Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Feria and the sweet taste of victory!

Hola amigos,

Welcome back. This week I bring you stories of my most recent adventure to Seville and also tales of how my hockey team captured the title of champions. Please stick with it because it may be slightly longer than normal under the new format, but it has been a fairly packed week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Status Update
It has been a long week and my overriding feeling at the end of it is exhaustion. Filled with late nights in Spain and running myself into the ground playing hockey I am taking a well deserved break tonight and probably going to get an early night. I just can't work hard and play hard in the manner I once used to be able to.Wow does that sound like something an old man would say or what?! It has been a fun week and I got to see Vic again after a few weeks apart so I really cannot complain at all this week, not that I would anyway...honest.

Haggy's Hols
At 7am on Tuesday (after driving from Newcastle that morning) I climbed aboard a cramped Ryanair flight from Stansted and headed off to Seville. It was actually the first time I have been to Seville since November last year and I think I timed it perfectly. After hearing of some epic thunderstorms I arrived in a gloriously sunny Seville and basked in the mid 30s temperatures - not bad hey?!

Alongside getting to see my beloved I got to experience another truly Spanish holiday, Feria. Seville is internationally renowned for Feria, which is basically a week long party. I am still confused as to what it really celebrates, but lets be honest the Spanish don't need an excuse to have a good time and neither do I!
When you think of traditional Spanish clothing with the frills dresses and flowers in the hair you are thinking of Feria clothing. Everywhere you look women are wearing bold colours and trying to outdo each other with the size of their dresses or the size of the flowers in their hair. Let me tell you this they may all look glamorous, and they are, but underneath it all there is a lot of pain being endured from either the heels or even more so from the dresses that are so hip-huggingly tight that it is difficult to breathe!
We arrived at Feria at about 4pm after catching a bus with many a lady dressed in full Feria regalia. In the UK you would probably get funny looks for wearing fancy dress at that time of day, but for possibly the first time I didn't get stared at for being a foreigner, in fact we were greeted with smiles. As we approached the main event we were passed by many groups of party-goers on horse-drawn carriages and there was a palpable atmosphere of excitement and anticipation in the air. My first impression of Feria was that it was much bigger than I expected. A huge ferris wheel towered above a huge site crammed full of marquees or casetas.
Essentially the casetas are small tents designed to house small groups of people and as such are very private and exclusive. They are often reserved for high-society and act as a great way for people to show off their wealth and power. Some casetas and seat about 20 whereas others are huge and can hold what appeared to be well over 100 people. Each and every one was designed to look like someone's front room and pretty much is a home from home for the party people during Feria. Food and drink flows inside and if you are lucky enough to get an invite you best make the most of it. For those without an invite there are several public casetas that give you the same experience, but maybe with a bit less of the razzamatazz.
As the evening approached and the night drew in the party really came alive. The temporary streets were lit up with decoration and fairy lights and the casetas began to glow from within. We met up with some of Vic's colleagues and headed to some of the casetas that they had invitations to. As we drank rebujitos (recipe later) and ate tapas the festivities really began. Live bands played and people danced and chatted in the streets. A genuinely fun and friendly atmosphere ensued and we celebrated with the locals into the wee hours of the night. Overall, Feria was a fantastic experience and one unlike anything I have ever been part of before. Same again next year if anyone wants to join me?!

Food Glorious Food
This week I am going to dedicate this section to something slightly different...cocktails. We all love food, right? But have you ever had a drink that really made you forget about food in a good way that is not a 'I don't remember last night' kind of way? This week I enjoyed many a cocktail that brought back some fond memories so I thought I would share some of my favourite recipes with you so that you can create your own memories and then promptly forget them!

Rebujito - A classic Spanish feria drink that the locals love. These strong, but sweet cocktails are best served cold and served in a shot glass. That doesn't mean down it though it means enjoy in moderation and sip on it whilst the conversation and festivities flow.

500ml Sherry wine
Lemonade (to taste) 

1. Put plenty of ice in a large jug
2. Pour the ingredients over and stir

Mojito - The classic and no cocktail party would be complete without it. Mix it up try new flavours and spirits, but enjoy! Best served at any time of the day and in copious quantities!

Mint (approx 8-10 leaves)
Lime wedges (approx 4)
1 tsp Brown Sugar 
50ml Rum (I like to use golden or honey)
Sprite (to taste)

1. Muddle (mash) the limes, mint and sugar in a tall glass
2. Add some ice and give it a quick stir
3. Add the rum and stir again
4. Top the whole thing with a splash of Sprite

Raisin Expectations - I first had this cocktail in Popolos in Newcastle and enjoyed it so much that I just had to recreate it over the Christmas period. It is a luxurious cocktail that reminds me so much of melted rum and raisin ice cream. Honestly it is well worth a try and if you can't find a raisin syrup then make your own. It's easy just mix equal amounts water and sugar and boil until thick, then add a generous handful of raisins and blitz until smooth...yum!

25ml Raisin sugar syrup 
50ml Dark Rum (if you can find it use Myers)
25ml Cream 
50ml Full Fat Milk

1. Pour all the ingredients in a shaker with some ice 
2. Shake well
3. Strain and Serve

Hagg's Hockey Corner
Where do I begin this week? I guess by bringing you the news that this week the mighty North East Dekstars  took a trip to a shed in the middle of Lutterworth and came home crowned the champions of the UK Ball Hockey Southern Nationals! The sweet taste of victory has come at a cost though as in our first came I received a stick to the face and am now sporting a lovely gash above my eyebrow which will likely scar. Winning has however made it tolerable and people have told me that women love a scar. I am not quite sure what Vic will think when she sees it though!
Anyway, back to the hockey. Over the course of a long, drawn-out day we would play a total of 8 games against a variety of different teams from across the country. Initially we were grouped with last year's national champions London Crusaders as well as Ealing Eagles, Sheffield Storm, Tayside Thunder and Shaw Millionaires. We drew our first game 2-2 against London and built on this by recording wins in each of our remaining group games. It was a fine run of form against some tough opposition and really helped us bond as a team and gain in confidence. Ultimately we topped the group and that saw us through to the knock out stage of the tournament as top seed.
In the semi we faced Ealing Eagles again and as ever it was a close game. Ealing play a very attractive form of hockey with good passing plays and are competent on the ball so we had to do our best to put pressure on them. As a result the game was close and went right to the last whistle. For me I came away from the game feeling both happy and mad at myself. Just moments after grabbing the only goal of the game I took a stupid penalty that left us defending the lead in the last minute on the penalty kill. As they had all day the defence stayed calm and did a great job seeing us through to the final.

The final saw us face off against the team we played in the first game of the day, the reigning national champions London Crusaders. It was always going to be a tough game and especially having lost 3 players before the start due to injury or prior engagements, but we went into it full of confidence. On the first shift of the game we lost a player to yet another injury and we would have to double shift for the rest of the game. This would make things more difficult but Justin Presseau got the first goal of the game and we never looked back. We went on to win 2-1 on the back of a further goal from Justin. It was a great feeling and it felt like a fantastic reward for all the hard work the team have put in over recent weeks.
Next stop nationals!!! We will go into it full of confidence and hopefully the injuries we suffered on the tough road to glory will have healed and we will all be ready to go again. We are only 3 weeks away from the main event. Let the countdown begin.

Have You Heard What Haggy's Heard
Story of the week - This week's story is in support of North Tyneside General Hospital's children's ward. In 2002 a signed Newcastle United football shirt was donated to the ward and brought real joy to the kids ever since. Last week someone stole this shirt. Why someone would do such a thing let alone on a children's ward defeats me, but if you see this shirt anywhere please report it and lets get it returned to where it belongs. For the full story click here

Song of the week - This song has been around a while and I have been listening to it for a while, but it is still not getting old. Although the lyrics are somewhat depressing this song still feels upplifting and pretty epic in general. So song of the week goes out to all the Biffy Clyro fans out there. Ladies and gentlemen I give you 'Biblical'

Quote of the week - This one is mine. During Feria we were stopped by the local news and asked to sum up what we think of Feria. Not knowing much conversational Spanish I went with the tried and tested "Guapa!" to satisfy their need to for soundbite. Little did I know that I had actually made the news until the next day when I was stopped in the street by Vic's landlord. So this week's quote of the week is the word that made me a local celebrity for all of a second - "GUAPA!!!!"

Book of the week *special edition* - Yes I know it's unbelievable, I can read! This week I finished reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods. In the modern world following the death of his wife one man gets mixed up in a mythical world of warmongering gods of yesteryear and the 'gods' of the modern era. Filled with twist and turns I was intrigued by the back stories of many of the gods who appear as well as the main thread of the story. It was a gripping read that gathered pace and really developed character profiles well. I really don't want to give too much away because every piece of the story is part of an intricate puzzle, but I would really recommend people go out there and check it out. The good news for all you non-readers out there is that apparently the book has been picked up by HBO and is getting a Game of Thrones-esque makeover.

See you later,

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