Category Archives: Life in the Sunshine

You know you work with small children when…

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…You get to the end of your break and notice that your coffee has a small sprinkling of glitter on the surface.

…You have learnt the Spanish for: ‘I need a wee.’

‘I need a poo.’

‘I’ve done a poo. Look!’

‘I’ve done a poo in my pants.’

Great. That’s really gonna help me pass my Spanish exam. Thanks, kids.

…It’s November 5th and you already have Christmas songs stuck in your head. The kids are only 4 years old and have to learn TEN English songs plus two Spanish ones – in TWO weeks! I never want to hear a jingle bell ever again.

…You have to say things like, ‘No, don’t play in Pepe’s wee!’

‘Please don’t slap Paula because you want to play with the unicorn.’

‘I’m very sad that you’ve put the blue paint in Juan’s hair. Please go and wash your hands.’

Yes, this is what I get paid to do now. All those years of studying… But you know what? I have fun every day; even if the fun is interspersed with tearing my hair out.

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La Gota Fria

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La Gota Fria

It is easy to scoff (especially if you grew up in northern England) when you hear Valencians say that, ‘The schools might have to close because it’s raining.’ Yes, you read that correctly. The schools might have to close because it’s RAINING. I’ve lived here getting on for three years. I know what it’s like in Valencia those 5 days a year when it rains. You’d think acid was falling from the sky, the way people shroud themselves in knee-length ponchos, wellies AND carry an umbrella. That is, if they even dare to leave the house: rain is a legitimate reason to cancel any plan that involves opening the front door.

Anyway, as I now work in a private Primary School over here, last Thursday the Spanish staff were speaking about the probable closure of other schools due to rain. Not a drop had fallen from the sky; it didn’t even look foreboding, so I uttered the aforementioned scoff. Having lived in York for years, a city which is guaranteed to flood at least twice a year, usually more, I think the Valencians incredibly soft when I hear this kind of talk. We’ve all seen the photos of York folk cycling through 6 inches of water, or walking across a plank to reach their favourite pub while filthy brown floodwater is being pumped out of a side window. It rains? We get on with it. What else are we going to do?

However, as the Gota Fria (literally, the Cold Drop) only lasts a couple of days and comes but once or twice a year, it is also easy for a foreigner to forget just how intense it actually is. This morning, before the rain, I cycled to the town centre to got a lift to work with a friend. I’d seen the forecast but thought, I’m a northerner. It’s a 20 minute cycle home in the rain. I’ll be fine! Ha! Let me tell you how it was. I dismissed my English friend’s, ‘It’s a bad idea; I’ll drive you home,’ for two reasons. One: I really didn’t want to leave my bike overnight in town, knowing I’d have to go in the rain anyway to get it the next day. Two: I was proving a point to myself; I haven’t gone totally soft after a few years of living in the Med. Turns out, my friend was right. It was a bad idea, although the worst part was the 10 minute walk to my bike, rather than the actual cycling. Still, many of the cycle lanes were 3-4 inches under water, although I carried on regardless. The paths in the park were running like rivers; there was actually more water in them than in the water features. By the time I arrived home even my underwear was wet and my outer clothes felt like they’d been in the washing machine minus the spin cycle. It wasn’t pleasant, although I did laugh out loud at myself and the absurdity of it all. As if I didn’t look crazy enough cycling through torrential rain!

So, as they say in Valencia, ‘When it rains, it rains.’ Never a truer phrase was said; although I’m sure you’ll see me cycling through the next Gota Fria. I’ll have forgotten just how soaking torrential rain is by the next time it comes around.

A blog post about not blogging

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A blog post about not blogging

This year I have written just two blogs, both in January. That was ‘before.’ Before February, March and April tested me to my limits and drowned any desire to write. In February and March my journal, normally only written in while travelling by train or plane, took on the length of a novel. I frantically scribbled every night, hoping that my words in ink would conjure up an answer that wouldn’t destroy my world. Things are settling now, but this year feels like it has happened to someone else.

A result of this has meant no blogging, and for several months, no desire to blog. By the time ideas for blog posts started poking around in my recovering brain, I couldn’t really be arsed. And then a couple more months passed. When I finally started wanting to write, I found myself not getting around to it. It has only recently dawned on me that I was a little afraid: daunted by the idea of putting pen to paper; fingertips to Macbook. Afraid of my own words and what I could tell people with them. Feeling like I had nothing, yet everything, to say.

So read this as an introduction; a way for me to preface my return to writing. I suppose it is a little like being out of shape and delaying going to the gym; you know it’s gonna be hard so you put it off. But it just gets harder and scarier the longer you leave it. So here I am. To quote one of my music idols, Eddie Vedder: I’m still alive. So hopefully, that means you’ll see more of me on here.

I hate shopping (circa. October 2017)

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I hate shopping (circa. October 2017)

“Why can’t I be more like other women?” This is a question I almost never ask myself. Flawed though I am, I’m content enough being me. Today, however, after a 3 hour shopping trip that produced just one purchase, I found myself asking this question.

For me, clothes shopping is not the fun, relaxing, stress-release that is portrayed in popular culture and experienced by my friends. For me, clothes shopping is akin to a trip to the seventh circle of Hell. I HATE it. I hate it the most when I need something specific: a dress for a friend’s wedding; work clothes; new shoes; let’s face it, new clothes in general. Part of the problem is that I am not very materialistic – I have never felt the urge to have the latest styles/shoes/phone/other goods. I don’t get a buzz from spending on things I don’t need. I don’t want things I don’t need. So I only go shopping when I need something.

So now, I seriously need some new clothes. To be honest, I need a whole new wardrobe, as I don’t wear most of what I currently own; I’ve had a lot of it for too long. I would like some new styles, a slightly different look. I am bored. But although I look in magazines and at what other people are wearing, when I get to the shops, it just doesn’t transfer. Today,  I saw lots of colours I like (dark red, dark green) and styles I love (grungey, 90s) but I just can’t put it all together.

I wander, touching things, picking up the odd thing to try on, forcing myself not to buy yet another stripey jumper or t-shirt. Sometimes I try loads of things on, and only one item looks good or fits well. It’s just such a drag. All the trying on and taking off, looking in mirrors, realising that you’re a different size in every shop you go to. Sometimes it’s easier if a friend or family member is there, but I feel guilty asking anyone to go with me. Maybe they don’t mind so much. But if shopping for myself is my idea of hell, then so is being dragged around the shops by someone else. So I usually undertake the painful exercise alone.

Before anyone suggests online shopping, that isn’t for me either. There are three fundamental problems: 1. Too much choice. Anyone who’s met me knows that ‘indecisive’ is my middle name, so the sheer volume of variety is just overwhelming. 2. I’m a tactile shopper. I like touching things, picking them up, trying them on. Not possible online. 3. I am impatient, yet lazy. I don’t want to have to wait for purchases to be delivered before trying them on, only to have to go to the trouble of returning them if they are unsuitable. Better to waste a couple of hours in one go at the mall than even more, painfully dragged out over a week or two.

So today, I managed to buy one pair of skinny jeans. Something that was on my list, but not one of the things I most needed. Maybe I should advertise on Gumtree (if it exists in Spain) for someone who loves shopping and fashion to come with me. I could be their little project! Failing that, does anyone know how I can reach Gok Wan?

Winter is coming!

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Winter is coming!

It’s cold in Valencia. No, really! Down to 3C in the morning! Never mind winter is coming; winter is here.

A year ago, I actually scoffed at my students when they told me that during the winter in Valencia,”People feel tired, they have no energy because it’s cold and dark in the evenings.”

“Dark?” I repressed the urge to yell, “Are you having a fucking laugh?”

Early December in Valencia, at 5.30pm there is a twilight hue to the sky as the sun slips away. Fiery sunsets, day after day. Back home, night has well and truly fallen by 4pm. The curtains are drawn, it is pitch black outside. THAT, my soft, southern friends, is dark. That is a northern winter. And just because the sun rises every day, there is no guarantee that we will catch a glimpse of it. Does anyone up north remember the three months of grey skies that shrouded us at the end of 2015? Yes, three months, I kid you not. I was teaching Japanese students who had been in York for a couple months without having seen the sun. One of them actually whipped out her camera on one of the few days that the sun peeped through the thick grey skies and snapped a photo. The year was nicely rounded off by the epic flooding of York on boxing day. Watching the national news in Lancashire, we thought we would have to row back home over the Pennines and through the submerged streets. Safe to say that the weather was a huge factor in our move here!

The thing is, I’m afraid to admit, I am going soft. You could say acclimatised, but my fellow northeners would correct me and say soft. When it drops to 8C here, I think it’s freezing. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel this weekend, back in northern England for Christmas. Still, as with many things in this nomadic existence, I am neither one thing, nor the other. I am not the hardy northerner I used to be, able to wear a summer dress when the mercury hits 17C. But then, neither has my blood become completely Mediterranean. Yes, 8C feels Baltic, but I am holding off wearing my heavy winter coat. We have only just put the heating on, while my students have been warming their homes for over a month.

On the other hand, I have acclimatised to temperatures that simply don’t exist back home. In Valencia we live for a couple of months averaging 34C, so a drop down to seven or eight degrees is a difference of 26C. This is more of a drop than is experienced between British summer and winter temperatures. I have come to adore the bright, humid heat of the Valencian summer, except in the early hours, when it doesn’t drop below 23C and there is 80% humidity (this I have in common with Valencians). Not many people I know back home would be cycling around town every day in a humid 33C and think nothing of it. Up north, people start complaining when the temperature rises to 23C.  This, my second summer in Valencia, I just got on with it and accepted the fact that for several months, I would always be too hot. I love the freedom that comes with a guaranteed summer; knowing that I will never have to think about what to wear because it will be hot and sunny every day. I LOVE it!

So yes, in some ways, I have gone soft. 10C in Valencia feels like 1C back home home. But in other ways I have become more resistant to heat and humidity, able to go about my daily life in the balmy summer temperatures without batting an eyelid. And so I continue, no longer a resilient notherner, yet not quite a soft, southern fairy.

Catalonia Crisis

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Catalonia Crisis

Living in Spain, it is impossible for me not to write about the current crisis in Catalonia. I am far from an expert on politics, but I have tried to get a broader view by reading news from different English sources (my Spanish has a long way to go!) and speaking to Spanish friends here.

Spain has been our home for the past year and half, and Madrid was my home on two occasions in the past. I have a strong love for this country, its climate and culture, so it saddened me to see how it came across so badly in the news after 1st October. The sickening images of police brutality against the Catalans brought tears to my eyes, but at the end of the day, it was an illegal referendum. All those people were breaking the law, and unfortunately for them, there were consequences. The Spanish president, Rajoy, was wrong not to allow a legal referendum and Puigdemont was just as wrong to push ahead with an illegal one. He incited the chaos and therefore the resulting violence: notice how he wasn’t among the 900 injured? The police brutality painted a despicable picture of Spain, making it appear to be a place where people cannot express their wishes and opinions.

Now, after a tense two and half weeks, the Spanish Government is planning to trigger Article 155. (All these bloody articles in the EU!) This will start to remove some of the devolved powers that Catalonia currently has. Apparently, this is unchartered territory and I am a little uneasy about what might happen. Last week on Valencia Day (9th October) there was a clash between two groups of protesters: extreme left and right. We were watching the Valencia Day procession, taking photos and enjoying the bank holiday, while 5 minutes down the road the riot police were trying break things up. I’ve seen other, peaceful, demonstrations in Valencia recently, but I think that if Madrid pushes through with Article 155, things might become pretty unsettled rather quickly. With Brexit in the British headlines and the Catalonia Crisis in Spain, I feel like both the places I call home are politically precarious right now.

So what can we do? Take advantage of being from one culture and living in another. Do the British ‘Keep calm and carry on’ by going for a beer and some tapas with friends, in the warm autumn sunshine. What else can we do?