Dubonnet and Gin cocktails. Until next time…