Festive bitch fight – makes a change from the Queen’s speech

There are a few enduring memories that will stay with me of Christmas this year. And deffo near the top of the list is the fact that December 25, 2009 was the day I found out who Belen Esteban (above) is.

Your TV highlight in England might be watching someone get married or murdered in EastEnders. It might even be the Queen’s speech. But in Spain, this year at least, it was watching Belen Esteban, Spain’s biggest TV personality, have a full on, in your face screaming match bitch fight with Jaime Peñafiel, a royal correspondent. If it sounds weird, that’s because it is.

Me and the bloke had arrived back from a six-hour darts tournament (there’s not much else to do on Christmas day) at the local bar to find his family sitting down to watch some of it. They were all very interested in having a look at her new nose.

To me it looked like it had been put on wonky – like she was trying to smell her ear, but judging by older footage of her, it was a vast improvement.

You found it kind of hard to concentrate on the nose though, what with her screaming “usted es un cobarde, co-bar-de!” (you are a coward, co-ward) every five minutes, tapping her foot like a rabbit on speed, wobbling her head from side to side, rolling her eyes, throwing her hands in the air, flicking her hair, barking indignantly and threatening to walk out. (not all at once mind) It was like Jerry Springer, Trisha and Jeremy Kyle all rolled into one.

Who is this woman, and why is she screaming? That was my question. The bloke’s family filled me in. basically Belen Esteban was a normal girl from Madrid (la chica del barrio) who was probably one of many women who had a thing going with this very famous bullfighter. But she succeeded where so many others failed – she got pregnant by him.

After her daughter was born in 1999, the bullfighter didn’t really want anything to do with his new baby (a la Jude Law) and Belen has since made money talking about herself and her daughter… to the point where the child protection agency got involved. Is there an equivalent in the UK? I’m tempted to say Jordan, but at least she actually has a job, of sorts.

So here was Belen, having it out with the royal correspondent, who over the last year and a half has being saying nasty things about her on TV and in the press. And with the audience baying, and the host not really mediating like he was supposed to, she told him everything she thought of him. Screaming like a banshee. he couldn't get a word in edgeways.

He said the day after that she had been like “the girl from The Exorcist” and he was right.

And the weirdest thing was that at the end of it all a guy who was basically a fat blonde version of Aladdin came out and gave her a Christmas present. (He was Rappel, a famous fortune teller, in case you’re wondering.)

Seriously, I thought British TV was on the slide. They’ve apparently got her back on to do a special TV show for New Year’s Eve. I won’t be watching that one.


Home for Christmas? Next year mum, I promise!

The office is deader than Tiger Woods' marriage, and Tuesday Club is officially over for the year. Hardly anyone is left. Yes, it's Christmas. And once again I've decided to stay in Spain rather than make the journey back to Durham.

At work, our team has now decreased to two (just me and the Scotsman, who is married to a Spanish lady and has a baby – multiple reasons to stay). And Spanish colleagues routinely ask: "No te vas a Londres?" (Aren't you going to London?) (because most English people live in London, don't they?)

I tell them no, and then always feel the need to defend myself when I see their puzzled faces.

No I am not estranged from my family. No I am not a Scrooge bah humbug Christmas hater. I am normal.

I have a Spanish boyfriend you see, so I have Christmas with his family here.

I have to work up until Christmas Eve, so there's really not time to get back.

There are no direct flights to Newcastle airport so I would have to fly into Edinburgh or London and get the train. It's such a lio (hassle).

All of which is true, but it's a bit bad on my part and just downright lazy to be using the same excuses for the last four years.

And bless my poor mum, who I know would love to have me and the bloke there at Christmas, but would never guilt trip me into coming. In fact she has never ever guilt tripped me into doing anything, which I just realised recently.

A girl at work was telling me how her mum had said to her: "I pushed you out into this world, you can't treat me like this."

When I told her I couldn't believe her mum had said that, she just asked me: "Well hasn't your mum ever said anything similar?"

No. I can more imagine my mum saying: "I'm leaving your dad for Marylyn Manson" than I can picture her saying anything like that.

So I have vowed that I will get off my arse and make sure get back home next year to introduce the bloke to his first British family Christmas. Turkey, crackers, a boat load of booze and my dad nodding off in front of the telly during the afternoon re-run of Back to the Future or Indiana Jones. He can't wait.

It'll be very different to the experience here, where Christmas Eve is the present opening and the big party, and everyone wakes up with hangovers but no obligation to do anything or even leave the house or bed.

That is if airline strikes/freak snowstorms don't stop us first. Poor PB was stuck in Terminal 1 for about 18 hours and finally walked through her front door 29 hours after leaving her flat in Madrid.

Meanwhile Two Shandies had her flight cancelled, got on a new one, sat on the tarmac for two hours then had that one cancelled. Not great for someone who's freaked about flying. They put her up in a hotel in Barajas near the airport and she got a knock on her door at 5am saying it was time to get to the airport. She got back in time (and in one piece too).

The last time I saw them both was at our traditional Christmas meal, which this year we had in an Argentinean meets French restaurant and was notable for three reasons:

1) The tables were made out of old sewing machines which all had squeaky foot pedals on them. They were all begging to be messed with, so we did, only to be told off about it because it "bothers the clients"

2) We went to a bar afterwards and walked bang slap in to the middle of a rugby team's Christmas party. I thought English rugby teams were bad, but Spanish ones give them a good run for their money. They were pissed to the point of falling over, letching over everything in a skirt and after a girl who was part of their group dropped a glass, they started some sort of rugby chant until she stripped naked. At least no one drank any pint glasses of vomit though (I saw this happen on the ferry to Calais once)

3) A group of Tunas came into the bar and tried to play, but were booted out by the bar staff. The existence of these weird modern day minstrels was news to me, but the bloke explained they're university students, dressed in medieval clothes that go round playing music and trying to skadge money, food and booze off people. Just when you think you know it all about life in Spain, you learn something new. (Though I thought he was making it up for the fist five mins)

Anyway, Merry Christmas friends, and thanks for reading this year.


Cosmopolitans, belly laughs and 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t reflect on how lucky I am to have the friends I do. When you’re away from home your mates become your family. They make all the difference as to whether you feel settled or not. Because even if you’re in the most fun city in the world, what good is it when you have no one to have fun with?

When I left Barcelona to start my new life with the bloke in Madrid I found myself in the strange position of being Billy no mates. By the time I got myself sorted with a job a few weeks later I was feeling pretty desperate.

So there I was on my induction day at a language academy, in a room full of strangers. A fierce frizzy haired woman was telling us how “you are not here to become friends with your students – they need homework and proper lessons”. Then one of the other directors chips in: “Yes, and if you’re new to Spain don’t worry, just tell them you’ve been teaching in Barcelona before – they’ll never know.”

Just when I was thinking to myself ‘what a bunch of cock knockers’, a girl put her hand up and said: “Er, excuse me, I don’t feel comfortable lying. They’ll know I haven’t been living in Barcelona, ‘cos I don’t speak the language. I’ll look like a total idiot if they speak to me in Spanish and I don't know what they're on about.” I thought, 'I don’t know who she is, but I want to be that girl’s friend.'

That was my mate Two Shandies and thank god I got her number that day. She introduced me to Sa and PB and the rest of the group who now comprise my Madrid family.

Tuesday is always the day reserved for us. Boyfriends or potential dates have to make their own plans while we meet up for ‘Tuesday Club’. And whether it’s in a bar or round someone’s house, there’s one factor that’s constant, and that’s the laughs we have.

This week was no different. Two Shandies had us round to her gaff and mixed up some eye-wateringly strong cosmopolitans. She was updating us on the status of her new internet dating squeeze, Mr Fit.

He is literally too good to be true. Fit, intelligent, interesting, kind, complimentary, and the size of a bear (essential in Two Shandies’ book) The only potential problem is that he is a helicopter pilot and has to go to Afghanistan in February.

Well they spent about six hours chatting on messenger over the weekend, and at one point PB, who lives upstairs, came down to see what was going on. Just as she got in Mr Fit commented on Shandies’ profile photo, in which PB also appears.

“That woman in the red top in your photo…” writes Mr Fit. So Two Shandies nudges PB and says: “He’s talking about you!” There’s a bit of a tense moment. What’s he going to say? They both look at each other and turn back to the screen to see his next message…

“Is that your mum?”

Ha ha ha ha, oh dear.

We'd just about finished wetting ourselves about that when Two Shandies mentioned her favourite film, Room With A View. (Shandies loves all that period drama/romance guff)

So I started trying to tell her that there’s a big screen version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the works (starring Natalie Portman in case you're interested) – it might just be Shandies' chance to get into horror films?

Shandies: “But I don’t understand how that would work. Is Mr Bennet a zombie? What are zombies ayway?”

Sa: “You must have seen that famous zombie film, Night of the Living Dead?”

Shandies: No, but I’ve seen Life on Mars.”

Sa: “What, the series where his a policeman and he goes back in time?”

Shandies: “Oops no, I mean Mars Attacks. The one with the aliens. Are they like zombies?”

Me: “No! Zombies are sort of undead beings, living corpses.”

Shandies: “Oh right, Ah, like in the Thriller video. Surely they didn’t exist back then. They’re a modern thing aren’t they?”

Me: “But they’d be like Victorian zombies.”

Shandies: “What, in period costume? Would they be wearing bonnets?”

Me: “Yes they would, sounds bout right. So would you like to see that then, do you reckon?”

Shandies: “I’m not sure. I’m just trying to imagine a cross between Thriller and Pride and Prejudice and I can’t quite do it.”

Brilliant. That little exchange sums up how different we all are, our group of amigos. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just hope they don’t all decide to go back to England, or I don’t know what I’ll do.


Percebes: the strangest looking thing you thought you'd never eat

Aquí se vive muy bien. Aquí se vive muy bien
(People live very well here / Life is good here.) That's what was going round and round my head like a mantra as I sat down for breakfast/lunch with the bloke at our new favourite restaurant in town.

Why? It was a Tuesday, and one of Spain's brilliant fiesta days. Which meant that normally we would be at work but instead we were sat down, ready to have a glass of ice cold Rueda and tuck into a plate of my favourite dish of all time, percebes.

I remember the first time I clapped eyes on them, when the bloke took me to Santiago two Christmases ago. I was like, ‘I’m not eating that, they look like little alien penises!’

And indeed they do – little alien troll claws that come from the sea. But once you manage to get the fleshy bit out of the ugly trunk and into your mouth there’s no going back.

They taste like the sea, all salty chewy goodness. Much better than an oyster (which however much you dress it up with lime or chilli is like gargling with snot) and minimum chance of getting sick off them as they’re actually cooked.

There are only two potential problems. One: The probability of you squirting your dining partner in the eye with percebe juice whicle you’re trying to get them open is high. (I actually did this to the bloke's madre once.) Two: They’re bloody pricey, especially now as Christmas approaches.

The price at the place we ate had been hiked up from 25 Euros per quarto to 35. We had a medio. 70 smackers. Ouch!

The reason they’re so pricey though is that it’s quite dangerous to collect them. They only grow (live? What’s the correct term here?) on the rocks where the waves break. So the percebe fisherman has to scramble in in the space between waves and get battered around in the surf. Rather them than me.

In my opinion they’ve deffo worth shelling out for, though, and they’re probably top of my list of things I thought I’d never eat or like, but do, since moving to Spain.

When I first arrived in the country I hated olives, thought jamon looked horrible and would be really put off by the sight of blood oozing out of a steak. (I think for the first year I lived in Barcelona I only ate tuna salad.)

But now I like all of the above. Hell I even suck the gunk out of prawns’ heads and eat callos (tripe, basically).I now drink coffee (after insisting I hated it for the first 25 years of my life.) And I’ll even have the occasional glass of red wine (I said I’d never drink it.)

Thank you Spain. And the bloke for making me consume alien-looking things. When it comes to what I eat I am a changed woman.


Two Shandies and the weird and wonderful world of internet dating

It’s been a while since I was single. And even back then, I can’t remember playing the “dating game”. In fact the only significant “date” which springs to mind is my first night out with the bloke, during which I managed to fall down the stairs in a cocktail bar, split open my chin and graze my knuckles. I think it’s safe to say I was a bit of a disaster.

The same could not be said of my friend Two Shandies, who is now something of a dating ninja. All thanks to our friend the internet.

For the price of 109 Euros you have six months worth of what is effectively online shopping for boys. And for that price you’d better get your money’s worth.

Some people might turn their noses up at internet dating. But I totally get it. Think about it – on your average night out on the pull you might waste hours chatting someone up only to find they’re married, weird, or just not interested.

Of course, you might still get all that on internet dating, but at least you can try and figure that out in the cyber stage, without wasting money buying them drinks.

You have to be careful when creating your online profile though. You don’t want to risk being accused of false advertising by putting a photo that doesn’t look like you. Ones from when you were 21 or photo-shopped efforts are not a good idea. (Apparently if a person only has one photo in their profile that’s a big giveaway)

And make sure you don’t tick any boxes by mistake. Two Shandies accidentally ticked the “pony” box in the what pets you have section, and stated getting emails from a man who was really excited about going horse riding with her.

You have to be dedicated too. According to Two Shandies you will probably like about one in 20 of the people you actually interact with. But that’s OK. At least she gets to practice her Spanish, and has lots of great stories to report back on the ones that don’t get past the first date. For instance…

Mr Interesting
As an ice breaker, Two Shandies asked this guy to tell her three interesting things about himself. His reply? “Number one -I talk to myself a lot. Number two - When I get out of the shower I wear my dressing gown for a long time before I put my clothes on. Number three – I like channel surfing.” (bad)

Mr Rude
He seemed nice so they arranged to meet. Then when they finally did, he took one look at her and walked away without saying a word. She phoned him and his mobile was off. He did get in touch sometime later and apologised, saying he had just got some bad news five minutes before they were due to meet up. So Shandies gave him a second chance but he was awful, and just asked her loads of questions about her sex life. (terrible)

Mr Posh
My personal favourite. This guy actually described his dress sense as pijo (posh) in his profile and said his views were Españolista. He had no photo on his page. Why? “Well, you put your photo on the internet and next thing you know, you’re in a jeans advert in China. When he met up with Two Shandies he wore a tie with a stag on it “because English people like hunting, don’t they?” (quite funny)

Mr Young
He’s tall, blond, with blue eyes, but unfortunately is only 25. So Shandies sent him a message saying: “Que pena eres tan jovencito” (what a shame you’re so young) but he responded: “A mi no importa” (I don’t mind) So that one could still go somewhere. (quite promising)

If the saying goes, “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince” then Shandies is surely due to stumble across some blue blood soon. I’m waiting to see how Mr Young pans out.