Home alone with the ghost

Is it possible that your mind can play tricks on you if you spend too much time on your own? Can you go on autopilot and do things without realizing it? Or do I have a ghost?

The bloke has been gone now for 16 days - the longest we have been apart since I moved to Madrid. It was supposed to be only 10, but after the volcano ash from iceland caused a European flight industry meltdown he was stuck in Alaska for an extra week. All being well, he should get back tomorrow.

It wasn't such a tragedy really - at least he got some extra days of snowboarding in. And he had the sense to stay where he had a hotel - some of the poor riders he met out there decided to head for the airports anyway, and spent days sleeping on the floor in Seattle airport.

It's been weird for me having the place to myself for so long. Of course I've missed him dearly, but some bits of it have been great.

I've been able to watch episodes of The West Wing back to back, and I haven't had to watch the news while eating dinner. Why is that bad, you ask? Well the news in Spain always seems to involve either dead bodies or close ups of gruesome road traffic accident scenes. I do not want to watch the camera zooming in on a child's teddy (it always is, for some reason) caked in drying blood when I'm tucking into my steak and potatoes. Puts me right off.

I'm also able to hit snooze as many times as I want in the morning without grumbles from anyone, and I can throw back the covers and turn all the lights on in the room on when I decide to get up.

In bed I'm able to have as many pillows as I want and sleep the whole night through without being woken up. A real novelty. Like all the men in his family, the bloke has sleep apnea. this means that when he falls into deep sleep he holds his breath, then lets it out in a high pitched squeak. Something that earplugs don't stand a chance against.

Not to mention how much easier it is to keep the house tidy - and the fact that I can play Eighties music loudly while I'm doing it, without raising any protests. And sing along.

Still I would trade all this in in an instant to have the bloke back right now. Much as he annoys me (on purpose) sometimes, things aren't half as fun without him. I had this big list of things I would get done while he was away, and I haven't done half of them -

ie. paint my nails, tidy the drawers in the bathroom, learn how to cook lentils, sort out my clothes and give the ones i don't wear anymore to charity, wash the dog, transfer all my photos off my computer and onto the hard disc…

I have watched plenty of The West Wing though and completed loads of levels on Angry Birds - a gem of an app for the iPhone.

But the worst thing about the bloke being away is that I manage to spook myself out thinking about the ghost.

There have been a few weird things going down in our house. twice it's happened to me that I've come into the front room in the middle of the night to crash on the sofa to escape the sleep apnea, only to have the TV turn on for no reason. No, I didn't accidentally sit on the remote control, as the bloke insisted I must have done. The same thing has happened to him since - and he didn't find it funny then.

And there were the flashes in the bathroom - like camera flashes - three in short succession. I was convinced I was having a retina detachment so went to the optician to get checked out, but I was fine. i think they thought i was a bit mental. Maybe I am.

I don't know why all of this got into my head when i was trying to fall asleep, but it did. And maybe I've seen too many horror films, so it's my own fault. I still blame my brother for showing me Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 10, it sent me wrong.

So I shut my bedroom door (to keep out the ghost, naturally) and went to sleep. Except when I got up in the morning, the door was wide open. I'm 100 per cent sure i didn't get up in the night and open it. and the dog couldn't have opened it. So what is going on there?

The same thing happened the next night, but it stopped after that. The bloke says when he gets back he'll set up a video camera and put some talcum power on the floor to see what happens. I'm not doing that though, I've seen how Paranormal Activity ends.


El Classico - not bad for my first Spanish football match

I've written about el Classico - Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona - before. I've watched it many times, screaming at TVs in bars both in Barcelona and Madrid. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would get the chance to actually go, watch it in the flesh. But that's exactly what happened on Saturday night.
The bloke is away in Alaska at the moment, heliskiing. Well heliboarding to be precise. It's where you take a helicopter up to the top of some insanely high mountain and try to get to the bottom without causing serious injury to yourself. To me - who's only gone skiing about five times in my life - it sounds like pure madness, but to him it's the trip of a life time.
Anyway, so it was that he couldn't go to the match. And lucky me, I got his abono (season ticket). Which was mighty generous of him, as people were illegally selling their seats on ebay for up to 800 Euros. Mental.
I even had my own guide, in the form of his friend Migelito, for a completely authentic El Classico experience.
And so I found myself, plastic cup of Martini in hand, in the midst of hundreds of Madridistas in a street opposite the stadium, with two hours left until kick off. The atmosphere was incredible. And once I'd got it into my head that people wouldn't be able to tell I was a Barcelona supporter just by looking at me, I began to relax and enjoy it.
The bloke has had his season pass for two years, but it's not really his. It's "rented" off a woman who has a few of them. She sells it for the season, but it's still in her name. but Miguelito went on the official waiting list for his, and finally got it in 1993. He sits next to his friend Fernando, who has had his since 1984.
These guys are super fans. Miguel, bless him, when he picked me up was talking at a million miles an hour, and had a slight shake in his hand. It was the nerves. All the talk before the match is strictly football - the players, their form, the trainers, what's going to happen. I found out Fernando's wife was expecting a baby, so I attempted to chat to him about that. After a few enquiries as to how his wife was doing, when the baby was due etc, I said: "I think having children is a marvelous thing, after all that's why we're put on this earth, no?" (Which, I'll admit is a bit flowery - but it sounds better in Spanish.)
To which he replied: "No, we're put on this earth to watch Real Madrid win." And thus the football chat was back on the table again.
It's only broken off to sing the various football songs, of which there are many.
"Viva España" is a favourite, as is the Madrid Hymno – "Hala Madrid". But there almost as many concentrating on spewing hate on "puto Barca" - including this one - against Barcelona's manager Pep Guardiola (who has had his sexuality questioned and been accused of taking performance enhancing drugs during his football career.)
"Ai Guardila, ai Guardiola, que delgado se te ve! Primero fueron las drogas, Ahora por Chueca se te ve!"
(Oh Guardiola, oh Guardiola, how skinny you are. First came the drugs, now you're out down Chueca) Chueca being the gay going out area in Madrid. Nice.
I mean I know rivalry between teams is normal, but I've never known a hate like between these two teams. There was even an enterprising fella going round selling 'Anti Culé' t shirts for a fiver. (Culé is the name for the Barcelona supporters, by the way.)
Mind you, it's much more than rivalry between football teams. There's the whole political side of it, the history of the civil war and the Catalans versus mainland Spain stuff that's wrapped up in it. So if I don't feel it like some of these supporters do, then it's perfectly understandable.
I was contemplating all this when there was a massive commotion outside the stadium – the players were arriving. The whole street erupted and people started letting off fireworks. It was eerie – the screaming and cheering and the thick red smoke gave it a primeval feel. But that was all ruined when someone chucked a firework into a bar.

We pegged it down the street while the riot police – of which there were many around - came rushing in to seal off the street. I looked left and right to see bar shutters winching down. They were really expecting trouble.
But it all dissolved into nothing, the shutters went up  -and we strolled back up the street to buy some bocadillos before heading to the stadium and taking our seats for the match.

Walking up the stairs and into the stands is something I'll never forget. It's like you've crossed over the edge of the real world and straight into the TV – it's all so surreal. The thousands of people above, below and all around you. The noise – which completely washes over you in organic waves – and the spark in the air. The expectation, the nerves, the sense that something amazing is about to happen. I've been to football matches in England before but they were nothing compared to this.
But then again this was the Classico in a 80,000 capacity stadium – markedly different than watching Sunderland play in Roker Park. I didn't have time to dwell on all that for long though, as we were cutting it fine on time (the players were entering to the tune of Nessun Dorma) and Miguel was helping me find my seat.
How hard could it be, I thought, when the bloke said Miguel would show me to my seat before the match. Very hard, it turned out. A steward directed us us and we still ended up completely lost and stepping over rows of pissed off spectators who were annoyed about the late-coming guiri who was blocking their view of the players coming out on the pitch whilst stepping on their toes.
To make matters worse there was someone sitting in my seat when I finally found it. To save arguments I sat in his seat, two rows further down.
No matter. I was set, and just in time for kick off. I was really watching el Classico! It was weird – when you watch it on the TV, you don't have much choice about where you look. It's wherever the camera takes you. But I couldn't help try to look everywhere at once, and had trouble keeping my eyes and mind on the game.
The press, crouching in the corner of the goal line, straining to lift their telescopic lenses. The first aid people, hovering on the sidelines, just waiting to pick up the stretcher and rush onto the pitch. Pep pacing up and down, hands in his impeccably cut suit. The banners of the different groups of fans – including one for the really extreme organisation -Madrid Sur. All these things you never get the chance to see at your leisure on the small screen.
And I couldn't stop watching the supporters. The looks on their faces, the way they would stand up, red in the face to shout abuse – whether it be for Barcelona, their team – or the extra special insults for the tiny square of 200 Barcelona supporters tucked away in the top right hand corner. "kill yourselves", "go back to Catalunya" etc etc.
There was a deadly silence from all of them however, 33 minutes in, when Messi scored a goal. For a second I forgot myself and started to cheer, but I reined it in at the last minute - turning it into a disappointed noise. "Yeeeeahhhhhoh" But why was i the only one making any noise? The whole stadium just stared straight ahead. Had I made a mistake? Had the goal been disallowed? But then an almighty roar rose from the top right of the stadium, where all the maroon and navy blue t-shirts were. That confirmed it – it was one nil to Barcelona.


The mood in the stadium began to change after that. The little old man who was sat next to me listening to the commentary through headphones plugged into the radio began to complain about how rubbish his team were playing. I happily agreed.

He was right - real were making some silly mistakes and just giving the ball away. Their wonder boy Ronaldo wasn't doing what he was supposed to be doing. it was not going well.

It just got worse in the second half for them. Now I was finding it easier to concentrate on the game, especially when, in minute 55, Pedro scored the second. this time I didn't make a sound, instead I turned to watch the Culés going crazy.

All the fight went out of Real after that, and something i hadn't expected started to happen about 15 minutes before the end of the match. People started to get up and leave. Aren't you meant to stay and support your team till the bitter end? I saw one guy take off his scarf and throw it in his bag in disgust. I'd heard how critical the fans were, but I wasn't expecting this.

Too quickly and it was all over, and i went to find a very dejected Miguelito and Fernando. they were completely deflated. We traipsed back towards the car, among crowds walking with their shoulders slumped, eyes to the floor. they looked like defeated soldiers limping back from a lost battle, which i suppose they were.

"You don't know how it feels, losing at home to your mortal enemy," said Miguelito. "It hurts. And now we're three points behind."

He added: "Your lucky boyfriend, he'll be gutted, but at least he can go ride down a mountain and forget all about it. Me, I'm not going to watch the news for a week, especially not the sports. I just want to forget about it. I bet you're happy though."

I felt bad for Miguelito, but he was right - I did feel happy. And contrary to what the bloke had predicted, I had no desire to switch teams, and start supporting Real.

I was still buzzing from the whole experience as i crawled into bed after watching the goals again. i couldn't help wondering about the little group of Barca fan at the match and what they'd done after the match. Did they manage to get home without being lynched? I really hoped so.



"Fornication," said the Director of Barcelona into the microphone. He let the word hang in the air. There were a few surprised titters and cries of "eh?" and "what?". People stared open mouthed at each other, eyebrows creased, shoulders shrugged, palms facing the ceiling.

After a dramatic pause he continued: "For an occasion such as this I’d like to thank you all for coming to celebrate the marriage of James Chillman and Jane Kirsch."

There were loud guffaws. I nearly spat out my wine. Ah, he wasn't saying "fornication". It was "for an occasion". It was a genius start to a firecracker of a best man's speech.

He continued: "A wise man once told me that the best man’s speech should last as long as the groom makes love." Then making to leave the stage: "Thank you ladies and gentleman."

For me the speeches are the best thing about a wedding. Oh the bitter disappointment the first time I went to a Spanish wedding with the bloke and during the reception told him: "I can't wait for the speeches," to which he replied: "what speeches?" I just assumed they were a worldwide thing. Very disappointing to find out otherwise.

And they're especially good when the groom being subjected to a pasting is someone close to you - and Jim certainly falls into that category. I hardly knew him in 2005 when he cane out with a group of friends to visit me in Ibiza. We both realized we would be homeless upon my return to Barcelona that September, and it would be a great idea to share a flat.

I'm so glad we did - he quickly became one of my best friends. He's a total legend and a guy I know I can count on for anything. This is the man who, when I switched cities did a round trip with me and all my stuff to Madrid in his clapped out old van (which broke down on the way) to save me the hassle of taking it on the train. That's a 1,200km trip! Seriously, how many people have friends that would do that for them?

So naturally I'm beyond thrilled to see him settling down with lovely Jane, the love of his life. But his niceness didn't save him from getting an absolute drumming from the Director in his speech.

He continued: "I think we all agree that Jane looks fantastic today; I think I can speak on behalf of all the single men in the room that it’s an extremely sad day for them, as they lose another beautiful girl to a very lucky guy. I can also speak for all the single ladies in the room when I say today is just like any other day. 

"Speaking of Jane’s beauty - she really does look top of the pops. She looks so good she could be mistaken for the blonde from Abba. At least this is the only reason I can think of why Jim has come as Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees."
There was also some lovely info about the early days of their romance:

"Jim and Jane met five years ago in a very, very romantic location – a typical Barcelona party at Kate’s flat. The theme was “underwater”. Jim was probably quite drunk and his eyes caught this beautiful, bearded pirate on the other room. Jane doing her best Jack Sparrow impression saw also an incredibly sexy, buff David Hasselhof deep in conversation with Popeye and an octopus. Now if you’ve ever seen Jim in a pair of little red shorts, you too will find it equally as difficult to understand as I do why she didn’t fancy the octopus. 

"They actually got together a year or so later and their romance seemed to blossom at an alarming rate. It was clear to everyone that they were extremely well suited. Jane brought to the relationship beauty, integrity, honesty, reliability and intelligence - while Jim brought, er …," at this point he rifled through his notes. "Ah, Jim brought his superhero costume collection and a 15 year catalogue of Viz annuals. "

Jim really is one of a kind, and the same could be said of Jane. That was certainly reflected in their nuptials. after the Director had wound up his speech with the traditional best man's wish for good luck, good health and happiness, we settled down to some after dinner games. These began with a bit of construction - top prize goes to the table who can build the tallest construction out of uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows - and a quiz where you had to guess the wedding guest from pictures of their eyes.

It was just one of several personal touches to a lovely intimate wedding, which kicked off in Old Marylebone Town Hall.
after the new Mr and Mrs Chillman had signed the register we boarded an old skooll 'hop on hoof off' Number 73 bus to sip cava and head off to the reception.

After a stop off to do some pictures at a park somewhere in Hackney, we pulled up outside the Loftborough Arms, to see tables all set out and rows and rows of glasses of cava waiting. At that point the whole bus burst into spontaneous applause.

"Is it normal to applaud a pub?" asked Kate.

"I think that's just the sort of people we are," I replied.

Each table was named after a BCN landmark. We had the gherkin. the bloke was upset Espanyol's stadium was included but not Madrid's - Santiago Bernabeu - I think he was missing the point slightly.

It was all forgotten though when he got to eat his first ever trifle. Delicious, and probably the last one I'll have in a long time.
Before long the dancing started, and after the bloke managed to send most of the older relatives home with some techno, it began to look like a typical night out in Barcelona. Except we were all dressed better.

Everyone throwing crazy shapes - Dave at one point doing his gravity defying Russian style dancing, followed up by his Michael Jackson. Shots of sambuca at the bar and a feeling on my part that I don't get to see all these wonderful people enough.

As the night went on the high heels started to collect in a pile at the side of the dancefloor and bow ties were hanging round necks or fastened round heads, Karate Kid style.

The Director and the bloke announced to me and Science Chick they would just marry each other and had no need of girlfriends. Just as well since I didn't manage to catch the bouquet.

Before we knew it time was up and we ended jumping like loons and screaming ourselves hoarse as Simon wrapped up the tunes with Pulp's Common people.

And then it was over. And as me and the bloke - the last ones to leave after packing up the DJ kit - were waiting for the taxi back to our hotel, the rain that had been threatening all weekend finally began to fall. It was perfect timing. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Congrats Jim and Jane - I love you guys and wish you many years of joy, fun and happiness together. Couldn't have happened to two nicer people.



I had a falling out with someone this week. Well, I say a falling out. It was more like a case of crossed wires over something that wasn't a big deal that resulted in me and this other person ignoring each other for half a day. Really grown up stuff.

The thing is, silly little incident that is was, it just confirmed what I knew already - I am not made for arguments, fights or falling outs. That's not to say I wouldn't defend my corner if i felt that I, or the people I love, were being treated unjustly, but I just have no energy for bad energy, if you know what I mean.

Take this week's incident for example. I had resigned myself to just keep sulking but after half a day i cracked. I couldn't concentrate on my work, kept replaying what had been said, what the other person was thinking, what i could say to them, what they would say back. And I just felt wretched about the fact that somewhere out there was someone who might be fuming at me, thinking bad things about me.

Is that vanity, or insecurity, or the sign of a good person? I'm not sure.

In the end I emailed asking if we could clear the air, and after a bit of two-ing and fro-ing the whole thing was sorted, done and dusted. And I felt silly that the whole thing had gone as far as it had.

When i got home that evening i felt drained by the whole thing. it made me wonder how some friends have the ability to keep up arguments and stoic silence with someone for weeks. I even know one guy who has turned his back on his family. Surely keeping up the energy to be mad at your whole family leaves you destroyed?

Maybe I'm just lucky that most of the people i know are pretty easy going people. I can't even remember having a bad argument with my mum during my teenage years, not even when she found out I'd got my belly button pierced. If I did get told off I usually deserved it, and would feel guilty while she sulked, doing the washing up with a pout and slamming spoons back in the cutlery draw with unnecessary force. That told me.

I'm crap at doing the heated exchange of words. I freeze up, I doubt myself, I start thinking I'm in the wrong. i think of things I should have said while I lie in bed later at six in the morning. Tempers are a funny thing, they take you over like Mr Hyde obliterating Dr Jekyll, and make you say things you don't mean. And though you can always apologize and try to take it back, the words can linger dangerously at the back of the mind, like the thought of going back to work when you're in the middle of a holiday, sipping cocktails on a beach.

Mind you, that's not to say that sometimes arguments are necessary. The bloke has taught me that. It's better to be honest, and express your feelings than sulk it out, even when you're heading for a epic scrap. Though I try and keep discussions measured I've lost it at times - even thrown things at his head - but ultimately it's all been healthy, moving forward stuff.

And in return I like to think he's picked up some of my level headedness in return. Or perhaps we've just both grown up a bit over the past five years.