By Laura Stadler laura@stadlers.com

You see them in the streets walking their dogs, in the bars reading their Daily Bulletins - the solid strata of island life: Majorca's Ex-pats. Not only does each carry with them reasons of escape from grey Britain to our glorious shores; but many a story of a past life lived in the fast lane. Thus when I greet a local with “What's new?” I'm never surprised by the response.

ASSIGNMENT TO THRILL
AND so it was with Hugh Ash, doyen of Majorca's Press gang and a long-time Fleet Street veteran who informs me he has published his new novel. More accustomed to asking questions than answering them; even when it came to discussing, The Mallorca Assignment, he initially displayed a reticence to amplify on a story described by one critic as “a gripping, high-octane thriller, with a dramatic sting in its tale.” Eventually, Hugh explains, “The inspiration for writing the novel lay in the question: Terrorism is an everyday occurrence, mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and the Middle East. But how much does it impact on our daily lives in our largely insulated world? Sure, there have been horrific, isolated outrages, like 9/11 in New York, 7/7 in London and the Madrid train bomb attacks in 2004. But do we ever imagine it might be us in the firing line, that we maybe the next victims of an attack, wherever we live in our nice, civilized environment?” Using the island, the Manchester-born writer knows intimately as the backdrop – readers will recognise many of the locations he describes so vividly – The Mallorca Assignment also explores the mindset of the merchants of terror and their warped justifications to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting, innocent populace. He also cleverly pairs together a series of remarkable characters, poles apart in outlook, but nevertheless forced to unite in their various quests to fulfil their destinies.

With its fast action, double-dealing intrigue and compelling power-plays, The Mallorca Assignment is as much a tribute to Hugh's descriptive writing and narrative skills as it is to his insider knowledge of Europe's most popular holiday island, its turbulent history, fascinating culture and mouth-watering scenery. But, as one of the books' characters points out, “Majorca is like the Garden of Eden, and, like the biblical paradise it contains many wonders, but there is a dark side.” It's a fact not lost on one of Fleet Street's most experienced newsmen, whose eight-year stint on the Balearics beat has, he says, led him to the conclusion that truth on the island is often stranger than fiction. “Despite that, it's probably one of the greatest places in the world to live or visit,” Hugh insists. “My wife, Barbara, and I have never been happier. We have family here, friends here and there are always new places here to go and see. You never tire of this place. It's never humdrum.” That is some recommendation, coming from someone whose days as a UK national newspaper staffer saw him tour the globe, rubbing shoulders with Royals, world leaders, celebs of varying degrees of fame and infamy, sporting stars, villains and murderers. “They come and go with the reporter's territory,” he notes, matter-of-factly. “You have to remember Rudyard Kipling's advice to his son in the classic poem – ‘If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings nor lose the common touch...' – and stay unfazed. “Whoever they are, if you let them know you're afraid or in awe of them, they'll use you as a doormat. So stay cool, be detached and make sure you've done your homework on them and ask the pertinent questions that put them on the spot, not you.” Hugh, now in his sixties, cut his teeth as a cub reporter on various weeklies and regional evening papers in North West England and the Midlands, before joining the Daily Mirror, where he rose to be assistant editor. A nine-year stint as a senior editor with Express Newspapers followed, then he moved into PR, specialising in the dark arts of media crisis management. “I was a sort of gamekeeper-turned-poacher”, he says with a wry grin.

Hugh and Barbara, who have four grown-up children and three grandchildren between them, moved to Majorca in 2002, the culmination of a long love affair with the island, which began in 1989 when they bought a holiday pied-a-terre at one of the popular resorts.

So what's next for the facts-man turned fiction writer? “The book has only just been published and we have great deal of marketing work to do on it yet,” he explains. “But I simply want people to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. If they do, then there'll be a follow-up. “In the meantime, there's talk of a movie, but that could be light years off, if ever. However, it would give me enormous pleasure if The Mallorca Assignment could do for this island what Captain Corelli's Mandolin achieved for Cephalonia and bring the tourists flocking in droves. Times are tough here; we need the business.” 'The Mallorca Assignment is available from Blurb.com/bookstore (price £9.52+p&p) and will be in good bookshops shortly.

PASSIONATE ABOUT MAJORCA WINE
THERE'S only so much sun, swimming and beach you can take. Thus when a friend appeared ready to take me on a magical mystery tour, I was excited to break free from routine. The beauty of Majorca lies in the ability to travel within fractions of an hour to a variety of landscapes from dramatic craggy cliffs to miles of white sands and turquoise seas. Indeed within minutes of heading out of Palma towards Santa Maria we were thrust into rural inner Majorca: country roads flanked by ancient stone walls, trees shading sheep and paths to hidden fincas. Little seemed to have outwardly changed since the donkey and cart. We branched off towards Sencelles (exit 12) where we mysteriously followed a path to a courtyard and stopped. Stepping out into the rural setting I was immediately struck by the silence. Breathing in the heart of Majorca, I suddenly had déjà vu. Memories of countryside outside Cape Town in South Africa. We had stopped at Stellenboch, surrounded by vineyards enjoying the same tranquillity and landscape. I was delighted to spot that we were indeed at a winery. Angel: one of Majorca's youngest and successful Bodegas.

The success I soon learned was down to the enthusiasm and passion of the young owner. Only child to a British mother and Majorcan father, Andres Gelabert has travelled the world in style. Having been highly educated as the all American boy in Texas, Andres could have followed any path he chose; yet only now aged 33 is he living his dream. As he opens his door in welcome, by his side his beautiful wife Laura (must be something in the name) carrying a gorgeous smiling baby, for a moment I feel I have stepped into the set of the Waltons.

He leads us from his home to the working area of his winery, where taking in the splendour of the view we receive much appreciated refreshments: a perfectly chilled white wine with a plate of pa'amb oli. Meanwhile Andres explained with great fervour the details of his dream. “We have 21 hectares planted with a mixture of around 8 varieties of French and Majorcan grapes, so that I can form a unique blend, something different. However, I go to great lengths to ensure as much as possible is from Majorca; all the wood and stonework. The huge impressive wooden doors taken from another finca and lovingly restored like a jig-saw.

His extensive knowledge of wine is impressive and I soon realise this is not a hobby but a deep rooted passion. My aim is quality at affordable prices.” Starting only two years ago, sensibly he has kept his operation simple. Just a range of 3 wines a year: red, white and rose. Fortunately, I had previously sampled the excellent rose (with its hint of pink grapefruit) as it is now sold out for the year. “It's a shame as I've just put the phone down to someone wanting 10 cases for a party and have had to refuse other good orders as there simply isn't any more. It's good that it's so popular, but unfortunate we can't meet demand. At least we now know to increase production for next year.” His enthusiasm is contagious and I can't wait to be shown the workings of the Bodegas. Formerly just happy to open a bottle of vino and glug, I learn much during the tour (also suitable for older inquisitive children).

The shiny state-of-the-art machinery secreted behind old rustic Majorcan doors is remarkable and Andres explains all from pressing (red wine barrelled to ferment with grape skins on while white and rose wine sieved and barrelled without) to the taste imparted by various barrels. Seen one barrel you've seen them all I thought: But no it seems the oak has to come from certain regions to accomplish the correct nuance to excite the taste buds. Even size matters. I met Eva who works daily in the laboratory, testing and ensuring all is perfect.

Certainly, all bottles bought were ranked highly amongst my knowledgeable wine-sipping friends: the red, fruity and full bodied; the white excellent holding a slight tang of pineapple. “The grapes were good last year and 2010 look in excellent shape for harvesting at the end of August” enthused Andres. “Visitors are welcome to pop by, but if they call in advance for an appointment we can organise some pa'amb oli to accompany the wine, together with a tour for a small charge.” (www.bodegasangel.com 971 621 638) Enjoy!

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