Goodbye dear friend, addio

The world has changed. Colours are less vivid and sounds are duller. There's no place for the sun or the stars - much better a lightless sky or a rainy day.

The world has changed because you're not in it anymore.

It just doesn't seem right that things go on as before, as if nothing has happened. The alarm still sounds in the morning. Kids still laugh on the bus and lovers still kiss in the street. None of them know that you are gone.

That day just passed in a blur. A marker between before and what replaced it. Phone clasped to my ear, shaking in the street. Half from cold and half from something else. Hands pressed to my face in the toilets, holding it all in - strange emotions never felt before, coming in 9ft waves, drowning, drowning.

I know in time I'll be able to remember you without pain and with dry eyes. The good times, and just you - your punk way of viewing the world, your stubbornness. Your kindness and your wide smile, always there no matter what.

I'd like to say you were too good for this world, that's why you had to go. But you'd never let me get away with that, and you'd remind me of all the mischief you used to cause. The time you spat on the door handle of a police car, and how we laughed thinking about the expression on his face when he came back and opened it.

Memories will bring comfort. But it doesn't seem fair that that's all I have now. I'll never see you again, never hear you say, "Ciao, tesoro". Never be able to cook for you like I said I would, never be able to give you back your dear dad's scarf - the surprise that I knew would mean so much.

You'll not be at my wedding, though I can't bring myself to remove your name from my invite list. And you'll never meet any children that I might have. You'll never be a day older than 35.

One day soon I will think of you and smile. But until then I can't quite manage to walk with my head held up high.

Addio Dario, my dear friend. Love you always. You have left such a hole. Not just in my life, but many others - you can see that just by looking at the hundreds of messages left on your Facebook. We'll all miss you so much.

I thought you'd be in my life forever. Can't believe I was wrong.


Grey days

Some days are grey days. Like dirty dish water. Yesterday's newspaper- worn, torn and faded. No great rhyme or reason, no big event, no drama. No "because" or "why" and especially "solution". Just grey, grey grey. A mantra for the hopeless, a tuneless ditty for bowed heads, lifeless eyes, slouching hearts.

Some people have grey days more than others. Some you would look at and say: "What reason have they got to complain?" And others, well, you would get it, or just think you got it. And really you would only see the hint of the shadow, or the footprints of that black dog. Snapping at the ankles.

Some hide it better than others.

The idea you will never amount to anything, you're wasting your time. You'll never be as good as x and y. One day you'll be gone and no one will remember you and you'll be nothing, nothing nothing.

Days like these, when asleep seems better than awake, and time slows down. Frame by frame, the moment in the film when the hero takes a bullet, sinks to the floor.

But you bought me roses. And the grey dissolved. Replaced by velvet red, and vibrant green. And you hold me so tight, and wring it out of me - drop by drop.

Thank god for you.


Can I have sex with you tonight?

I love those moments when the mouth moves independantly of the brain. When the speaker's trap just seems two steps ahead. A rational person would just want to grab onto the strands of the errant words as they fly out of the mouth and stuff them back in there. 

But more than often it's the drink that's to blame, and they couldn't give a toss what they've said. And probably won't remember in about five minutes anyway.

That's what I found myself thinking on Saturday night. It was Shandies and PB's joint birthday party at our new favourite place, El Rincón de Andy.

It's a small 'old man' style tavern that does really basic Mexican food. But the real charm of the place is The owner, Andy.

A shock of white hair and a mustache to match, which fully means he could do a great santa claus impression. He was born and raised in Madrid, but hear him speak English and you'll be shocked by his accent. Close your eyes and you've got Colin Firth in 'The King's Speech' (minus the stammer that is).

He atrended British boarding school and also us fluent in French. "I fell in love with a Parisienne, and followed her there," he explains.

Over his striped shirt he wears pink braces, to hold up his trousers. And if he isn't wearing a bow tie then he really should be.

"A real gentleman", noted the bloke, impressed by the way he served the girls of the group their after dinner chupitos before the boys. It never ceases to amaze me that he notices things like that.

Anyway, the inappropriate comment of the evening doesn't come from Andy, it's from a rowdy group of New Yorkers- all of them members of the flight crew of intercontinental airways.

And the recipient is my mate Shandies. The guy in question obviously thinks he's smooth.

"You're really pretty," he says.
"i think you're really handsome," she replies.

They stand and smile shyly at each other for a while, then Shandies starts to walk back to her seat.

"Can I have sex with you tonight?" he shouts after her.

Shandies kept walking.

Does that kind of crap actually work? I guess it must or else men wouldn't bother. But really, how flippin cheeky. The stupid fool might have been in there - after all she did say he was handsome. He messed it royally up- bout as subtle as Freddy Mercury. Gave us all a good laugh though at least.

The other example comes from Christmas in Durham. One of those evenings where everyone gets a bit over excited and drinks more than they're used to.

Dad was telling his old army jokes and we were all mixing drinks up hurricane style. Even my uncle, who doesn't usually drink, was getting stuck into the red wine.

And it was him who put his arms around the bloke and my neck and happily said to him: "I like yer, but if you cross my niece then I'll kill yer and bury yer."

I think it was the most serious talking to the bloke's ever had from my family. Don't think he really knew what to say to that one.

One thing's for sure, he'd better treat me right, or uncle Mike will be waiting with a shovel.


Daniella hates me

Why are you doing this to me? Haven't I always been good? I never bark, and I always go to my bed when you shout "a la cama" at me. I even spin round in a circle when you say "spin", even though it makes me look like a prize tit.

Ok, I know I beg for food and that really pisses you off, but I can't help it. And yes, I'll admit I scratch the hell out of the big white cold food box. But that's when you've both gone and I'm just bored. Can't you leave me in the room with the talking picture box instead?

You know I hate water. That's why I refuse to go in for a swim when you take me to the lake. Those other dogs who gallop in there in pursuit of sticks are just morons. There could be anything in there and it's just not nice.

So why do you insist on putting me in here every once in a while and spraying me with it and covering me with soapy stuff? You can see I'm not enjoying myself. Even when i cry you don't let me out.

You just wait till I get out of here. I'm going to do my special fat wobbling shake and cover you in dirty water.

And your whole house is going to STINK of wet dog. Ha ha.



In the kitchen I play my own music. In his car, it's not so. And there we listen to metal, or Serrat, or maybe even Los Ilegales But I am king of the sounds of the kitchen. So I play tinny electro pop like La Roux and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and he says: "What the hell is this?" and "Sometimes she sounds a bit like the one from Portishead." Beastie Boys he likes, but Kula Shaker has him completely baffled. And when I tell him the guy is singing about Indian gods, he says: "so is this Bollywood then?"

For both of us to be in here at the same time is uncharted territory. Just like we rarely take the dog for a walk together, we never cook together.

So I'm surprised to discover that it's fun. Even more surprised to see the bloke thouroughly enjoying himself too. Lining up the ingredients in soldier rows and studying the recipe with a serious look and a furrowed brow.

I thought number 5 on my list of new years resolutions would be something I did on my own. But when the bloke came skulking into the kitchen saying he was bored and could he help, it set some sort of president. 

Now it's something we can do together. But though I might own the sound waves, the bloke can't help ruling the kitchen. He approaches cooking with military precision. Chopping, peeling, frying quickly, like it's a race to the end against an invisible Gordon Ramsay. He gets things done in double the time I do.

As he sinks his hands deep into the meatloaf mixture and cackles wildly at the gunkyness of it's hard to believe this is the same guy that lived on whatever he could fit into his deep fat fryer. Oh how times have changed.

Less than 45 minutes later we're absolutely stuffed after tucking into the meatloaf, and it's delicious.  We pat each other and ourselves on the back at how well we've done. it's the thurs new recipe we've tried and they're all been great. And after a few trips to El corte Ingles the spice cupboard is packed with things like wostershire Sauce and paprika. All it took was a bit of translating on Wikipedia and now we're all set. 

I just didn't think it would be like this. So easy, so satisfying. All you have to do is buy the ingredients and follow the instructions. There's no big secret that no one's been telling.

If I'd known it was like this I would have started years ago.


New Year's resolutions - is there any point?

Well is there? Last year the best I could come up with was a whole month of not drinking. And it was a kind of masochistic one. It was painful on occasions, but every time I ordered un agua con gas instead of a wine or something similar I felt like a bit of a smug git. and I felt much better for it, oh yes I did. And I certainly wouldn't have told anyone anything different if that hadn't been the case.

I'm doing the same thing this year. Started a little late as we travelled back in first class from Barcelona on the 2nd and the drinks were free (you can't pass something like that up, can you?) But I don't feel like I can call that a resolution, it's more like a detox after the boozy Christmas we had with the family back in Durham.

So what of resolutions then? is it best to write a list? Oh I do love writing lists and crossing of the items when they're done. Perhaps that's part of being British, or a girl, or just anally retentive, I'm not sure which.

Or is it best just to have general ideas like "be funnier" "think about death less" or is that too subjective and less productive in the long run?

As we all sat around Dave and Kirsten's dining table following our 'day after New Year's Eve recovery curry' the Director asked everyone: "So, any New Year's resolutions?" and everyone just sort of grunted. The bloke offered: "Get married?" (I really liked how he made it sound like a question) But come on, that doesn't count. I said that at the time I probably wouldn't bother making any. But actually I don't think it's such a bad idea.

And after reading my friend Emma's list over at Eating Diamonds, I have decided to make my own. I won't be crossing each point off with a permeant marker though, or beating myself up if I don't think i'm doing well enough. I promise. So anyway:

1) Have as much fun as possible and live in the moment

Yes it sounds easy and straightforward, but it needs to be written down as a reminder. I'm getting to the stage in my life now where I want to start a family soon, if that all works out for me. So weekends away with friends, and nights out won't be as easy as before. I intend to make the most of every opportunity (but not to the point of mental and nervous exhaustion)

Spaniards are so good at living in the here and now. perhaps that's why they don't like planning things. While that's never going to change that much for me (I need things written down in the diary to look forward to) I must stop thinking so much about the future and just enjoy the here and now. After all, you never know what's round the corner.

2) Get the bloke to try more new places with me

I am so sick of the sight of our local bar, Yupi, that I think I might stab myself in the eyes if I see it again. "Do you really hate it that much?" He asks. Yes I do. There are so many great places out there that need to be checked out. It might cause a bit of grumbling on the bloke's part, but he always enjoys himself when we get out there. So persist I will.

3) Write, write write

I totally slacked off on the blog front towards the end of last year. Life just got in the way. not that that's a bad thing, but writing really makes me happy, so why wouldn't I want to do something that fires up my pleasure receptors. It's free and doesn't damage my health or wallet in any way. Bonus. I used to really get a kick out of writing fiction, so I need to get back to that at some point. But there don't seem to be enough hours in the day. And to help with this…

4) Spend less hours pointlessly surfing Facebook and the web in general.

I'm not a stalker, why should I act like one? No, everyone is not having more fun than me, just because they're updating their status every few hours. Just close that window already. OK.

5) Expand my cooking repertoire

I do a mean feta cheese gratin. I make fantastic soup. And my chicken salad rocks. But I have to broaden my horizons. I have a pile of cookbooks, so i have to start using them. the only problem is getting hold of the ingredients, as the supermarkets close to us are a good walk, small, and not that great. But I can always stop off at El Court Ingles on the way the way home to find things like pine nuts and puff pastry. Gotta start making the effort. And maybe invest in a slow cooker too. Emma is raving about hers.

6) Get driving again

If I'm not careful I'll end up as one of those forty year old women who have lost all their confidence and are too scared to drive. I have a license, and with lenses my eye sight is perfectly good. I have to get driving again. Just need to persuade the bloke to let me use his car. (Which could be easier said than done, it's true)

So that's it. If I can do well with those six I'll be happy. And see, there was absolutely no mention of going to the gym or not drinking. Happy days.


Basically she shat the bed

What is it about talking on the phone at work that always puts me on edge? Am I worried that it'll be someone talking to me in Spanish and I won't understand what they're saying? Or am I more concerned it'll be someone talking to me in Spanish and I will understand them, and I'll have to talk back to them?

Both cases mean I'll have to speak in my second language and my co-workers will hear me, and that makes me feel shy. It's something unexplainable, this silly little spider of worry spinning non-sensical webs in my ear. I'm not shy, why do I act like this?

My Spanish is fine. Not drop dead amazing with a capital MAZE, but it's fine. And my co-workers are nice. They wouldn't cuss me, laugh at me or ridicule me or put me down in any way for making a mistake. Yet still it remains. Kind of like a misplaced pride - the sort that kept me saying si, si si, for my first few years in Spain rather than admit I didn't know what the person was talking about, and ask them to repeat themselves.

Anyway, I don't know why I'm so worried about it, as the only person who really seems to call me at work is the bloke, and our conversations are usually so dull it's not worth listening in to. Well not usually, anyway.

A particular one this week really broke the mold. And I know my colleagues were all listening in, as they howled with laughter - like demented banshees - in the appropriate place. Can you guess where it is if I lay it out for you, as they would have heard it - one sided?

"Hola, fine yes…. Well basically she shat the bed… Yes, I put it in the washing machine… I don't know… runny…. a bit…. I don't know, did you feed her anything weird?… Well I didn't… she was fine this morning… I've got to go anyway… see you later… te quiero."

I was talking about our little dog Daniella, and you kind of get the idea from the conversation above. I don't have to clarify it do I? Really no. I've never really managed to talk quietly on the phone, that's why I usually leave the office if my mobile rings. But on this occasion I just threw caution to the wind. Guess I'm just still in holiday mode.

Or is 2011 going to be the year for caring less about what people think?


New Year's Eve - then and now

An image I remember very clearly from my childhood was my dad lamenting the quick passing of years. "Stop the world, I want to get off!" He would exclaim, and I would laugh at how funny and strange it sounded.

Now I kind of know what he means - though I certainly don't want to get off - but slowing down the world a bit might do the trick.

It was six New Year's Eves ago that I introduced the bloke to my friends in Barcelona. Six! It was only the second time I'd seen him since we'd got back together after our fateful re-meeting at the club where we'd originally met.

We were still figuring out what we were to each other. I hoped we would stay in each other's lives, but we were still practically strangers then. Held together by a shared past in London - a thin string that could easily snap at any time.

It was a time before Facebook and Twitter. My Space was limping along there somewhere but no-one was really on it. The distance between people seemed much bigger in those days.

We were so late as we hurried along the deserted streets towards the Director of Barcelona's flat. We got there with about 15 minutes to spare before the dongs of the New Year would signal the start of 2006.

When we arrived the party was in full swing. And it wasn't just any old party - but an Eighties-themed fancy dress party. The bloke had flat out refused to dress up, so I hadn't either - though I had brought my Orville doll along to somehow contribute to the theme.

But everyone else had gone all out. Kung Fu Cath looked like one of the Kids from Fame, the Director was an eerie George Michael, Jim was Superman and Dave was a 'calm down calm down' scouser. You could have forgiven the bloke for being a bit overwhelmed by it all, but he thought they were brilliant.

Got himself a Brugal and coke and lit up a cigar and got down to the serious business of getting to know them all.

By the next day it felt like we were all the best of friends - members of an exclusive club that no-one else could join. We ended up in a bar in Gracia, where Jamie - another new friend who ended up being worth his weight in gold - broke the no playing the piano rule, but somehow got away with it.

And the owner of the bar looked like Salvador Dali, and didn't seem to mind when we told him so.

We remembered this and more five years on - New Year's Eve 2011. Another fancy dress party at the Director's flat - cult film characters. But this time the bloke dressed up - making an excellent Dr Gonzo from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to the Director's Raul Duke.

And that wasn't the only change. A glance around the room at midnight confirmed how much we had all moved on. There was Jim - AKA the Dude from the Big Lebrowski - with his arm around his wife Jane, dressed as the guy from Alien who has the little baby one bursting out of his stomach. And giving the costume extra effect was Jane's baby bump - the new arrival is due in February, and it's the best news ever.

Then there was Dave - Marty McFly from Back to the Future - and his wife Kirsten (Princess Leia) and of course the Director and Science Chick - also fulfilling 30-something male fantasies as the Star Wars princess.

It was mind blowing to think that five years ago these people didn't know the other even existed. While they clinked glasses with their friends and danced the night away they had no idea the person they would spend their lives with was out there somewhere doing the same.

Since then people have left the group - gone back to Britain to rejoin 'the real world' and we've had new additions, like Gav (who had a pillow up his t-shirt to portray Walter from the Big Lebrowski).

We've all moved up notes on the career front - Kung Fu Cath even has an assistant - but nights out are still as fun as they ever were.

Long after doing the grapes (and it's the first time I've ever managed to eat them all - even despite the long black hair of the wig for my The Ring costume getting in the way) the Director gathered the troops to take us out to a warehouse party in Poble Nou.

In the taxi on the way down Kung Fu Cath asked the driver: "Do you know who I am then? I'm a cult film character."
"No I don't recognize you," he said.
"I'm Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction," she told him.
"Oh, so what are you doing in town, promoting a film?"
"No, I'm only dressed as Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction. It's a costume."
"Well I haven't seen it. So is this your first time in Spain? Can I have your autograph?"

By which point she decided it was easier to just go along with it, and autographed his taxi receipt book "Happy New Year, lots of love Uma" Classic.

The warehouse party was full of mud that soon crept up the front of Science Chick's pristine white skirt, which had to be binned afterwards. The drinks - poured into tiny plastic cups - were so strong they were undrinkable. The bathrooms were worse than the 'worst toilet in the world' from Trainspotting and had to be flushed by a man with a hose. But it didn't matter - we were all together.

And as we left, trooping to the metro to go home there was that familiar feeling of returning home from a battle won. And as I looked at our mud-covered group I thought, These are some of the best people in the world right here, and they're my friends. And they always will be.

And that makes me grin like a loon, even now.