I'm leaving on a jet plane…

I got home Monday night to find a slightly sullen bloke tinkering with tunes on his computer. "Would a cup of tea cheer you up?" I asked. "No, but a game of darts and a few drinks would," came the reply. Honestly, sometimes I think he's more British than I am.

A few games later in our local bar, the wonderfully named Yuppie, and bloke had perked up slightly (yes, because he won). Good, stuff – everyone gets the Monday blues after all. But no, it was more than that, he admitted.

"You'll be gone on Wednesday, and I'm really going to miss you."

Then it hit me – god I was really going to miss him too. Sure I was looking forward to spending a week with my friends and family, but ouch, I would miss him. Not a feeling I've had to cope with for a long time.

At the start of our relationship (second time around) It was all long goodbyes and thinking of him at odd moments in the day. Madrid and Barcelona may be cities in the same country, but they might as well be on the other side of the world when you know you won't be seeing the object of your affection for a whole month.

Couples kissing on the metro make you want to spit and the sight of people holding hands in the street is almost too much to bear. Before long you even find yourself pining for your other half on those wild nights out with your mates. Then kicking yourself for being such a hopeless saddo. Such is the nature of those tricky long distance relationships.

We managed it for a year before I threw my toys out of the pram and basically said "I'm moving to Madrid whether you like it or not."

So I did. And it wasn't until then that we really got to know each other. But despite the few arguments that inevitably come when two people try and negotiate the new and strange business of living together for the first time, we pulled it off.

And four years later we are incredibly happy, and that emotion of "missing" each other is just redundant.

But here it is again. And only just slightly less painful, says the bloke, than the first time we ever said goodbye, circa 2002.

Only six months into our relationship, the first time around, and circumstances had thwarted us. He had to return to Madrid and I was going to stay in London to pursue my shiny new career as a freelance journalist. There was nothing for me in Spain, or so I thought. Three years later I changed my mind though.

As we kissed goodbye then at the departure gates, trying to hold back the tears. I somehow knew that despite our fresh and surprising declarations of love from the night before, it wouldn't work out this time around.

The distance would be too much. We had too many issues we had to sort out separately and I would have to let it go. And it was going to hurt. A lot, maybe more than it had ever hurt before. I was right.

But I also knew, as I watched him disappear through the sliding doors and out of my life, that I would see him again one day. And happily, I was right about that too.


Two Shandies and the second date dilemma

What do you do when a fella you meet on internet dating invites you to his home for dinner on your second date? Does it send out the wrong message if you go? Do you risk getting chopped up into little pieces and put in the wheelie bin? That’s the dilemma Two Shandies was facing.

She’d been asked by her latest candidate in the search for her media naranja (half orange, or soul mate as we would say in English. Don’t ask me why they use that image here in Spain)

It was a case of so far so good. He’d sent his picture and she’d thought he was OK, but not drop dead gorgeous. But on the advice of Sa’s brother – “if you don’t find them repulsive then go on a date” – she’d agreed to meet up.

Unfortunately she got ill on the day they were supposed to see each other. He wasn’t put out though. And while she was shivering on the sofa off work, she got two emails from him containing power point presentations on a) Huelga - the city where he was born, and b) Salamanca – The city where he grew up. Why? To “keep her entertained while she was off sick”

Well she certainly got a laugh out of that, as did we when she told us.

So, slightly bemused but touched by the gesture all the same, she went out for a drink when she was all better. This was the verdict:


1) Was wearing a stripey top
2) Not bad looking (better than photo)
3) 6ft
4) Fit body
5) Totally loves the UK (ex girlfriend was Irish)
6) Really nice to chat to (maybe I should have put that first!)
7) Didn't grill me about the power points


1) Messy hair
2) Not much of an upper lip (PB will sympathize)

Well that’s not too bad, I thought. Only two bad points. Kind of weird the number one good point was the stripey top though… Still, messy hair can be tamed with a trip to the peluqueria, and upper lips (or lack of them) can be disguised with a nice moustache. Shandies wasn’t too enthusiastic about the idea of some face furniture but I like it – both the bloke and my dad have them so I’m used to them by now.

PB was really upset about the absence of lippage though. According to her all people with no top lips are inherently evil and cruel. We asked for examples to back up this body part specific racism, but the only one she could give was John Major.

Then came the bombshell. “He’s invited me to his house for dinner, should I go?” This was put to me and PB at Tuesday club.

The immediate reply, from PB was no. “It’s your second date, he should be taking you out, courting you,” she said. “Staying in for dinner’s what you should be doing a few months in.”

I agreed. “Isn’t it a bit early for all that? Going to someone’s house is a bit personal isn’t it? Won’t he think you’re a bit easy?”

She replied: “Just ‘cos I’m going to his house doesn’t mean I have to shag him!”

Oops, good point. Turns out she’s been mainly asking on the safety aspect (ie, will I get murdered?) rather than the moral aspect (will he think I’m a slattern?)

On the first point, we came to the conclusion that he probably wasn’t a rapist or killer, but it she should give us all his details before she went and text us when she left.

But we’d unleashed all these doubts and questions in her head. All thee more so since she’d actually already agreed to go, and was just asking us as an afterthought.

After much too-ing and fro-ing she agreed to leave it as it was. The important thing was that she felt comfortable about the whole thing. Who cares what we thought anyway? God knows how my relationship got off the ground, the tit I made of myself on my very first date with the bloke. After 10 sambucas it’s kind of hard to be cool – especially if you forget your address. In my defence I had just moved house though.

Plus, you can learn a lot about someone from their house. Would she go into his bathroom and find hairs in the sink and be put off for life? Would he have pictures of dogs playing snooker or statues of the virgin mary everywhere? That would surely help her make up her mind.

So the big night arrived and we waited fgor the verdict. Which was:

“Lack of spark I’m afraid. Really nice guy, cooked lovely meal of seabass in a salt crust (which was random as I cooked that for my family at xmas) lovely chat , really easy to talk to but just dont fancy him.”


Always the bloomin way, the ones I fancy are either not interested or don’t have time for me and the ones I don't like seem to like me.

I think that is called sod's law. Hohum

So the search for Shandies’ half orange continues...”

Good luck Shandies. He’s out there somewhere, I know it.


On the wagon: dry January

I normally don't even entertain the idea of making any New Year's resolutions. Why torture yourself any more in what is without doubt, the most depressing month of the year?

But in 2010 I have. I've quit drinking for the entire month.

Why? Well, mainly just to see if I can actually do it. When I started to think about it, I tried to remember a full week that I've gone without a drink. I couldn't. As for a weekend without booze, you're probably talking 1995. Rubbish.

I've always had a reasonably healthy relationship with drink. Like everyone I got off to a bit off a rocky start at the beginning, though. White Lightning + Strawberry 20/20 = a bit of a mess.

But after the school play party, when I woke up on the floor at someone's house with only one eyebrow and a vague recollection of trying to set fire to his shower curtains, I realised drink in large quantities doesn't always make for the best night out.

And there's nothing worse than the double whammy of a clunking hangover (the taste of dead badger in your mouth, the headache elves hammering on the inside of your skull with arsenic-laden icepicks and the nausea fairy stirring up your guts) and the creeping fear of "I know I probably did something out of order last night, but I can't remember"

Just ask the bloke, who has "seen the light" twice this year already and quit drinking (after a 20-rum-a-night-special) only to be seen with a beer in his hand less than 12 hours later. Yes, I know, it's not easy.

Because I swing from feeling mildly smug about my non-drinkingness to feeling like a freak when I tell people I don't know. They look at me with pity, like I've just told them I've got a nasty disease.

And waiters and barmen don't like it. They take it as something of an insult – especially if they're trying to offer you a complimentary shot at the end of a meal. One even offered to make me a weak shandy. The owner of our local, Ramon told me my game of darts would suffer if I drank water instead of Martini (he was right though, I lost both tournaments – a personal worst for me)

A friend of mine in Durham is also having a dry January. When she announced it on facebook, friends rushed to tell her not to do it. "You won't feel any better," they told her. "You'll just feel miserable and you'll be sober" Some were scandalised that she wouldn't be drinking at their birthday celebrations. Can't you be sober and still have a good time? Do you have to be pissed to be a fun person?

I've had a few nights out straight now, and I think you CAN have a good time without the booze. Even more so in some cases, as you don't get sleepy, you can hold a conversation, and you can spring out of bed the next day, hangover free, and able to remember everything.

You probably won't spend less, though. Water costs the same as a glass of wine at most places here. But after a while, that fuzzy slightly thick feeling you get in the mornings seems to disappear.

And after a certain point in the night you may find friends start to repeat themselves or just annoy you. Yes you are just like that when you're pissed.

Mind you, to stay off the sauce, you've got to find your substitute drink. Too much orange juice and you'll want to vomit. And you can't drink coke all night. Well, you can, but you end up wired on caffeine and addicted to that instead of booze.

In the end I started drinking sparkling water with lime juice, on the advice of my mate Rew, who has been off the juice for some time.

It was a good tip. If you suspend disbelief slightly it's just like you're drinking a nice vodka lime and soda. Almost.


Snow way!

They've been moaning about it for weeks in Britain while we've been blissfully unaffected in Spain. Then last night it began to fall. Snow. Wow.

The bloke had been telling me it would happen all day, pointing to the thick white clouds outside the window and the salt the ayuntamiento had put on the roads. And, unlike the BBC weather forecast usually is, he was right.

I didn't mind so much. I had nothing to do and nowhere to go. But my mate Karate couldn't say the same – she had been visiting from Barcelona and had a plane to catch. Similarly Aussie Girl – also visiting from Australia via Barcelona, had to get a train to Granada the next day. (Though she was at the same time jumping up and down with glee, having not seen snow for nine years)

We packed Karate off to the airport to get her 7.30pm flight. And just as we were putting the dinner on at about 9.00pm, remarking on how she would be home now, and how close Barcelona and Madrid were, and isn't it marvellous, Aussie Girl's phone beeped. It was Karate.

"Still sat on tarmac. They've got one runway clear. We are 11th in the queue, which is clearing at 3 planes per half hour. Sat next to the world's most fidgety man."

Oh dear. We went on the web to try and get some information for her when I suddenly realised that it was a year and a day since the last freak snowstorm that hit Madrid.

That time, my poor mate Neen had been in the air, on a flight from London, when the snow began to hammer it down. Just when they were circling Madrid airport, the pilot announced the airport was closed and they were diverting… to Barcelona – a good 500km away.

At the time she laughed, as she thought he was joking. But she certainly wasn't laughing an hour later, when she was dumped – with her fellow passengers in Barcelona airport and left to fend for herself.

And she wasn't laughing a further six or so hours later, when she finally arrived at my house, over 14 hours after she left London. Poor Neen.

Karate faired a bit better, getting home at 2am, a mere five hours late. And Aussie Girl won – her train was only delayed by an hour.

I just don't get it. Why does the entire city grind to a halt when it starts to snow? The grit on the road shows the Powers That Be were expecting it this time around, so why couldn't they get their arses in gear to make provisions for bad weather at the airport?

If places like Helsinki can cope with freezing temperatures and blizzards on a daily basis (I read their worst period was during the winter of 2004 when they were closed for three hours!!!) can't we stop one day of snow causing total havoc?

Remind me never to book any flights to or from Madrid before at least the middle of Jan.


Sick chef

Jan 5th, Reyes night. When Los Reyes Magos (the magic kings – ie the three wise men) bring presents to all the good kids of Spain.

Honestly, this beardy trio completely kicks Papa Noel’s arse. The whole evening’s news programmes are devoted to tracking them. They’ve arrived in Sevilla, they’ve been spotted in Barcelona, and we must all be good and go to bed early and they might just leave us what we’ve asked for in the morning.

Well what did they bring me? A bucketful of germs. It finally happened, I got ill. So while I could hear the children from next door through the wall doing the riverdance and screeching and hyperventilating, I was on the couch with a duvet. Spaced out from Frenadol.

The annoying thing about it is that I’m not very ill, just mildly ill. I feel slightly sick and weak, my throat feels like it’s been lightly rubbed with sandpaper and I have a pansy strength headache right in the middle of my skull.

But I’m not burning with fever, coughing my spleen up or bunged up with mucus. If you look closely you wouldn’t even know.

It’s bloody annoying. I never get ill – the last time I can remember feeling anything other than tip top (not counting hangovers) is May last year. And no matter how many oranges I eat I can’t shift it.

One good thing has come out of it though – I’ve discovered the bloke can cook. And well! Wonders never cease. He’s taken pity on me and relieved me of chef duty. He even made me a cup of tea.

And on the first night left me speechless by whipping up some delicious Carabineros a la plancha (bigger than a prawns, smaller than a lobster – no word exists for them in English) and an apple and goat’s cheese salad. He even made the sauce by burning up some sugar and vinegar. Wow.

I did have a giggle to myself when he asked me where the square pan was though. “What, the one we left behind when we moved house in 2007?” I guess it has been quite a long time since he got busy in the kitchen.


NYE in Barcelona = men in wigs and makeup

We were in Barcelona. The bloke was on my left, in spandex pants, a blond Kurt Cobain wig and a t-shirt with fluorescent naked women on it. Somewhere on the right was the Director of Barcelona, resplendent in another blonde wig – long and curly, tres Dolly Parton, heaps of blue eye shadow and a garish Hawaiian shirt.

The room was a sea of wigs, fur coats, face paint, silly sunglasses, and sequins. And everyone had a cup of twelve grapes, eyes glued to the TV screen, waiting for the chimes which would see in 2010.

That was how I spent the last few moments of 2009. The Director's glam rock fancy dress party (clearly just an excuse for him to plaster his face with makeup) was in full swing.

And happily we managed to avoid watching the countdown on Telecinco, which meant I kept my vow not to watch Belen Estevan. Instead it was some over excited woman on Channel 3 whose chest was desperately trying to escape from her dress.

No matter, the chimes finally began and everyone was locked into their own grape zone. Just you and the grapes, trying to wolf down the little beggars - one for each dong - to bring good luck for the coming year.

I managed it (the secret is to pick ones the size of peas) but I wouldn't have felt too put out if not. Why? This 'ancient' tradition was apparently a marketing ploy started by some canny farmers 100 years ago when there was a surplus of uvas.

The last time I had New Year's Eve in Barcelona, my relationship with the bloke was just getting off the ground for the second time around. I still lived in Barcelona and he was visiting from Madrid.

It was an Eighties fancy dress party (what is it about the Director and the urge to dress up ridiculously?) and the first time the bloke had met my friends. Poor thing. One Spanish guy in a room full of incredibly pissed up and lairy Brits. Dressed like Superman, George Michael, various characters from Fame and even a Scouser, a la Harry Enfield.

It could have gone really wrong but no - he was totally on their wavelength. Got on amazingly with them all and the feeling was mutual. We ended up the day after sealing the deal by carrying on the celebrations in a pub in Gracia owned by a man who was the reincarnation of Salvador Dali.

Four years later and much has changed, but a lot is still the same. We've dispersed slightly (the Scouser married a lovely American gal and is now having adventures in Japan and a few others are back in England) But the friendships are as strong as ever.

And everyone remains resignedly unashamed about going out in fancy dress. To a club. Strangely, the bouncers almost didn't let us in, but repented at the last minute. The Director even got chatted up by a couple of strange men "I hope I get to kiss a lovely lady like you tonight," one said.

Meanwhile Craig, visiting from the Midlands - who looked like a cross between Pat Sharp, the count from Sesame Street and the Hitcher from the Mighty Boosh - faired a bit better. He got asked "is that your real hair" by a couple who'd bet against each other on it and had South American tourists queuing up to have their pictures taken with him on the metro ride home.

It was something of a bizarre night, but that's to be expected in Barcelona, which seems to be a catalyst for ridiculousness and excessiveness. It kicked off before we had even left, with the bloke declaring that he felt bad juju about flying, and booking us a couple of tickets for the high speed train instead. (an action which was repeated on the return journey)

Perhaps the best thing about the trip, though, was the chance to get to know the Director's new-ish girlfriend better. I went away happy that he's in good hands. Science Chick is a good match. Not only is she muy guapa, but she's super intelligent and an all-round Spanish fireball. Just what he needs.

And let's face it. Anyone who doesn't get put off when their boyfriend goes out looking like Pat Butcher's long-haired sister, getting chatted up by men in the process, must really love him.