Part One.

That great Sanferminero, Bomber, who so prematurely passed away long before his time this February, used to say, “Pamplona is a gift.” Thank you Bomber, because that so sweetly and simply sums up some of what this beautiful town and its inhabitants and fiesta mean to me. I used the same title but in Spanish for an article that was published in the Diario de Navarra newspaper on the 4th of April – Pamplona Es Un Regalo – because I thought it was such a perfect line. Especially as April has the fourth step on the ladder to fiesta and we were getting that much closer. The gift was slowly unwrapping…

Pamplona is indeed a gift, a magical town full of surprises, and all that I seem to be able to give back is presents. Sorry, presence…mine. Near the end of March I was there for a few days, and had the great fortune to have three things happen to me, one of which was planned but went so much further than I ever believed it could do, and the other two were just the usual bits of unexpected San Fermin sorcery that I should be used to by now, but am not. So as always this month we’ll be having the usual stroll around the streets of old Iruña and here’s what I’ve cobbled together from that cracking and crazy town.

Because by the good luck of the locos at Kukuxumusu, I got to be in touch with a chap called Sergio, and he is the son of a man I’d read about in a fiesta supplement a couple of years ago. In my “Clock and Bull Story” article earlier this year, I’d written about the town hall and the clock and such things, and it was after that was published that I received an email from Sergio, saying hello and “it’s my Dad who did the town hall clock and…” Well, the “and” is…I got to meet him and his father, and to be given the most wonderful private tour.

The Lord of The Rings. And Chimes, and Bongs…

The Man…For Whom The Bells Tolled. Photo thanks to Iban Aguinaga, of the fiesta supplement of Diario de Noticias, July 5th 2009.


The delightful man above is Jesus San Martin, and for nearly all of his life he has been the Lord of the Rings and the King of the Clocks of Navarra, and surrounding areas. He’s retired now, but took the time to meet me and give me that privileged personal tour. His son Sergio took the pictures and though I try to avoid writing about myself or ever using pictures with me in them (a fact I’ve been complimented on, though I’m sure it’s been meant as a curved-ball compliment!) there is one photo that I just have to put in, because it made me so fiesta-lisciously happy.

I met Sergio and his kind and gentle father in Zapateria Street in the old town, where we went into a government building and there, in its own private room, safe and protected, was the original machine that ran the clock and hence brought to life the bells of the town hall. I say machine, as it was about the size of two small bicycles side by side, and was a travel-back-in-time tripskip to a different age. To 1827 in fact, and to see the original cogs and wheels of the working wonder constructed by Juan Manuel Yeregui, of Betelu, Guipuzkoa was a true treat. But more, so much more was to come…

The Time Machine


After a delightful explanation of the history and workings of this nearly two century old marvel of machinery, it was time to move on, after señor San Martin had chatted to some old friends in the offices…as he had chatted to people on his arrival…and in no time we were inside the ayuntamiento, the town hall. Where again this sweet soul was greeted and chatted to like an old friend, which he was of course, as it’s not just the clocks and bells that he knows so well, but the people under them, too.

With a town hall official we went up the four storeys, through some rooms and around a corner, until we finally got to a door, where there was another room, and a ladder, pointing upwards. As they sometimes do…

I knew exactly where we were heading, and when I got to the top I was in a small little room, about three yards long by a yard and a half wide, and this was where that old time machine had lived for so long, hidden away in its own private tower. Yes, I was right at the top of the building, almost as far as you can go, and in front of me was the back of the big, 1 meter, 20cm diameter clock that I’ve seen so many times before.

The original clock mechanism has the inscription: “Me hizo Juan Yeregui en Betelu en el año 1827 – Juan Yeregui made me in Betelu in the year 1827”. As I say, I have seen it so many times from the square below, and now as I was standing directly behind I tried to look beyond it, and could see…absolutely nothing.

Etched in time…


Because you can’t see anything, of course, as it’s not transparent. But I could see, actually, for in my minds eye I knew exactly what was out there. I could visualise it perfectly and it was wonderful to be up there with Mr. San Martin, this unsung star of Pamplona and Navarra, and to hear the history and stories. Whereas in the old days a small tractor-sized wonder was needed to make everything work, now there was just a book shaped rectangle stuck to the wall.

We’d travelled through time, literally, but ask me which time machine I preferred – the little one stuck to the wall, full of modern technology and gadgetry, or the old one standing proud on the floor, full of ancient cogology and wizardry – I think you know which I prefer. Tick, tock, ding, dong, wynde and whyrle…and talking of ding-dongs, the variation of music that the bells play is a story in itself, and I’ll return to that another time. Dick Whittington, anyone?

It had been about 2 hours since we’d started, and we had spent far longer than planned and it was lunchtime, and I knew the town hall official wanted to go. And I’d had a fabulous time. So it was time to go, and there was that ladder again, this time heading downwards – how do they know? – and having made our way back to the lifts the man from the town hall asked me, while we were waiting for the lift, “Do you want to have a look out on the balcony?” The Balcony! That balcony…Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes…

I know it may sound strange to those who have never been to Pamplona , but I have always wanted to stand on that balcony, and although we were out of time, everyone seemed to know what it would mean to me. Once inside the big government room we walked towards the balcony doors…and I saw that they were locked, with a padlock and chain. Joder! But nice Mr. Townhall Man had the key, and unlocked the chains and then turned to me and said, “Go on, open them…”

And I did, and as I stepped out I could see 5000 people crammed in there, swaying and singing with their panuelos raised and flying and champagne spraying as the bells rang out…well, actually I couldn’t of course because it was after two o’clock on a late March afternoon and the square was practically empty…but in my head I could see it, and live it, and it was so real, and I shouted ever so quietly but oh-so imaginingly loudly: “Pamploneses! Viva San Fermin! (And I heard 5000 people echo back at me, “Viva!”) And then I said, “Eta Irunshemes! Gora San Fermin!” And that 5000 voice choir of frenzied fiesta-chupinazeros answered me again…

It was just brilliant being there, a fantastic experience, and if that is the closest I ever get, then I’m a lucky lad.


Afterwards we went to Bar Redin, next door to the ghost-ship that is Bar Marceliano and had a drink or two and chatted some more, and a couple of friends showed up, Miren and then Clara, surprised to see me there, but when they realised why I was there and who I was with, they were fascinated and off Mr. San Martin went again in his gentle way, explaining his old job and showing them his photos and newspaper clippings…what a lovely, gentle fellow.

My heartfelt thanks to señor Jesus San Martin Asin, relojero extraordinario y sin igual, who gave me the most personal and unselfish of tours, and allowed me to achieve something that I have wanted to do for a long time. And gracias to Sergio for asking his Dad to come out of retirement for me, just one more time, and for taking the photos, and to the town hall official (who I’m ashamed to say I’ve forgotten his name, but I will find out) who let me live a little dream. Que suerte tengo. San Ferdream, eh?

Pamplona Is A Gift.


I know this months piece has had too much of me in it, but that’s just the way the article has rolled out. They’re not planned, just penned. But if I can have one more bit of self-indulgence, I’m going to put in the whole English version of something that was published in Diario de Navarra’s edition of the 4th of April. It’s a follow-up to something mentioned a couple of months ago, in the “Mixed Pintxo-Platter of Musings” piece:

A mixed pintxo-platter of musings

Because, as you’ll read, out of a tragedy should hopefully come a gift, to charity, thanks to a bunch of British soldiers.

Part Two.

On September 15th last year, a young man died, a long way from home, just six days before his 30th birthday. He had never been to Pamplona before, but this summer during the Fiesta of San Fermin thanks to his friends, his spirit will certainly be here in this town that some of us foreigners love so much.

His name was Gareth Thursby, and he was a sergeant in the 3rd Battalion of The Yorkshire Regiment of the British Army. One can’t say that on the day he died it was a day like any other, as he was thousands of miles away in Helmand Province , Afghanistan . But perhaps on that day it was as much a normal day as one could have in that beautiful, but war torn and turbulent country.

His last day on this precious planet of ours came about because he and a colleague went to the aid of a man dressed in an Afghan police uniform who they thought was injured. As they went to help what they thought was a man in distress he opened fire on them, killing Sergeant Thursby and his colleague, who was just 18 years old, Private Thomas Wroe. Eighteen…just a lad, really.

San Fermin. A gift to us all.

But it is of Sergeant Gareth Thursby that I write about, someone I did not know about until I recently read about him on the pages of He was married, with two children. So what connects a young, dead, British soldier who had never been to Pamplona before, and this extraordinary town and its world famous fiesta?

Well, of all things, it’s because of his nickname, actually. Among his friends he was called “The Bull” and it is purely because of this that at least in spirit he will be here in Pamplona this July. Within his army family those who were close to him wanted not just to remember him, but to commemorate and celebrate his life by doing two things…raising money for charity, in this case the Army Benevolent Fund, (they are hoping to raise 26,000 euros), and by doing something extraordinary. And because of his nickname they have decided to come and run with the bulls.

This has all been set up by Corporal Mathew Pritchard, whose best friend Gareth Thursby was, and Sergeant Chris Barnes, who will be coming to Pamplona for the first couple of days of fiesta with about 8 colleagues to experience just a little of what San Fermin is all about. This whole project goes under the name “The 3 Yorks Bull Run.”

One thing is guaranteed…whatever they have seen and experienced before, nothing, but nothing, can prepare them for this town without equal. And I write this as a foreigner who has been coming for nearly 30 years…and I’m still not ready for it!

Yes, they have heard that Pamplona during fiesta is just the most wonderful, other-worldly place, and they also know that the encierro can occasionally be deadly, and tragic for the victim’s family and friends. But as one of those guiris who knows what this town is like and fell in love with it, I also know that all being well this band of brothers who are coming here to remember and honour a fallen comrade will almost certainly have the time of their lives. That’s the magic of San Fermin.

And somewhere, up in that great fiesta beyond the clouds, I have no doubt that their friend Gareth will be smiling down over them and cheering them on. As one of those foreigners who fell for this town 45 years ago, and who sadly passed away only in February, the great Keith “Bomber” Baumchen so perfectly said, “Pamplona is a gift.”

Yes, it is, and it is one that so many of us are so very fortunate to be able to enjoy every year, and not just during fiesta time, either. Pamplona is a gift, and I have no doubt the lads from the 3rd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment will bring their own special alegria to your amazing, beautiful and wonderful town.

And I also have no doubt that you, as Pamplonicans and Navarrans, and guardians of this precious gift you have given the world, will try and make sure that these young men have the best time of their lives.

Thank you Pamplona , for this priceless present of a magical town. Today is the 4th of April. Ya falta menos! Viva San Fermin! Gora!

This is the Spanish version of the article above as it appeared in Diario de Navarra on 4th April 2013


Tail-piece. And Mr. Testis’ Chicas.

Well mozos, that’s about it for now. But sometime in the near future there’ll be more, including something about a ladykiller, how I got to be in Ernest Hemingway’s hotel room with six chicas, (my trip in March was certainly eventful) and the phone box that was actually a lift. Oh, and a Basque devil.

Oh, and Mr. Testis chicas? Well, from the beautiful to the bullish, you might say. And blueish. I’d arranged to meet my first and original fiesta friend from my first ever San Fermin in 1984, Yoli, and we decided to meet at the Kukuxumusu shop, the one with the famous countdown-to-fiesta clock, as mi amigo Manu of that ilk had told me about some American or something who he was meeting, and maybe I’d like to meet too…to be honest, I hadn’t understood exactly what was going on, but it soon turned out that a whole bunch of students from The University of Alabama were on a two week trip around Spain as part of their studies, and some of them had found and got in touch with los de Kuku.

So that was how I met up with 3 girls from the States (later to be 5, and what a great bunch) and got to be an unofficial guide to some things San Fermin and over-indulge my passion and love for many things Pamplona related. Lucky me, once more. We arranged to meet again and so we did, a few times over the next couple of days. I managed to miss the bit where Manu dressed up in the big, bright blue, Mr. Testis costume with its big blue pair of swinging keko-jones’s, (some people will understand this…!) and show them around the bull run route and other landmarks, although I was their for the bulls-tail end of it.

More of that another time. But for now, let’s have some video fun. Ya falta menos! Viva San Fermin!