Category Archives: Life in the Sunshine

I hate shopping (circa. October 2017)

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!

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

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?


Due South

Due South

‘Due South, that’s the way I’m going,

duuuuuue south.’

My guilty pleasure. My husband indulges me this tune on our VW camper van drive back to Valencia, the place we now think of as home. I LOVE this song with an irrational passion. My sister and I used to watch the show every Tuesday evening as kids, on BBC2, and sing the song as the credits rolled over snowy Canada. Despite my love for this theme tune, I don’t listen to it very often because I simultaneously want to laugh and cry when I hear it. I laugh, because of my excitement for this ridiculously cheesy song. I sometimes get a little teary-eyed (no, not for the afore-mentioned reason) but because the lyrics ring true with me, especially when we first left to move to Valencia.

It’s that feeling, which becomes more of a wrench after every trip home (where is home?) The feeling of being torn between the home where those I love dearest live, and the home where the sun shines every day; where I feel happy and healthy. After several weeks in England, the desire to stay there, so I can see my family without using my passport, is tempting. This feeling  battles with the knowledge of why I left in the first place. Having moved back and forth between mainland Europe and England several times, I believe that you cannot go back; you can never really go back. Not because things change, but because you change. After living a different life abroad, you go home and feel a little bit foreign in your own country. The novelty soon wears off and your feet itch once again.

I’ve written before on the bittersweetness of being an expat/immigrant/traveller, call it what you will. We are fortunate enough to have a good group of friends here in VLC: some Spanish, some from little old England and a few from further afield. There’s a camaraderie that comes from us all knowing the highs and lows of this lifestyle. And one of the lows is summed up perfectly in that cheesy, Canadian theme tune from an early 90s TV show:

‘You know that you must leave here,

but you wish that you could stay.’

Due South strikes a chord in me. I know the feeling that Jay Semko sings of and that is why I love listening to it, every now and again. I mean, I REALLY LOVE listening to it.


Sorry. Not sorry.

Nowhere and everywhere.

Nowhere and everywhere.

Last October we returned ‘home’ for four days, staying in York for our friends’ wedding. After a completely packed September which afforded us no time to relax, in early October we felt we could have done without another trip to England so soon after arriving back in Valencia. However, as the trip drew nearer, I found myself becoming incredibly excited about it all. The idea of some real autumn with fiery colours and a chill in the air and cosy, medieval pubs with real ales on tap brought nostalgia bubbling up inside me. The funny thing about England is that for me, it is best lived long distance and through the lens of nostalgia.

A week or two before we were due to fly, we experienced some incredibly English weather here in Valencia: a week of grey skies and ‘low’ (18C) temperatures. I felt sad and and irritated by it, “I didn’t move here for this!” yet it also brought on a bout of homesickness. Perhaps because I felt the way I usually feel in England from October til April: sad and miserable, it reminded me of the things I do miss back home, like family and friends.

Most of the time I do not feel homesick and revel in my life here in Valencia. I love the weather, the city, the food, the lifestyle; I even enjoy my job most of the time. But I have recently realised that I have become a master at not thinking about my family and close friends while I am away. To do so would invite homesickness, longing and nostalgia for times past.  And so I have noticed (for I now consider myself an old hand at living far from loved ones) that when a trip home is approaching, I unconsciously allow myself to think of all those I love the most, whose histories are irrevocably entwined with my own. I think of them and become giddy as a kipper, knowing that we will soon share some precious time together.

When we are back in York, it feels like nothing has changed. This is both the charm and the curse of the place. When we are with friends, drinking in the pub where a the child Guy Fawkes reputedly lived, it is so easy and natural, picking up where we left off. But I am all too aware that if we were to live in York once again, we would not see these friends any more frequently than we do now, living over one thousand miles away. The good thing about living abroad is that everyone is always pleased to see you. There is a curious romance in living far from loved ones. I find myself wondering, when we are back home in York or Cleveleys, or wherever home truly is when you are a wanderer, why we do it. Why is there this random group of us here in Valencia: from England, Australia, Japan, Ireland, other parts of Spain? Why have we come here? Why did we choose to leave everyone we love behind? And why are we so bittersweetly happy to be here?

I think that having a wanderlust is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it drives us to know other cultures and ways of life; it opens ours minds and provides fodder for tales and memories for life. A curse because we are never satisfied. There is always somewhere else to see, another journey to make. There is a feeling of belonging everywhere but of being rooted nowhere. After a trip home to autumnal England, it was strange to return home to a country where the sun still dominates a clear blue sky every day. But here we are. Spain. This is home.



Staying fit in Valencia


Call me a freak, but I LOVE going to the gym and doing exercise, especially fitness classes. I often wonder how people, especially in the UK, manage to get through a week and stay sane without the physical and emotional relief that exercise provides. You can even do it for free, but prescriptions and other drugs require less effort. However, I digress.

After we had arrived in Valencia and found somewhere to live, I joined the nearest gym to our apartment. I was especially pleased to see that it offered the ‘Les Mills ‘ classes I had so enjoyed back in York. These were: Body Combat, Zumba and Body Balance. My three favourites: challenging, fun and relaxing, respectively.

Now, I would say that it’s fairly obvious to any Brit who has participated in a Les Mills class that Les Mills is not a British concept in fitness (I thought it was American but it’s actually Aussie). Why do I say this? Well, whenever I’ve shaken my thing in Zumba or punched an imaginary foe in Body Combat classes in York, the instructors have persistently encouraged us all to shout/grunt/do other sound effects. I did not appreciate this. I am pretty fit, but it took all my energy to co-ordinate my moves and breathe without adding “huh!” “aargh!” or “woop woop!” into the mix. Judging by my fellow fitness buddies’ lack of verbal participation, it’s safe to say I was not alone.

When I entered my first Body Combat class in Valencia I felt at home. There was familiar British and American music; even some of the routines were the same as back in York. For once, I knew exactly what to do in this unfamiliar city. However, twenty minutes in, without warning, people started running around the room, high-fiving each other with sweaty palms. Was this a move/sequence I had missed from the instructor? I was confused, and must have appeared so. But that was not all. Halfway through one of the high-octane, fat burning tracks, my classmates started whooping and howling like the cowboys and Indians of spaghetti westerns. Were they in pain? Had the instructor already pushed them to the limit?

My questions were answered in subsequent classes, where I soon realised that the sweaty high-fives, whistling and howling like you are at a rock gig were de rigeur during Zumba and Body Combat. As this is my fourth time living on mainland Europe, I am well used to adopting the ‘when in Rome’ mentality.  So, on Tuesday and Thursday nights you will find me high-fiving and “Wooooooing” like the best of my Iberian classmates. ¿Porque no?