Good night Spain.

This is the end of this blog.
I'll not kill him. I'll let him be, but I'm basically putting him to sleep.

I thank anyone who has read it, that was the point.

I am currently still working hard on my book, still nameless.

I go to Moscow on 8th October 2010 so I have created a new blog, should you care to follow:

Hopefully I won't be nabbed by the FSB.

Goodnight Spain.
Lot's of love,

Goodbye for a while

I left my job. Planned.
I am now about to embark on a trip of all of Spain for a couple of months. I am starting tomorrow morning with Salamanca.
The idea is to travel to every autonomous community and eventually write a book.
Therefore my blogging shall be sparse/non-existent. I will, when I remember or have the chance, update as to my location but I don't want to spoil the surprise for when I finally scribble out some pages.
Other than that, I'll speak to you all soon.

Adios amigos.

Chin chin to Chinchon!

The road in drifts through blood-red poppy stained fields. I entertained the hope that the pretty girl behind me would strike up a conversation and we would get together, live together in a village and have curly-haired, blue-eyed, olive-skinned children. They would run around wielding their names Tarquin Baltasar Sanchez Darracott and Eva Emily Sanchez Darracott - Sanchez being the imaginary name of my imaginary wife. We would spend lazy afternoons getting tipsy with chilled wines and olives in the sun as we had no other worries but to remember to take the roasting lamb out of the oven before our friends arrived for the cool evening dinner. That didn't happen. Instead I got off the bus at the first stop that indicated my arrival into Chinchon and blasted away my silly thoughts. I walked in the direction of the large church that I knew, with the help of Google images, loomed dramatically over the famous picture perfect plaza mayor. The square in question is more of a ring. This is no accident as in the summer it doubles up at the town's plaza de toros.

I then spent about 40 minutes wandering around the beautifully beaten streets. There are whiffs of the prettiness of Cuenca's lanes and Toledo's backstreets but with more of a genuine, naturally scruffied and inhabited air about them. This day was hot. I stupidly chose a black t-shirt as a dry run for my upcoming trip in the summer. The annoying science behind why dark hues are a bad choice in the sun was present, although it wasn't as potent as I thought it could have been. I started to need things: water, a place to go to the toilet and a bank so that I could recharge my phone. I was about to call it lunchtime when I spotted a castle over in the distance, on the other side of the town. I like castles me. It wasn't open, or that impressive. It was a - more or less - large square 15th century blob of stone and turrets. What it did do well was command a good view of the bullet wounded poppy hills that formed the outer stretch of Madrid before it flumps into La Mancha. I found a water machine and head back to the main square. I then found an atm - always tricky in a small place - burnt my fingers on the sun-heated metal buttons and sent the texts I needed to send.

I finally buckled to the whim of both my belly and my bladder and found the most populated outdoor cafe on the plaza mayor - La Taberna Conrado, helmed by a waitress as ugly as she was efficient. And my she was ugly. I ordered a beer, some patatas bravas and two croquetas. The potatoes had one of the spiciest bravas sauces I had tried and were also coated with coarse salt. I don't really like all that much salt on my food but I found these little golden starch cubes strangely morish. My nose ran and my belly filled as I relaxed, reclusive in my little pool of shade. There is something inexplicable in the way one is able to pick out one's countrymen before they even speak. I think it's two parts physical and stylistic appearance to three parts mannerisms and body language. I thought about this as I regarded the green and white multi-tiered balcony-laden inner walls of the square. It reminded me of the hanging houses at Cuenca. I saw a prowling cat, walking like John Wayne, under the tables, well-fed and well-kept. No collar. Maybe a pet. Then I asked for the bill and an anis Chinchon. This a sweeter version of anisette liqueur that you can find anywhere. The famous, harder version is Sambucca. Anis is a typical drink of Chinchon. In fact it is the product of Chinchon. In fact it is the only product for which the Madrid Community has a denominacion de origen, giving it the same status as Rioja wine or Manchego cheese.
The smell is a heady mixture of vodka and liquorice. The taste is pleasant and delights in curling up around ice cubes.
The sky couldn't have been bluer as the hundreds of sex-mad swifts danced around the heavens trying to impress and catch and fight each other. My head started to spin lightly as the heat and alcohol cushioned me. I asked where the bus stop was, got on my number 337 and slept most of the way back to my capital.

It was my first little taste of wandering through Spain on my own. Eating on my own. Drinking on my own. Leading me to think and write there on my own. It's quite nice really.

How much can you squeeze into a week?

View from Calatrava La Nueva

The following adventures were sponsored by the Mum&Dad Inc. (a visiting corporation).

After a fun visit from my favourite Valencian girls Malou and Imogen I had to play Mr. Host with my parents. I had managed to book a week's holiday prior to the visit so we made plans accordingly:

Sat/Sun - Madrid
Mon/Tues - Consuegra, Ubeda, Baeza, Granada
Wed - Cordoba
Thurs - Calatrava La Nueva, Ciudad Real
Fri - Avila
Sat/Sun - Madrid

Not the most relaxing week, but one of the most satisfying of all my time here.

After negotiating the melee of roads that wind, cross, overlap and get tied up in the centre of the capital we managed to find the exit route. The road leaving Madrid lead us out of the glum, lonely looking outskirts of Madrid - massive advertising boards and washed out warehouses offering furniture - into the low, green plains of Castilla La Mancha. Our first stop was my request, for Consuegra is the home of those famous white windmills that show up in that perennial Spanish classic Don Quixote De La Mancha (the old knight of the book attacks them thinking them giants...silly knight). I wanted to see them. They sit proudly, 11 of them, on a ridge that stands on its own surrounded by lowlands. Chalk-white and perfectly preserved they provide a quixotic (ha ha) contrast with the rusty orange town below and the coppery red and green fields in the distance. These little sail-bearing teeth share the jaw of land with a bulky 12th century castle. When you managed to squeeze past the four separate groups of school children being scared, taught and spellbound by actors in costumes, the view from the top was superlative. If it weren't for the coaches the view would have been as classically Manchegan as a slice of cheese, with a glass of Valdepenas wine and a few lines from the great book.

Ubeda and Baeza
Another two of my requests. These two little Renaissance beauties are a couple of often unknown and little visited towns. They are World Heritage Sites and are just, quite frankly, delightful. I caught wind of them when one of my students recommended that I visit them at some point if I could. I don't like to let down my students. Enter parents. Enter hire-car. Enter handy location on the road south.
The road in question took us into the community of Andalucia and through Jaen province. Jaen is the major olive producing region in Spain and you can see this if you just look out of your car window at any time and any place in the area. The hills, rolling and broad as they are, are studded with little olive bushes. If you imagine a roast turkey studded with so many cloves you can imagine Jaen. Rarely visited reservoirs surrounded by olive-bush dappled hills with copper red, dirty white and green soils, dotted with farm buildings and everything tinkling in the limited sun produced a scene worthy of literature. Unfortunately Quixote didn't get this far. He was too busy chasing sheep and staring down windmills in La Mancha.
So to Ubeda. Nestling up a hill and surveying the great Jaen valleys Ubeda is the bigger of the two sister towns. Its 'zona monumental' houses an impressive array of Renaissance palaces and squares. The small town was shut up and closed due to the time of our visit - the Spaniards will have their siestas - but we could still see the bulk of it. A little visit to the 'Jaen' shop meant that I could procure - via my parents - a 1.4kg plastic jar of Jaen olives. Lovely. We departed from sweet little Ubeda and drove 9km down the road to her little, maybe even sweeter, sister Baeza. Baeza is really small. It's weeny. In fact were it clothing it'd probably be a yellow polka dot bikini. You get my drift. It too sports a selection of grand buildings far larger and more ornate than its size would usually allow. It also does have that 'Sunday morning' air about it that the guidebook mentioned.

As the road drifted into the wide and high peaks of the Sierra Nevada we arrived in Granada. Having stayed in the city previously in 2003, my first thoughts were those of nostalgia. 'Oh, there's that bench I sat on with Ollie'; 'oh, haha, there's that shop where we struggled to buy a bottle of water'; 'there's the square where we always used to relax'. I took my parents to that square first thing. Plaza Nueva is in the heart of the city and sits by the river in the belly of the valley - the Alhambra perched on a hill on one side, the old Moorish (and World Heritage Site) quarter, the Albaicin, rising up on the other.
The Alhambra was our target the following day. In the sun it glows. The Alhambra (Arabic for 'The Red One'), for those of you who don't know, is a vast fortress and palace complex that surveys the whole of the city. This UNESCO site is full to bursting with towers, colourful gardens, glittering ponds, flowers, ochre walls and about two million arches. Beautiful. For us the day was slightly sullied by a prolonged and unforgiving weather system. The clouds wept on us for almost our whole time in Granada. Grand but greyed was our visit.
The brief moment of sun we did have we spent waking around the other UNESCO site, the Albaicin. Twisty, narrow streets, cobbles and white-painted houses create a near impossibly complicated web-like district. It's fun to get lost though. And on our last evening I walked around alone and to the top in order to get a glimpse and photo of the big, beastly Alhambra by night.

Leaving the climbs of the Sierra Nevada and the Arabic muscles of Granada we sped into the bowling over-green hills of the Cordoban countryside. It was like some vast pod of harlequin, myrtle and straw-coloured whales breaching their way across the fields of Andalucia; never showing their heads or tails. After not much time we pulled into our horror-film cheap Cordoban hotel, with its peeling walls, creaking doors and flickering buzzing lights.
Cordoba, after its morning drizzle, was a glorious little pearl of Spanishness. The main calling card of Cordoba is the mezquita and surrounding buildings. You enter the city by crossing a big, clean, preserved Roman bridge. You are then faced with an historic area. You can walk around the majority of the buildings in an hour or so. Big, Gothic/Arab, yellow/brown, dramatic. There are some words.
Before we went into the building I popped into the tourist information office and got us a plan of another little shindig that was going down in the city. The week we had chosen to travel also happened to be one of the weeks that held the Festival of the Cordoban Patios. A festival where the luckier members of the city, who have internal patios, open them to the general public and the competition judges.
Little fountains that dropped water serenely into little pools while little flower pots dotted little walls with many little flowers - flash purple, pink, red, yellow, colours of rainbows - and little tourists with their little cameras take little photos.
These patios lay hidden inside small, pristine white houses - similar to those in Granada but more stately. We left this area, smacking with smells: flowers, pollen, warm leathers and hot boiling pork, and moved to the older barrio.
Prior to our 'history bit' we had some tapas in a sweet little cafe run by a very funny and animated chap. When we paid, he graciously told me that I spoke Spanish perfectly. I beamed modestly and truthfully informed him that I speak well, but hardly perfect. I then made a joke that I'm called a 'guiri-gato' by my housemate. A 'guiri' being an endearing term for a foreigner (similar to gringo) and 'gato' meaning someone with both parents and grandparents from Madrid (basically someone who can truly claim to be 'from Madrid'). He laughed and told me that he once lived in Mexico and Miami and that in both places they called him gringo. I quizzed him as to why. He was Spanish surely. He told me to hang on. He trotted inside for a minute or so. I filled my parents in. He trotted back out. 'This is me when I was thirty'. Some crusty old photos of a young man with wild ginger hair and fair features. 'This is why they called me gringo!' He also lived with the Mayan people for two years, but that's another story...
The mezquita was something else. Proof that sometimes a photo really just doesn't do it. You enter surrounded and confronted and wrapped up in a blanket of endless dark red and white stripy archways. They caterpillar away as far as perspective will allow you to see. Stunning. Mosque-y and stunning. Then, right in the centre, where you can't see for the arches, a massive ivory-white Christian cathedral rises up 50 metres to the heavens. You blink and try and work out where it came from. You walk back a few metres and you're back with the Muslim arches and its spongy half-light. Then back into the light and Christendom. It is, in the very literal sense of the word, unbelievable. And, you know, it's magnificent.

Calatrava La Nueva
Our last stop before returning to Madrid (ignoring the normal but comparatively rubbish Ciudad Real) was a hilltop ruined castle complex called Calatrava La Nueva. The Calatrava Knights were a sect of Cistercian soldier-monks who went a bit power mad and caused the then king - Alfonso X - to set up Ciudad Real in order to keep the prayer/sword wielding nutters in check. The Knights set up the settlement up in 1216 in order to have a vantage point against the Moors. They chose a cracking spot. After driving up the precariously bumpy and badly laid stone road, juddering the car to pieces and causing my seatbelt to lock and choke me, we arrived at the small, empty car park. The weather improved for us and the views from the top were arresting. I spent the next hour and half running around the ruins alone but for my parents. It was like a private school trip, without teachers and with no 'don't do this' signs. We hit the road again and drove through the flower-splashed fields of La Mancha, looking like so many paint dots of an artist thrown lovingly against a green canvas: white daisies, red poppies, yellow ones, pinks and purples spattered the world around the car. We were driving through a piece of landscape art.

After a quick spell in Madrid we took a train to Avila and its famous wind-beaten walls. I shall begin by saying that Avila was cold. Absurdly cold. Bone-shakingly, arse-clenchingly, finger-numbingly cold. Why? Because I only took a cardigan. Why? Because I'm a crap boy scout. Avila was not what I expected. I imagined something twee and preserved like the old quarters in Granada, Segovia, Toledo, Cordoba, Cuenca and other places I'd visited. Instead the town inside was a bit scruffy and bland. However the star of the show and, in fairness to Avila, the 'thing' to see, was the wall. The whole town is surrounded by a perfectly maintained medieval wall. Tall, broad, attractive and imposing, the (so Spanish) yellowy fortifications wind their way around the 'old town' forming a large oblong perimeter. After lunch (the famous chuleton de Avila a.k.a. the big mental steak of Avila) I split with my parents to walk around the outside by myself. I ventured away from the town a little in order to run up a hill (scrambling through a fence I wasn't supposed to and performing some amateur wall-climbing) and get more of an all-encompassing shot of the wall. It's a marvel. It reminded me, like with that massive Manchegan castle, of the focus of a really good school trip.

We came back, dropped off the car, enjoyed Madrid's San Isidro day and put the holiday to sleep.
And that was the week that was.
I now have one week of teaching left.
Time to prepare a bigger trip.

A Tale of Two 'A' Cities


This place is green. I mean seriously green. If you took the colour green and then added another pot of green to it, upped the fluorescence and set brilliance to 1000, you'd get Aranjuez. It's only a short hour long train journey south, but it couldn't look and feel much more different to Madrid if it tried. Sure, there are parks and trees in the capital...but they're not as green.

We (Anna and I) pulled into the station, debarked and, mapless, started walking. The area around the station was - as the area is around almost any station in the world - a bit bleak and grimy. These were not the luxurious palaces and gardens we thought we would find. However, after a short walk a vast creamy pink palace flickered into view through the trees. It was very casually placed. No massive signs or 'THIS WAY TO THE PALACE' boards. It just sat there, subtly majestic, 10 minutes from the station. The Palacio Real was fantastically beautiful, maybe because of the contrast with the station and the way it sat adoringly amongst the gardens. It could have been more due to the fact that it was originally built by those Spanish bourbon monarchs to be a Spanish Versailles. It isn't, of course. Versailles is frankly ridiculous. Aranjuez is more quaint and shrunken. Nevertheless the building is gorgeous. Smaller, but more personable than the vast, cold Palacio Real in Madrid and un-touristy enough to feel like you are one of the few people enjoying it. Around the place are the wonderful gardens. It felt like I was walking through England, like I had absent mindedly tumbled into Much Ado About Nothing. There were copious fountains and benches and bushes and flowers and statues (my favourite being a naked Bacchus riding a barrel of wine). Lots of water in Aranjuez, clever irrigation and a lot of rain in winter made for a turbo-charged vegetative experience.

We had some cheap-o tapas at a franchise tapas joint, stole a glass, saw some more historic buildings and then bought an ice-cream. On buying the ice-cream the heavens finally opened. Why should we be allowed to remain dry all day. We scampered to safety under the archway of the palace where a few Spaniards were hiding. My umbrella took a beating - 3 euro piece of crap.
When the rain finally stopped and the little girl who was staring maniacally at Anna eating her ice cream had left with her parents, we walked back to the train station.

Nothing remarkable about the trip back apart from a far off city on a hill that sat bathed in the sun's rays while everywhere else was cloudy and black. The golden city.

Alcala de Henares

Another day-trip with with Anna. Alcala de Henares boasts one of the oldest universities in the world and the second oldest in Spain behind the larger Salamanca one. We left the little modern station and wandered out into the town and its 28 degree sunny weather. Shorts weather had finally arrived [Note: it is currently making teaching almost intolerable]. We chose a direction, based on the other people leaving the train, and headed off. We had no maps. Maps aren't fun. We soon - after I expertly noted a bus with 'Universidad de Alcala' on it going past - went along the road that lead towards distant old buildings. Thinking back on it, buses can go one way or the other. Thank God for spires, they also help.

The main square and centre of the casco historico, historic quarter, was like a toy town. A plaza with a bandstand and Cervantes statue in the middle, lined with trees and surrounded by low ornate buildings. Only the spires felt brave enough to try and touch the sky. The spires themselves weren't that tall so the juxtaposition between this non-height highness and the apparently grand small buildings made it feel like you were walking through a large miniature. Then there were storks flying heavily through the cyan blue sky and crunching down on their massive nests that clung to the old catholic crosses like mistletoe on a tree. The roads were mostly unpopulated and we walked for over an hour around the academies and holy buildings almost alone.
We then attempted to locate a tapas bar I was tipped off about. Around 4 o'clock the main street had burst open. Scores of restaurants down its length had spilled their guts out onto the pedestrian area that passed Cervantes' birth home. Chairs and families and friends all tucked into their lunch (except the chairs of course, they tucked into the ground). We found our place - Indalo. Why did I want to go there? Well, you get free tapas with drinks almost everywhere in Spain. Not usually in the Madrid Community does that tapas turn out to be toasted ham bagels or small hamburgers and chips. Bless you Alcala. Fed and rosy we got an ice-cream and lolled about in the remaining sun for a while before trudging back to the station.

We finished that weekend off with a Sunday in retiro park with some other teachers and an evening bbq-ing on Nick's terrace. Well done Nick and well done weather.

Bidding you a sunblushed goodbye until the next one!

As I Walked Out One Spring Morning...

A writer called Giles Tremlett ('Ghosts of Spain') said this of a particular Spanish trait:
'They like the warmth, the solidarity, the sense of belonging that groups give them. That, perhaps, is why their towns and cities pack people together, ignoring the acres of open space around them. Individuality, I discovered when my own children reached school age, can be viewed with suspicion'

Whereas I can't relate to this quote from the point of view of having children, which I don't, I think, I can find truth in it. They do have a tendency towards grouping like sardines. It's natural. It's a family-based life style, like Italy. Big groups, big get-togethers, patriarchs and matriarchs and small streets. Also, on the subject of individuality, I think he may have a point. Last week, from Thursday to Sunday, we had the Easter holidays. I still had to teach the morning of the Saturday, but my Thursday and Friday were free.
On Thursday I had a 'me' day: watched some films, went for a long walk in the milky sun to a lake, watched quiet families herd their unsteady children around the perimeter on feet and bikes. I read my book and watched the silky water play with the light that tinkled through the lolling arms of my private tree while parrots and sparrows showed off and sang for my attention.

On Friday we decided to make the most of the little time we had and go on a day-trip. there were five of us in total: me, Matt and his girlfriend Raquel, Euan and his girlfriend Mahal. I was a welcome fifth wheel. We took Raquel's car and drove at an alarmingly breakneck pace to Cuenca, a small city (large town really, though the locals are proud of its status) some 160km East of the capital. On arrival we raced up through the town, dodging the aforementioned locals and screamed along impossibly narrow streets, lined clumsily with badly parked cars. Raquel wasn't used to this style of 45 degree uphill driving and thought the best course of action was to speed up. Matt closed his eyes, I thought we were going to violently make friends with a wall, and the wing mirror took a bashing. We parked and walked down into town, our legs a little bit more jellied than before.
It was the 'viernes de Pasion', the Friday of the Passion (of Christ), and the town was bulging and straining with the sheer number of people in it. Hundreds, maybe thousands were there. Half were tourists and locals and maybe half were participants in the city's processions. People walked through the streets, some barefoot, in differently coloured robes and cloaks, topped with a traditional (now aggressively lampooned) Klu Klux Klan style hood. They hauled large wooden icons of Christ's struggle and stamped staffs to the beat of the band while locals looked down from their windows.
It was all very strange, but impressive and at times clearly quixotic.
Something that made me laugh was that people were trying to walk along the pavements by the procession, like we were, but with difficulty. Logical option? Cross the road. I mean, if you have to cross the road you have to cross the road. A road's a road and surely I can cross it. Some people tried this, but were quickly reprimanded and chased away by one of a variety of tall men in full robe/hood combination brandishing a staff and sweeping his clothing authoritatively. It was ridiculous of course. It was probably Jose Fernando, father of two, mechanical engineer. But today he was something else, something more. Empowered by purple.
We finally freed ourselves from the procession and its noise and its confusion and went to look around the old part of Cuenca and the famous 'casas colgadas', hanging houses. Rickety old houses, perched on cliff faces, with makeshift wooden balconies that bravely hung over nothing. A local tourist attraction. The city had a rustic, golden charm that was so reminiscent of many pueblos in Spain. Cuenca, and Valladolid, have a rather sad tale though. They are considered forgotten towns. Once great, they are now places for day tippers and quick holiday seekers. Still, I found it charming and would happily return.

Our next stop? 34km away to Ciudad Encantada, Enchanted City.
Ciudad Encantada has the status 'Sitio Natural de Interes Nacional', natural site of national interest, and it deserves its status. It is a 20km squared natural park of limestone formations formed by a 90 million year old karstic process. It is a landscape spat out of true fantasy. It was in fact used in the classic film 'Conan the Barbarian' with Arnie yelling and running about with a big shiny sword.
Instead of trying in vain to describe the place, I'll include a little youtube video so you can see a few of the different aspects of the park. The best stuff is about half-way through.

This brings me neatly back to the quote from Tremlett. The Spanish tourists in the park seemed to travel in herds. Now, of course, in a park with arrows you tend to follow the arrows. But this was no UNESCO World Heritage Site with strict signs. You - as far as I know - were allowed to walk around wherever you liked. The Iberian flocks stayed to their paths. Sometimes small groups would venture a few metres from the route then gravitate back. Now, I don't know if this is a particularly Spanish trait but it seemed to coincide with what Giles was saying in his book. As the fifth wheel I thought I would give the couples some privacy and go and sate my sense of adventure. I walked off and climbed to the tops of the large karstic arms. Five metres up and alone there was a sea of scratchy stone before me. The wind was blowing hard and brought me smells of dusty pine and sun-baked rock. I ran around for hundreds of yards above the throngs below. I jumped over deserted gulfs between the arms of stone. I regarded the moon-like surface that was once a roof over all of this park. I contemplated the tourists below in what was first solid rock, then a limestone cave and now ground. I then thought I might not actually be allowed up there. I descended in a precarious manner, rock-climber mode, camera slung round my back and all limbs in use. I later burst out of the undergrowth covered in needles and earth and confused a group of sightseers. I was back with the hordes. For a moment though, just a brief moment, I had the craggy, spiky, tops of this park's world to myself.

Tourists and anger...what a to-do!

Two weeks ago Tom blundered into my Spanish life an hour delayed at 12:00pm. I was reading some Douglas Adams in the arrivals lounge when news of his plane reached my ears. He exited the gate, had a quick bitch, and we greeted each other. It was as if we'd never parted.
That same night we went to a club after having met-up quite coincidentally with our American friend Taylor who was visiting Madrid for one night. Tom had never walked home from a club with the sunrise. Neither had I. It's a strange feeling. Drunk or tired Spaniards and foreigners fumbling their way home, eyes straining with the light, while men in suits 'tsk' past them on their way to work.

Friday was sightseeing so I made sure he saw the sights. When he and we'd seen the sights we had a siesta. Selina and Nicky arrived that evening, within half an hour of each other at 10pm-ish. We hosted a little tapas party at my flat with some of my Spanish friends. There were 10 people in total. Five Spanish on one side of the room chirping away, four English on the other side too nervous to speak and wrapped up in their own catch-ups, and me in the middle flitting between the two groups and the two languages. We had lots of food though: bowls of olives, mussels, crisps; plates of ham and cured meats, croquetas and chips with Bravas sauce; chicken cooked in cream with onions, a quiche and some balsamic flashed salad. With this banquet we had candles and arranged flowers. After the meal we celebrated Nicky's belated birthday with gifts: a notebook, a bottle of wine, a stylish pink Jonas brothers pen, a bar of healthy chocolate and some plasticine. Anna had made her a fantastic cheesecake which would even make a large American baulk and say 'no no, I couldn't'.

The only other real noticeable features of the weekend were: lunching at 'Rasputin' - a Russian restaurant, attending a ridiculous hat party and rowing at Retiro park on the Sunday.

Last weekend I had my brother and some other guys visiting me. Round two of the sightseeing and eating routine. It was free for me this time though, which was nice. I also got sunburned for the first time since my trip to Cuba last year.

Maria: 'All you guiris (affectionate name for foreigners) are the same, one bit of sun and you go red. Didn't you have any cream?'

Luke: 'No, no I didn't' (hangs head in shame and weeps a little)

It has at least provided a few minutes of chit chat with my students this week.

On the subject of this week, it is Easter and I am hoping that today some of my students will take it upon themselves to find something more interesting to do than come to have a life. Although, as a fellow teacher at Talking Point said 'at Easter the ones that come are the ones that literally have nothing else to do...' So I imagine that they will be the extraordinarily interesting students that always have 'normal' weekends when they do 'nothing special' or have lunch in their village... Don't get me wrong, I'm sure their villages are little bubbles of beauty teetering prettily away from the hustle and bustle and tourism of the capital, but, let's be honest, it's not...exciting is it? I always need a plan. I always need something to do. Something to make me seize the day. Carpe Diem or nothing. This Friday I am going to Cuenca for the day.

I can't - well I can but I don't want to - understand how people can laze around in bed until 2pm in the afternoon. I know it's nice and comfy. I know very well, too well, the seductive attraction of warm blankets while the outside world is cold and ordered. Go away! Leave me to the fuzzy chaos of my dreams and my warmth. I'm not saying you need to get up and work. Heaven forbid! But you have this little world, go and see it. See it before you have to go back to real work on Monday.

I recently watched an Australian version of 'Question Time' called 'Q and A'. It was quite good, lively. I was watching it because Richard Dawkins was on it. Some of you may know that I rather like the guy. Another panellist was Julie Bishop, who is the deputy leader of the Opposition and shadow minister for foreign affairs. An intelligent and liberal woman. She coped pretty well throughout the whole debate, which mostly focussed on Dawkins and his views. Good for me as that's what I wanted to see.
Anyway, at the end, to conclude, the presenter asked a question to all the panellists (God-folk: a creationist, a couple of Christians and a rabbi).
He said: 'Do you wish for or indeed hope for an afterlife?'
Julie Bishop's response was: 'Well, I hope this is not it. I mean, is this it?', she laughed.
They ended with Dawkins: 'Let's be realistic about this. We have brains. It's the brains that do the thinking. Our brains are going to decay. That will be that. - cue titters from the audience and scoffs from the panellists - But when you say, "is this it?" How much more do you want? I mean, this is wonderful!' Cue round of applause.

I couldn't agree with him more. Talk about summing it all up perfectly. People who take it all for granted for whatever reason, religious apathy, general laziness, simple-mindedness, you people, hear me.
I don't like you.
In fact, you suck.
You are wasting all the oxygen.
Go to France or a cave. (No offence France, you're lovely really) ((No offence cave...I'm sure you're great too))
The wasters, the polluters (a little hypocritical, but I mean proper polluters), the rubbish throwers, the animal mistreaters, the ' for the holiday, where's the McDonalds' people, the I-look-forward-to-the-afterlife and the 'this world is boring without computers' people. Take solace and know that I hate you all. I'm not talking biblical or murderous hate. I mean that 'I'd happily slap sense into your face if it were legal' kind of hate.
Open your eyes.
Turn off your console if it's a sunny day.
Go for a walk.
Breathe in the sweet air.
Remember what social connections used to feel like.
Remember what natural connection used to feel like.
Remember that you're lucky to exist.
Or take a hike.

How far can you run on a full stomach?

Guadalajara - a large town and provincial capital - is not the most attractive or indeed compelling place, but it served as my base for a small weekend away and yielded some surprisingly interesting little chicken McOoh-that's-interesting-Nuggets.

I had signed up for a 5-6km charity run in the town. It was my first race. It was only 5-6km, which is what I usually run for fitness anyway, but it was my first 'race'. I would have a number and a finish line, competitors and a time! That was on the Sunday though. We still had Saturday.

After work finished at 14:00 I went with Ditas - our resident weekend teacher/marathon runner - to her home in Guadalajara. The plan was to stay overnight at her flat then go for our run the following morning. We caught our bus from Avenida America and 45minutes later we disembarked at the small and rather ugly bus station in the town. Might I just add here how charming the price for a ticket to Guadalajara was: 4.01 euros. I reckon I could have paid 4 euros and just told the driver to stop 50 yards from the terminus. We wandered to her flat through the drizzle and dumped our stuff.
After having the small tour of her frankly absurdly nice apartment we decided to go and get some food. The plan was to have a Guadalajara speciality - arroz con bogavante, or 'rice with lobster'. This was to be our meal. However the whole endeavour escalated into a full flung feast quite accidentally. We showed up a little late for lunch, at 4 o'clock, so the kitchen wasn't really prepared for us. In the meantime we were given a free little shrimp caldo (broth) in a mug and some perpetually topped-up bread rolls. We also had some crayfish croquetas while we waited. To accompany us on this food journey was a delicious and crisp bottle of Galician Albarino white wine. Then the arroz con bogavante came. Then the funny bibs came. To protect our clothing during the destructive and splattery process of eating the crustacean we were adorned with polythene bibs with a jolly little lobster on it. He seemed happy that we were about to tuck into what could have been his cousin Jerry. We cracked, crunched, stabbed, sucked and scraped the shells clean of meat and in the process coated both our hands and the surrounding finery in sauce and juice. After this we were stuffed to bursting point. Tea and a shot of pacharran liquor - essentially a tasty, red sloe-gin - ended it all off and we decided a walk was necessary.
We ballooned our way around the drab, rain-bashed town centre. We did find some nice churches with some differing innards: one glittery, golden and ostentatious; one dark, austere and angry; and another brick, stoic, quite British and containing a group of quietly wailing parishioners. We also glimpsed the small, weather-beaten bull ring, complete with tiled artwork and anti-bullfight graffiti.

Back at the flat I had a 2.5 hour siesta until Matt arrived at around 10:45. We watched some football on tele. Well, he watched it and I nodded in agreement saying 'he's OFFSIDE!' and 'the referee's a wanker!' and all that...just to fit in... Not really of course, I read a book. Ditas then made us a little tapas dinner. Bits of tender solomillo (fillet of steak) cooked in butter and seasoned, then set atop some bread with a little knob of foie gras that slowly melted into the meat.

The morning of the run, we woke up leisurely and had some cereal. It wasn't to start until 12, and according to one of the people who were involved it wouldn't actually start until 12:15-12:30. It was a Spanish-organised event after all.

We trotted up for about 12:10. Quite quiet. Ditas looked at once puzzled and a bit anxious.
She asked a marshal.
"Where do we go for the adults race"
"What adults race?"
"The one that starts at 12:00"
"The 12:00 race?"
"Well, they've gone"

We ran into the running circuit (the beginning of the race) and found another man who informed us "If you want to run, go now!" So much for my gentle and measured début in race-running. We shoved our clothes into a bag and pegged it. We were already 15 minutes behind the group. I spent the first 5 minutes running and attempting to unravel my headphones. GOD I HATE CABLES! That in place I focussed on what was ahead of me. It is quite a strange feeling running along with my number (917) down a very long road with everyone else running the opposite way. They either thought 'they were late...idiots' or 'christ, they are really bad at running'.
Apart from one stitch near the end that had me walking for 2 minutes I managed to catch up with Ditas - Matt had pulled away. We pulled into the stadium while the organisers had started to pack up. We crossed the line. Water and free t-shirts were thrust upon us. A group photo. Our times. Matt = 26 minutes, Me and Ditas = 28 minutes. The slowest time of the day was 42 minutes. Had we been with the main group, we would have done quite admirably. Instead we all came 'last'.
Oh well, it was fun. Now it hurts it when I move.
Good times.
We went back to ditas for a spot of lunch. Cheese-stuffed bacon-wrapped turkey breasts, filet Mignon in peppercorn sauce, peppers, mustard mash and some nice wine.
At 16:00 Matt and I took our return bus to Madrid and went to meet his girlfriend in the South of the city.
In the evening four of us: Matt, Raquel (his girlfriend), Anna and myself went to see Shutter Island in Kinepolis - an enormous 25-screen cinema megaplex. Anna had to leave halfway through out of fear. After the film we ate some oriental food and went home.

Adjectives to describe this weekend: full, tasty, painful, necessary.
The next run is 10km in April...we'll see about that. I might be washing my hair or something...

Classic Drinks #17: Wet Russian Loneliness

Well well well.
Wells and wellies.
I feel I should write something, because that is what I do...what I like to do.
At this moment I am listening to a Spanish band called Supersubmarina and their album Electroviral - it's rare to hear good Spanish music.
The rains have finally left. Yesterday the weather people predicted the 'tormenta perfecta' for Madrid. It was a bit blowy and wet. In fact the whole week has been crap if we're talking about the weather. Everyday my cheap little street-bought three euro umbrella took an absolute beating from the 80km per hour winds that smashed their way across plaza de Espana. Today however there are wispy clouds flittering through the blueness of the sky and everything feels decidedly more Spanish.
In front of me is the corpse of a pear that I have just finished obliterating with my teeth and ten fingers tip-tapping away wondering if they are going to stop wasting time on the computer and go outside. Which I might. Mother Nature is a fickle cow sometimes, hot and sunny one moment, then a week of rain and wind and broken brollies.
In fact I'm going to stick two chubby fingers up to the coming week's weather and go for a walk right now.

Going out in Madrid:
Madrid has a fat and bulging social scene that I am still only in the process of chipping away at. The nights usually seem to evolve in one of four ways.

1. The one-target-wonder: This starts with the usual pre-drinking in order to save on money. Sitting in your living room, in your small group, topping up rum and colas or wine glasses waiting for the 'right! Shall we off?' from whoever deigns it their moment to take charge of the proceedings. You then head off, either by public transport of by foot, to your selected home for the next few hours. You go and enter with your complimentary 'copa' (a drink) after spending 6-10 euros to get in in the first place. You stay, you dance, you have maybe one or two more drinks, you yawn, you stop dancing, you stand around, you smile blinkedly at your discomates and you go home. A variation on this plan is if you have one or more extra scheduled locations.

2. The failed cluster bomb: You go to one place, have your drinks, dance, etc - see above - but then you think 'new place?' Great idea right? You leave, maybe stumble a bit, avoid a drunk, and start to wander the streets. You try the doors of various places. But you're picky. 8 euros with a drink at 3 in the morning? No thanks chumley! A queue? Bugger off! It then becomes clear to the boys that sleep will be more entertaining, and to the girls that they shall be going to no more balls this night. You head to the Papizza joint, smirk at beautiful, intoxicated American girls in the hope they'll 'notice your accent' and jump on you. They don't. You then walk/taxi/night bus home sucking the pizza grease from your lonely fingers.

3. The Where-did-that-come-from?: You only went out for a pint or two. Then you've gone and ended up throwing some crazy shapes and drinking gin y tonics until 4 in the morning. You said you were tired. Someone mentioned something about 'not letting our timetables get us down!' or 'carpe diem!' and you ended up in a bar being goaded by already not-single male teachers to 'just go and talk to her'. You usually don't. You get home fuzzily and smile at the gem of an evening you just had.

4. The What is happening...seriously?: This can lead on from either of the above variations. You get to a point in the night when, either by the potency of the drinks or the fact that there's just something in the air, the world goes a bit...funny. You start saying hello to pretty girls as you walk past them, you start accepting offers to things or talking to people that you normally wouldn't, and then you start having 'great ideas'. Two weeks ago a few of us ended up in Chueca - the lively gay district - and found ourselves in the slowest queue imaginable. We were five in total: Ray, Niall, Euan, Niall's girlfriend Elena and myself. In this queue a severely drunk Ray bumbled over to a door on a different site. One minute later Euan's hissing at me 'go with Ray'. 'Eh?' I retort. 'Bloody go with Ray!' Our friendly neighbourhood American had been covertly offered two places in a small, surreptitious bar called 'Local'. Galumphing over to it I accidentally stood on a guy's foot.
Spaniard: 'Hey, you stood on my foot!'
Me: 'Sorry about that, I didn't see it...'
Spaniard:'You're not from Spain'
Me: ' I'm not'
Spaniard:'Are you Italian?'
Me: 'No'
Spaniard's Friend: 'You idiot, he's clearly English'
Spaniard: 'I'm from Catalonia'
Me: 'Barcelona?'
Spaniard: 'Yes' 'And in Barcelona we give two kisses on the cheeks'
Me: 'In England we just sort of shake hands'
Spaniard: 'Give me two kisses then'
Me: 'Err'
At this point Ray drunkenly and lightly took my hand and pulled me over to the bar area unaware I was conversing with a friendly Barcelonian.
Spaniard: 'Uh! He's already got a boyfriend!'
I half span with my finger in the air to correct him, but said 'meh' and decided it wasn't worth it.

We managed to get the other members of our troupe into the bar in the end. It was strange and small. There were bulbous orange/red sofas almost looking on to doorless toilets, slightly guarded by a semi-translucent glass wall, and strawberry heart-shaped lollipops stuck to the walls and windows. Standard. It was somehow made even stranger by the sparsity of the clientèle. Some scattered homosexual couples and a group of tired, drunk and a little bit confused 'guiris' (foreigners)

You never really know how a night out in Madrid will go. It's always exciting and often disappointing, but always different.


That was a nice walk. I was alone, in the sun, with my music. I like to walk around, to learn the city. Yes it would be nicer to do the same walks hand-in-hand with a special someone. But lacking that special someone I am quite content to go alone. Saying that, the lacking someone is a bit of a pain. Spain is a country full of beautiful people, if only I had the time to meet them...

Next weekend I'm hopefully taking place in a charity run 'Gotas para Nigeria' (Drops for Nigeria). It's only 5km, but that's enough for me! You gotta start somewhere.
If you don't hear from me again, I've not made it.

I also spoke to a student at our school who is Russian. I was walking past her in reception with Simon, her teacher, who then poked her saying 'he speaks Russian'. I then got into a makeshift, rusty chat with her for a few minutes in the language of the Motherland. We discussed why Moscow is crapper than St. Pete, what she's doing in Madrid, and why I can speak the lingo. Hopefully I'll meet Svetlana again for a conversation in the future. Keep my hand in.

So, do svidanya for now!

An Ode To A Dolphin

Dolphin School. It is a strange name isn’t it? Dolphins are marine mammals closely related to whales and porpoises and there are about forty different species. My little old school then would be the forty-first.

My memories are rather fractural but nowhere in my memory banks do I find any logical link between my wonderful scholarly arena and a friendly wet beastie. Having said this, the first image that tiptoes its way to the forefront of my consciousness when I think of the place is that big, square, white sign with the bent over, blue member of the Delphinidae Family that stands proudly at the little entrance on Waltham Road. I suppose I was a member of that family too and I’ll never forget its name.

I attended the school from 1993 up until 2000. I should have a fat, swelling bank of memories into which I can dip and share. I do. But they’re memories that wouldn’t mean much to anyone except for my friends from the time.

What memories can I share then?

Well, shared memories.

The wonderful school plays. The heady mix of teacher-led makeup, parent-aided costumes, Judy-led plays and Mr. Cooper-led music. I remember the light-hearted miming of Pinocchio one year and the demented darkness of Dream Beasts the next. And of course everyone remembers the quintessentially Dolphin-esque Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was a rat, of course.

The lack of a uniform. By golly gosh of goshington that was fantastic. As Pinkey’s Green school kids laboured home, chafing in the ‘heat’ of the English Summer [he remembers through rose-tinted glasses], I meandered gaily back in shorts and a t-shirt. Logical, liberal and loose fitting seemed to be the school’s motto. Why try and make children drool over the genius of Shakespeare if all they can think of is removing their tie. I swear if every school followed that same maxim, kids would genuinely enjoy learning more than they currently do. Yes I would have preferred not to be at school, but I didn’t hate it. From a 6-13 year old, that’s quite some achievement.

2, 4, 6, 8, who do we appreciate, PLANTAGENET! Yellow and the best. That’s enough said about that.

Lastly I think my start in life, and my outlook on it, was greatly aided by the frankly outstanding school trips we had: Brecon Beacons, Ireland, Snowdonia, Caen, Boulogne, Iron Bridge just to name a few. The mere act of showing a child the world in which he or she lives is enough to spark an interest in it. It sparked one in me. Maybe that’s why I always opted for languages and science.

More than lastly a quick thank you to the teachers. I shan’t name names, you know who you are. Each one was inspiring, unique and did what they do best. The human resources department at the school didn’t miss a trick.

Dolphin School. Others think of a sleek, fish-hunting, pregnancy locating, clicking animal. I think of a school. My school: the very best of schools. 13.8 billion years before my life there was nothing. When I go wherever I go at the end of my life there will be nothing of me for the next billion billion years after. How lucky I was to be, how lucky I was to have met the people I’ve met and how lucky I was to have been to that little school that lurks just behind the coral, over there by the kelp.

I don't know what it is, but it says it's Spanish!

I'm not going to keep you for too long. I don't want your tea to go cold.
A couple of weeks ago I had some visitors again - I am lucky - in the form of Hollie and Rob. I went to university with them and had seriously hoped I was rid of them, but clearly not.
I was in the final stages of my illness so I didn't do a lot with them on the Thursday.
We did go for a short walk though. Nearing the end of my road Rob bashed into the full shopping bags of a lady who wasn't really looking what she was doing. One bag broke sending newly purchased items tumbling to the ground. She hissed 'gilipollas' (arsehole) and gave him eyes full of malice. Rob wasn't best pleased. We didn't help. In retrospect I feel a little guilty. But I suppose the reasoning was: 1. It was mostly her fault and 2. she just called Rob an arsehole.
Friday I returned to the school after my hiatus and painfully taught 6 hours.

Saturday we went to El Escorial, a small town about 1.5 hours away on the cercanias train. To be frank there's nothing there particularly noteworthy except for an enormously grand monastery, which used to house the royal family before they decided to set up shop in the new central capital of Madrid. Inside, after paying 8 euros, we went round what was essentially a lame art gallery (and a bonus architecture museum). I don't want to lie, it wasn't worth the money going in. From the outside though it was breathtaking. After the monastery we went round the town trying to find somewhere to eat. First restaurant 'menu del dia - 17 euros', no. Second restaurant 'menu del dia - 13 euros', still no. Third restaurant 'menu del dia - 11 euros', for God's sake! Fourth restaurant 'menu del dia - 7.5 euros', bosh!
The food was strange. Starters included 'potatoes and ribs', a bowl of broth with boiled potatoes and ribs from some long dead mammal. Tasty though. Mains included two versions of a patty/burger thing. The 'russian fillet' which was an odd tasting mince burger and my 'squid burger' (peddled in English as octopus), which was a white mulchy paste that vaguely tasted marine. Dessert was nice though. 'Crema Inglesa'...vanilla custard.

In the evening we went out for a teacher's birthday. He's gay. We went to a gay club. The club itself was really nice, chique, cool but expensive. The toilets were unsettling. Queues of butch, modelled, smooth shaven men waiting to use the toilets. Chatting away. I'm ashamed to say it but I was a little wary when I had to use the urinals instead of the closet. Obviously it was fine, and I walked away in a normal fashion. On leaving I did see two earringed gym freaks shuffle into the same closet. I'm sure it was just a silly misunderstanding...

Right now it is snowing outside and on Tele 1, the main channel in Spain, is the main morning program. It consists of weather, news, cooking, chat etc etc. 'This Morning' basically. Or...Esta Manana. Right now they are teaching some ridiculous 'carnaval' dance moves. The main lady is explaining the instructions as she does it - more and more out of breath with every thrust and arm fling. I fear she is about to collapse. That would spice up the program a little. Oh! She's done, now back to 'MADRID IS TURNING TO AN ICE WORLD!'

Oh yes, my friends. On the Sunday we took the 'teleferico' (an 11 minute cable car) to Casa De Campo, which is a very large park area where Spanish people like to run, walk and go cycling at the weekends. We went for an hour long walk or so and came back. Sadly it was then time for my chums to leave. It was a short stay, but necessary for me. You need little things like that to break up the monotony of the working week. I think they enjoyed themselves too.

Now on Esta Manana we are watching a man dramatically put a chain on his car tyre as a reporter shoves a Television Espanola microphone in his face. Oh how they are laughing about it all. They won't be laughing when he slides into a bridge though will they? No, they won't be laughing then. But it's ok, he's got his chain.

Another positive is that I've finally got to know all my new student groups. By and large they are very nice. A couple of boring students, but that's common.
Apart from the near perpetual state of sleepiness, I find that my creativity is overwhelmed by the desire to watch tv, sleep, or at a stretch, read a book. I used to write poetry and I have written a lot.
In the five months I've been here I've only produced one. I'm going to write it here for you now, just for posterity. It was written on the train journey to El Escorial. You can decide for yourselves if it is any good.


And the man strums,
How he strums:
'Siempre sera' (It will always be)
The train heaves on,
Spanish lands wipes past the window,
How it wipes past:
'Lagrimas claras' (Pale tears)
Vibrations tickle the air,
The strings warble,
How they warble:
'Muchas gracias' (Many thanks)
And on to the next carriage.

And on to the next carriage I go.

Illness: Part 2

I went back to the doctor today.
Once again feels like I'm trying to swallow a pineapple.
So I'm sat there outside Doctor Asuncion Alonso's office. She's quite popular, especially with old people. I was there in a cocoon of old, surrounded by grey hair. I had to wait for over an hour before I was seen, occasionally swapping some banter with the oldies who were quite sprightly.
"You and I've bin ere an age" he said (I imagine that would be his accent were he English)
"Yes, we have, I should've brought a book" I added
"Haha, yeah. S'a load of bollocks" I believe he responded.

Finally it was my turn. I relayed my infectious story to the doctor and she nodded and looked all doctorlike and medical. She then took me over to a seat, shone a light at my face and asked me to 'ahh' again.
"Mmm, that is very red...very red indeed"
Smashing I thought....
"You have a nasty virus in your throat"
Double smashing I thought...

She gave me a couple of prescriptions and a 'baja' form - this means that I must take at least a day of work and can't go back to work if I don't get an 'alta' date. The I'm better date. I'm supposed to go back in and see her on Friday, but I think I'll pop in sooner if I feel better. She expressed a logical concern about the combination of a bad throat virus and working until 10 everyday in a conversation school. She said that I had better not go to work today and to just see how the drugs work. I thanked her, smacked her on the back and left.
I didn't smack her on the back.
And now what?
A day indoors.
I got some fresh air and went to a market, but that's about it.
I'm going to go and read some Shakespeare to quell my stirring boredom.
In fact most of you could have done without this blog. It's part of my medication. Helping me to get better. The more I use my brain, the less I think about being ill and painful, the better I feel. Though it is starting to give me a headache.
I'll stop now.

Un hombre entra en un bar de pinchos, 'Ay ay ay!'

It's a new day,
It's a new dawn,
It's a new life,
For me,
And I'm feeling...pretty rough.

Last week I was rather ill. On Friday 22nd of January I started to feel funny. And I'm not talking jokes and witticisms. My neck started to ache, my throat was like knives when I swallowed, my body felt weak and feeble and my head felt like I had a clamp tightening round it in pulses. With these symptoms and my inability to focus I was sent home early. Bumbling through the metro system, nearly succumbing to the malaise and tumbling to the floor, I managed to reach my flat. Elena, my housemate, was there, wide-eyed and ready with the pity. She handed me a thermometer. BEEP. 38.4. degrees. Not normal and very high for me.
I don't usually get sick.
What followed was a weekend (and a Monday) of bad periods. I would feel good for a couple of hours but then stumble to my bed for another few as a migraine decided to try and eat its way out of my cranium. On Tuesday it all but left, with the help of amoxycilin - attained after going to the doctor on the Saturday. I also had a crash course in Spanish healthcare on the Monday when I went to ask for my 'justificante' - a.k.a. my 'look I'm sick and here's my proof' paper. It was most fun trying to go through the process whilst my head was pounding more viciously than Phil Collins at a gig. Highlight? Being told by the doctor 'That's a good laryngitis'.
I mention all this because, at the time of writing, it feels once again like I have collected a cornucopia of glass shards and needles in my neck and they have set themselves up in a kind of 'Ker Plunk' formation, thus making swallowing hard and painful.

This is even more annoying as this week we have been given our new timetables - so, new classes and students. This is the time when you make a positive image and try and get a table of Spaniards to love you in 1.5 hours. This could be difficult for me. Every time I swallow my facial expression could be construed as disgust for some badly implemented language from a student. I'll have to time my oesophageal activity perfectly.

Finally, I have my uni friend Anna over at the moment. She got herself a one-way ticket to Madrid in the hope of finding lodging and work. I generously gave her an ultimatum of one week or so in my flat to spur her on. As of today she has a nice, one-person studio flat and moves in Tuesday. Bosh. No job though, not yet...

You may say,
'What, that was the blog? But you didn't do anything!' Should you say that you would be both rude and correct. I haven't really done much recently. I will try and do more things. Go to more places. Notice more 'Spanish' traits. I will try. But for now you have the 'I-was-ill' segment.

I sometimes wonder, is anybody reading this? (other than my parents)
Anybody there?
Or am I wasting valuable time that could be better spent talking to myself?
Have a video:

I don't trust beggars with better phones than me!

"Where are you?"
"Just driving with some friends along Gran Via"
"Just remember to wrap up warm ok?"
"Ok mum, see you soon"
"Bye darling"
And with a click she hung up the handsfree phone and continued driving, not paying any attention to the taxi driver that almost hugged the side of our car.
"Are we safe?", I slurred - the soporific effects of wine making the ordeal less terrifying than it could have been.
"If you don't drive like this, you can't drive in Madrid", she flattenend the accelerator with her foot and leapt through an amber to red change, "we don't drive like grandmas here!" My nails sank into the surrounding soft car furnishings. I laughed a little.

But, truth be told, Marta had a point, and I did survive. She's not crashed in all her 5 years on the road. Maybe the little Spanish belle had changed my mind about how the Spaniards drive. I mean they can certainly handle their cars. A student said to me, "we drive the car well, we just don't drive well". True.
I nearly got hit by a car last Friday. The green man had just appeared and I started walking. Behind me, and through the fizz of my mp3 player, I heard two older Spanish men say 'aaaaiiiii' or something, and I glanced left to see that a grey car had decided to take his chances rather than stop. He had to break very hard. Very hard indeed. I shot him a filthy cocktail of hatred and disappointment and carried on, aloof, and thinking myself king of the world, secretly glad I hadn't been turned into a red Picasso painting.

This driving malarky took place on Saturday. Marta doesn't drink (but she likes Baileys) so she was happy to drive us out. We then spent an age trying to find a space to park the car. At one point we saw a space, on our side of the road, but suddenly were faced with a vast boat-sized SUV screaming down our lane towards us and proceeding to squish his fat arse into our place. Not only was this dangerous and illegal, it was bloody annoying. Safe to say the ensuing language was both multi-lingual and colourful. His smug smile and shoulder shrug didn't help either. Euan later kicked his wheel when we walked
past his four-wheeled behemoth. Petty, but it made us feel better.

Sunday was spent in Cercedilla, a village in the North of Madrid in
the hills. It was also this time when snow was a common daily sight in the beating heart of Spain (as you can see from the photo at the top). We took the C-8 cercanias train to Segovia and alighted at our designated stop, inhaling the frosty air. No map, no idea where to go or what to do, we headed up. Up was good. Up would take us to hills.
We walked for maybe 25 minutes. We, by the way, were me, Heather, Philomena and Matt (Anna joined us a short while later). We perchanced upon a charming looking restaurant called 'Los Frutales'. We entered. Log cabin-esque inside and quite clearly a family affair and labour of love.
'This'll probably be expensive'
It was reasonable. And I had the best, biggest, most glistening and sumptuous leg of lamb I have ever had. Only 16 euros. Anna joined us at the restaurant in time to eat with us.

Full of dead animals we headed further up the hill. Eventually (having asked vague directions from the owner of the restaurant) we reached the tourist office. We were given a map and information about the different routes around the valleys and mountains. They varied from 1.5km to 15km. We chose 'El Camino de los Aguas' ('The Route of the Waters'), at 4.1 km. Starting our trek we entered a forest. A winter wonderland, all virgin snow and ice. It started to snow slowly, lending a magical, serene air to the woods.
We climbed.
The snow came down heavier. We made snow angels, threw stones into a far away frozen reservoir, we fell over, we found abandoned buildings quilted with white, we shivered, we had wet feet, and we followed our map. About one and a half hours later we arrived back in the town. The ghostly peaks and cloud dandruff world we had just been in seemed unreal somehow. Far off. Mother Nature showing us just what she could do.
"Pretty isn't it?"
"Yes, yes it is"
"How about if I just started snowing now, lightly, like a dream, would that be even better?"
"There you go..."
"I think I love you"
"At least someone does..."

At 18:36 we hopped onto the last train of the day. Our feet were frozen and wetter than the sea, but at least we were cosy. We spent our trip back playing guess who - the game where you all give each other names on a piece of paper and slap it on your forehead. I was both Hannah Montana AND William Shakespeare. And that ladies and gentlemen, is a talent.

As far as work is concerned, it's the week of the Trinity examinations so we are all finishing up our preparations so that none of our students fail spectacularly, complain, and get us all fired.

I am sure more things will happen that I can tell you about.
I'm sure of it.

How dare you do that to my roscon!

Right. A blog. Yes, that's it. I was supposed to write a blog.
It's been a while.
Well I've been on holiday so shut up your face holes.
I could dribble out a long essay on what I did over the holidays in England, buuuut that would be pointless.
1. Some of the (few) people who read this are also those that I met during my holidays.
2. It's probably not that interesting. Why would you want to hear me, or read me, saying
how perfect my week was in England.
It was perfect.
Days with friends and days with family and days with the tele and no time to stop no don't stop don't stop the fun don't make me think about going back to work keep giving me mince pies and fat juicy turkey let me continue to wallow under my parents auspices. And snow.
Oh you greedy buggers, fine here's some snow.

What do you mean what did I do for New Years?
I went to Puerta del Sol to watch the archetypal firework ceremony and do the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes during a 25-30 second countdown. The idea is to eat them all before the bells chime out the fact that Spain has just blundered into another year. Gypsies, Chinese shops and supermarkets sell little occasion cans filled with 12 seedless, chemically skinned dwarf grapes for easy, and more importantly, rapid consumption. Gay little tins? NAY! We thought. We're better than that. We bought a big bag of red, seeded, slightly grubby fresh grapes. By grapes 7, 8 and 9 - that seemed to be fighting it out to be the first grape to heroically clog my throat - I thought to myself 'yeah, should have bought a gay little tin'. Having let the flakes of fruity flesh settle at the base of my lungs I swallowed the rest of my beer and spluttered 'happy new year! back to the flat?'. We then had a quaint little house party and watched the superior London fireworks on youtube.
Oh and Three Kings Day?
Roscon, tea, my mate Euan and Top Gear in the morning.
Lunch and Goldeneye in Plaza de Castilla with Esther and Fran in the afternoon.
Self-cooked dinner, Trivial Pursuit and Guess Who game with Euan, his girlfriend Mahal and her friend Marta in the evening.

The Spanish hate colour. I think that's a fact. Maybe not hate. No, not hate. They don't 'get' colour. I mean, if they did they would function better.
I have a Maintenance student (the highest level in the school, only three students, basically fluent) called Henrik Claus Brandt. He's German, yes. He said in a moment of brilliantly enunciated remembrance: 'my father once said that you can judge the progression of a civilisation by the way the people drive'.
Germany, England, Scandinavia. Good drivers.
I'm not going to say that the Spanish are less of a civilisation, but they really fail spectacularly when you put them behind a wheel.
Green = Go
Amber (if present - on some Spanish roads it's just Red/Green) = slow/get ready to stop
Red = Stop
Not in Spain. If they abided by these rules cars/taxis/buses wouldn't flash straight through red lights, people wouldn't become red stripes on the road, there wouldn't be massive traffic jams, people wouldn't be leaning on their horns for hours on end and everything would be less stressed. Also, a criss-cross no stopping marking here and there wouldn't go amiss. It's not just the cars. The pedestrians, and you know my thoughts about them, also have some form of psychological and physiological block when it comes to colours.
When there's a red man people start to cross as long as that immediate strip of road, in the straight line of sight, is clear. Then they kick up a fuss when they are nearly turned into dust by a vehicle. Similarly when you're waiting to cross, you often find yourself marooned behind a crowd of eejits who are primitively deciding, each in their individual minds, if this green man means 'cross' or, more simply 'look at me I'm green'.
Idiots aside, it's good to be back. I love this country. Though I shan't lie, I have heard faint and distant whispers calling me back to the Motherland...
I do like snow.