The poor bloke. He gets a lot of stick from me for being no good at romantic surprises. Until this week I could think of two over the course of our relationship. 1) When he told me he was taking me to McDonalds and instead we pulled up outside our favourite Mexican, where he'd booked a table. 2) When he asked me to get him some water from the fridge and I grumblingly did so, only to find a bottle of perfume in there waiting for me where the jug of water should have been. Ten out of ten, both times.

For some men this sort of thing comes naturally. You hear about girlfriends being whisked away to Paris for the weekend on surprise trips by their significant others, who have secretly acquired their passports and even packed a suitcase of all the clothes they'll need for the trip. Surely they're embellishing the truth? Or going out with men who are secretly gay?

Anyway, I digress. Yes I berate the bloke for being crap in this area – but this week he came up trumps. It started out on the wrong foot though, when I arrived home to find an extremely grumpy bloke, peeved I was two hours later than he'd expected me to be.

We got into a stupid row about whether or not I'd in fact told him that morning, while he was in the shower and half asleep, that I would be late. But it was weirdly interrupted by him asking me to fetch him some pipas (salt-covered sunflower seeds) from the kitchen.

Not wanting further arguments I stomped off to the kitchen in a huff. But when I opened the cupboard to get the pipas my brain stopped working for a moment. I was seeing a brand new iPhone in there, but my mind just wasn't processing it.

He'd completely got me. Maybe if he'd asked me to get him a bottle of water and put it in the fridge like last time I would have twigged. But no.

An iPhone! He'd got me an iPhone – the only thing I'd been coveting for at least the past year, maybe more. As far as romantic surprises go this was the numero uno. Far more superior than jewellery, flowers or chocolates or any of that stuff. And better still, it was the third generation model, and therefore better than the one he had. I now have a better phone than my techno nerd boyfriend, oh how that must have hurt him to order. A sure sign of true love.

In my days of English teaching, a student told me that if you expect men to come up with romantic surprises, you will always be disappointed. It's just not in their nature, she said. Especially not Spanish men, who don't like to plan things, make dinner reservations, and prefer to just go with the flow. For special occasions you have to tell them exactly what you want, and most of the time if you're reasonable they'll be happy to make you happy. For celebrating Mother's Day this enterprising lady had all but given her husband a list of what she wanted – breakfast in bed, followed by an extra two hours sleep while he looked after the kids then lunch at a restaurant, which he would choose for them and book.

I liked her attitude. It was easy and everyone was happy. She was clever. (that's probably why she was a company director.) So I thought I would just take the same tack with the bloke, who has shown himself to be very romantic in other ways, but crap at surprises. But perhaps I was wrong on that last detail.

The iPhone incident has shown me that he does have it in him to catch me off guard in the most fantastic way.


Memory lane at Munki’s 30th

I saw her a split second before she saw me. You know how it is. That strange recognition light turns on in a comfortable part of your brain. Features automatically realign into an expectant and friendly greeting. Then there’s nothing to do but wait.

We locked eyes and she stopped mid stride, almost did a double take. Then a smile lit up her face and we were exclaiming each other’s names and reaching for hands. Two ghosts of work and social past reunited in god knows how many years, we couldn’t even hazard a guess.

Anna was just as I remembered her. Petite and beautiful like a porcelain doll, effortlessly feminine and chic in a way I’ll never be. But she was the same and different – more worldly looking, more sophisticated – and I told her so.

“We both look so much more grown up now,” she said in return.

We began our journalism careers together on the same London dance music magazine. I was the editorial assistant and she had just been selected for a graduate scheme – a bright young thing come from Sheffield, where she’d finished university and ended up totally skint, staying on her mate’s floor and working in a call centre to keep the wolf from the door.

This was her big break, as was it mine. I’d muscled my way in via work experience, leaving a job behind in the Civil Service, Policy Correspondance Unit. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

So Anna arrived, and we became fast friends and sometime partners in crime. Skulking around festivals, free drinks, club nights and house parties, circa 2000. I never ceased to be amazed at her ability to stay out for eight hours straight in heels I probably couldn’t even walk round the room once in. And she never smudged her lipstick either.

Eventually she went freelance and I went back to University, and we lost each other in the accelerated mess of London living. But before that we shared many memorable moments.

One particular night stuck in my head. One of my many flat warming parties (me and my then boyfriend seemed to move house every six months back then). Surrounded by red wine stains on the hours earlier pristine cream carpet. Lying on fronts, legs lolling in the air like kids at story time, telling each other: “No, you don’t understand – you just don’t understand how gorgeous you are.”

We laughed about it and many other silly little snapshots from our shared past.

It was certainly a night for a hop, skip and a jump down memory lane. It was my best friend Munki’s 30th birthday party. And in between just watching her enjoy the party she worked so hard on making happen (this I did with what I imagine to be the air of a proud parent) I played over a similar scene as the one with Anna, with many other key players from my past.

It really felt like a work reunion when I got a tap on the shoulder from Stan. Not only did we all work for the same magazine, but me and Stan shared an apartment – Casa Wonky – during my first season working for our magazine in Ibiza.

Where to even begin with the reminiscing?

Me: “Do you remember the time you swapped clothes with Phoebe that New Year’s Eve, and you walked down the street and no one even noticed?”

Him: “that time I had to change a tire on Jimmy’s car and you didn’t even get out of the front seat?”

Me: “What was it exactly that happened to Giles’ car – something about a television landing on the roof?”

Ibiza was a whole new world. I really had no clue what to expect. And Stan, having done it all for many years in a row, was something of a guru to me. We shared a room, though we were hardly ever in it at the same time.

Somewhere near the start of the season he told me: “Ibiza changes you – you wait and see.”

And he was right. But perhaps not in the way I expected. I didn’t turn my back on modern life to become a hippy and live in a squat. But I did make my mind up that leaving London was the right thing to do. More than that – Spanish culture, I thought, suited me nicely. It would do just fine.

So there we were, a decade on from when we first got acquainted. “So what have you been doing with yourself for the past ten years?” Anna asked.

“I hardly know,” I told her. “A lot of growing up. I learned a lot. I thought I knew it all when I was 20. turns out I knew shit.”

“Do you ever wish you could go do it all again, knowing than what you know now?” she asked.

For me it was an easy and iron clad no. My mistakes and fuck ups shaped me into who I am today, maybe even more than the things I’ve done right. They moved me along my merry way, stumbling to where in the world I am now. Small bits of the journey sucked, sure. But I wouldn’t change a thing – not even the bits that make me cringe.

It was all pretty philosophical stuff for 4am Sunday morning as we stood there in a disused leather factory-turned party venue in Shoreditch.

In days gone by we might have got the shots in and set out to find as much trouble as it’s possible to find. But times had changed. We were all flagging. I was gulping banana and strawberry smoothie straight from the carton and Stan had to drive back to Kent. He wasn’t entirely confident about where he’d parked his car – a dodgy type had asked him if he wanted to buy any acid before he’d even reached the end of the road.

So they left, with promises to come see me in Madrid, which I hope they keep. And I turned back to the party, replaying past scenes of my life in my head like chapters of a DVD. Till someone drew me back to the present day with a touch of the arm and something indecipherable shouted in the ear. It was definitely time to stop being wistful and start dancing.


Role models

It's an interesting question – who are your role models? And who were your role models while you were growing up? We got onto discussing it at a work lunch while talking about the typical things potential employers ask you when you're going for a new job. It's probably something you've sat down and thought about yourself, the night before a big interview. What did you say? And did you actually mean it? Or was it just a calculated comment - something you thought sounded good, would help you get the job?

Some of us at lunch found it easy to pick people out. There were the obvious current ones – Barack and Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandella – and the obligatory joke ones – Jordan, Kerry Katona and Belen Esetvan.

Me, I find it almost impossible to see famous people or celebs as role models. At first I thought it was the job I do that's made me feel jaded towards these so called 'stars'. But If I think back, long before my days of celeb news journalism, I never looked up to these kinds of people and emulated them. Sure there are a lot of people in the public eye that do great work for charity, are leaders in their fields, are inspirational in many ways. But none of them speak directly to me. None have made me get off my arse and say "wow, I want to be like you".

As one of our team pointed out, if you're in a minority, you need role models like this because often, you don't have much else to go off. She was the only black person in her Uni, for example. But I didn't have that issue.

“But you must have had someone you looked up to while you were growing up?” I was asked.

So I thought long and hard about it. Yes there was someone - my big brother Mike.

I have two brothers. I love them both of course, but it was Mike – ten years older than me – who became my hero.

He taught me it's OK to be different, good in fact to take your own road in this life. Break away and go somewhere both literally and figuratively far away from your everyday existence.

My earliest memories of my brother are of him painting. Doing his A Level art projects. Making huge clay heads and explosions of colour, which, if I was lucky, he would let me help him name. And painting his dungeons and dragons figures. Orcs, dragons and elves. I could sit and watch him for hours. He would tell me stories about ghosts and monsters to scare me, and sometimes he succeeded. But I didn't mind. I knew then he wasn't like other brothers.

He left home to train to become a priest when I was about eight years old, but realising that wasn't for him went to Liverpool to do a Fine Art and Theology degree – becoming the first person in our family ever to go to University. From that moment on he became almost like a mythical creature to me. I would look forward to when he would come home, bringing tales from Uni and occasionally friends or maybe even a girlfriend. Other worldly creatures who were vegetarians and spoke with strange accents. He would recommend me books – as he still does today – and I would devour each one. Everything from Tolkien to Stephen King and Richard Matheson – little gems that thrilled me because they told me what he liked, and it was all dark and interesting, and I liked it too.

One thing that really sticks in my mind was the time he picked me up from my guitar lesson after school. All of a sudden there was a commotion outside the school gates as the kids – and probably some of the parents too - crowded round to stare at the strange looking man with shoulder length orange hair, a manky looking jumper and jeans covered in paint and intricate drawings. Probably the sort of person you'd see every day in Eighties' London, but certainly not in Durham. At that point my ten-year-old self thought my brother was the coolest person in the world. Truth be known I still do.

He's a man of few words, never one to blather on about pointless crap. But when he does speak it's worth listening to. When he told me "Whatever you do, get out of Durham – go see the world" I took it as my gospel. And he led by example. Working in an orphanage in Romania, then after getting his PGSE qualification, going off to Africa to teach.

If I thought the stories from Uni were amazing, the ones from Africa made them look like a quiet night down the local boozer. I laughed so hard I thought my sides would split at one in particular – about one Christmas in Botswana. Him and his girlfriend had made a Christmas cake but a monkey came in through the window and pinched it. So Mike chased it around the room, screaming at it. He scared the poor monkey so much that it started pissing itself. But it didn’t let go of the cake. So there he was, running around his house, slipping on bits of cake and monkey piss, determined to catch the monkey. A lot different to any Christmas I’d ever had.

I wanted to be able to tell those kinds of stories. I wanted to travel. I wanted to be like my brother in so many ways. He is so creative – such a great artist. Like him I took A level art and my teacher quite unkindly told me I would never be as good as my brother. I was so angry at that I worked my arse off and managed to get an A, though I never had an ounce of the talent of my brother with a paintbrush.

Instead, words became my drawing materials. Writing is my creative outlet, and it’s something I’m damn lucky to be doing as a living today. But it might have been a completely different story if my brother and his girlfriend hadn’t let me live on the living room floor of their one-bedroom apartment in London after I dropped out of my ill chosen law degree. What if I hadn’t had that six months to sort my head out? If I’d gone back to Durham I doubt I’d be sitting here now, typing in my front room in Madrid. God knows where I’d be.

So thank you big bro. You paved the way for me to go and have adventures. Because of you, our folks weren't worried when I told them I was quitting London for Ibiza. Weren't surprised when I moved onto Barcelona and then swapped that for Madrid. And neither was I afraid, and never have I regretted anything I’ve done – and I’ve got you to thank me for that. I dance to the beat of my own drum but you gave me the confidence to find my own rhythm years ago.


Moving on and staying put

As I've said before, living in Spain, you're used to saying goodbye. There aren't many who come here with the intention of putting down permanent roots. You'd think that after a while you'd get used to it, but you don’t – you still get that little sad flower pushing up shoots through the soil of your happy everyday existence.

This week I had to say goodbye to my longest-standing and closest work friend, Rachel – a girl I've seen almost every working day, (bar holidays and sick days of course) over the last nearly three years. And now suddenly I won't see her anymore.

She'll still be working for our company, in the London office. But it just won’t be the same. I’ll miss sharing the morning cup of tea with her, I’ll miss moaning about work and will have to just keep it to myself when I find something really interesting or gross when I'm scouring the papers first thing in the morning. Most of all I'll just miss her.

It's hard to pin point the moment when your work colleagues pass the point of just being someone you see every day and move into the happy territory of being your friend. But somewhere along the way, many of them just do.

Being outside of England, and working with Brits means you feel bonded together – the group of away fans sat in the home seats - more than people in your average office would. You have immediate shared ground. you go from lamenting the loss of pickled onion Monster Munch to moaning about amount of red tape there is when you want to do something like renewing your passport.

But all the time you're all just patting yourselves on the back for managing to live in Spain. All of it gives you a sense of togetherness.

And on top of this, in our office, we've lived some shared experiences we won't ever forget. I know I’ve cried on Rachel’s shoulder a few times, and she's returned the favour. We both started around the same time, though all of that is in the past now.

At her leaving lunch we were each theorising about what our next moves would be. One girl is toying with the idea of going home to do an MA, one says she feels things have to change for her and her German husband and their two kids, and she's fighting the idea that sooner or later they'll end up leaving.

Me, this is it for me now. This is my home, full stop. And much though I once thought that would scare me, it doesn't. When I first left England I had ideas of going to live in South America. To teach English in Japan maybe for a good few years. And while I might visit those places now I know I won't live in them.

Madrid is where I've put down roots. I've got my bloke - whose family are now my family - my lovely friends, and even my little dog Dani. And one day, hopefully sooner than later, I'll start my own family here.

It's not so much that 'this is it', but rather that 'this is my happily ever after'.