4. Siesta & mañana: from rat race to no race.

 

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Lifestyle

There’s really no contest when it comes to a Spanish lifestyle. Forget time obsessed Germans, workaholic Brits, Scandinavians spending half a year in the dark and snow. Spain has lifestyle just right with siesta and mañana.

Other nations may mock a country where afternoons are spent in slumber and repose. But, trust me, don’t knock it until you have tried it. Even Spanish people will try to claim that siesta is now a thing for the elderly. If that is so, and I very much doubt this, as shops, banks and services in Spain all cease for a lengthy afternoon sojourn, I am content to be classed as elderly to embrace this lifestyle.

A perfect siesta. A perfect lifestyle

So what constitutes the perfect siesta? Firstly, it doesn’t have to include a coma like sleep. In fact, it might just be quiet, personal time, possibly lay down on the bed, emptying the head of work, stress, noise and social media. I’ve paid good money, and spent many an hour, for a British counsellor to suggest I adopt something similar in UK to prevent my heart racing with stress and suppress the murderous thoughts that I have towards my co-workers.

Here in Spain there’s no need to employ a lifestyle coach to advise on something that is patently obvious. Saving some time to concentrate on me isn’t selfish: it is necessary for mental well being. No wonder the Spanish population are near the top when it comes to longevity.

Mediterranean diet

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Cold, dark, work obsessed Northern Europe often cite a Mediterranean diet as the reason why the Spanish people live to a decent old age. Well it has to be something miraculous given the tendency in Spain to drink red wine and spirits daily and to smoke profusely.

However much I stuff my face with the so called Mediterranean diet in UK, nourishing my knackered body with extra virgin olive oil drizzled peppers, tomatoes, red onions and seafood, I still feel lethargic and dull. This is because in the UK, I have no revitalising siesta! Instead I have a 35 minutes lunch punctuated with requests from managers for things still to be done.

In UK, I am a weekend siesta person. In Spain, it will become a daily routine. I cannot wait!

Mañana!

For some Brits in Spain, mañana seems to be the only Spanish word they learn. Then their knowledge of this concept is scathing, cynical and inaccurate. They assume that because the workforce of Spain does not immediately jump into action at the sight of a memo, demand or request, they are lazy. This is actually very far from the truth. The people of Spain can and do work tremendously hard. They just understand the need for balance.

Frustration or feasible?

If you cannot embrace a lifestyle where the concept of no rush is paramount then maybe Spain isn’t for you. It just takes some getting used to. I remember feeling frustration in a bank just after I’d moved to Spain for the first time. I’d left myself a tiny window of time to complete a transaction and get to work. I was third in line. The odds seemed good.

However, I had not accounted for the cashier knowing the customer at the till. Moreover, she had a new born. Suddenly, the cashier had left her post and joined the lady and baby in the queue. There was hugging, embracing and general cooing. Time passed. My frustration grew. But no death stares, tapping on my watch or deep meaningful sighs we’re going to alter this scenario. I just had to suck it up!

Feasible lifestyle

Time and experience have taught me well. In Spain, small windows of time are just silly. Consider the time taken to complete a task in UK and treble it…or more. Acknowledge that if your location has a Feria, Saint’s Day or any type of fiesta, give up on any type of service. Your siesta refreshed body needs to be outdoors. There you can dance, drink wine and have tremendous fun with your bank teller, plumber and lawyer.

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All jobs can wait until mañana.

3. Tempting, tasty tapas: Spain!

Food faux pas!

Wherever I’ve been in the world, I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into the food and beverages of that place. Sometimes, my linguistic limitation has caused some close culinary shaves.
In Germany, following a menu’s traditional section, I almost ordered a plate of lung. Only the quick acting waitress saved me from this taste disaster. Though, perhaps the clue was in the German word for lung: lunge.


Happy Food

Food in Spain is a joy. I adore everything about it, even if they’re not adverse to a piece of offal too in the shape of tummy churning tripe. But, trust me, that’s a rare item.
Firstly, the diminutive portion sizes allow me to order a variety of treats like a personalised buffet. Then there’s the mixture of flavours, the abundant use of garlic and smoked paprika, the vibrant colours of fresh produce. It’s my favourite cuisine in the world.

 

Love tapas: love food!

I fantasise about berenjenas with miel or solomillo al whiskey or secreto. Half the time, there’s no literal translation for these titles. Take for example the Spanish dessert, Tocino de Cielo, a custard flan, which literally translated means bacon of the heart. Now I love my bacon but not as a dessert.
I love tapas replicating. It’s like a little taste of Spain whenever I am. Likewise, I drool at the thought of paella when it’s made well. This is happy food. Every local bar will have a freshly made tortilla the size of an alien space ship. This is the other joy, even the smallest bar produces most of its own food without the arrival of pre prepared crap in a van. This makes every bar potentially a little different.

Adios chain pub food!

There’s no Hungry Horses, Flaming Grills or Harvesters serving calorific, fried mediocrity . All menus ended by desserts with names like Brain Freeze Challenge, which starts with 10 scoops of ice cream…
The nearest thing to a Wetherspoons is a chain, 100 Montaditos, which still emphasises the small Spanish portion and is acceptable in a touristy way. It’s all bargain cheap there too. It even serves plates of fresh prawns for 6€. On one weekday there’s a two for one. A great deal for the budget Brit!

Spectacular food from the sea

Seafood: where do I start? My mouth salivates at the thought of plumpS gambas sizzling in garlic and paprika. How could I ever forget cod encased in charcoal or my contentment at smashing into my dinner to enjoy the succulent white fish? Paella with langostinos the size of small sharks, encased in an armour plated shell. However, their taste is well worth the struggle.
It’s no wonder that Spain has an inordinate number of award winning restaurants. Even those without accolades produce dishes of gourmet quality as my ridiculous amount of social media sharing photos attest to.

Delicious drink

Add to this the wide array of drinks: delicious Spanish red wine. It’s easy to quaff a decent Ribera at 2€ or even a 3€ for a bottle of Rioja in the supermarket. Spirits served in copas. The immense vase that they’re served in certainly makes coping tougher.
It’s not all about booze. The morning café con leche, a rocket fuel strength coffee which at 1-2€ a cup also acts as one of the best laxatives ever. There’s orange juice, with a cube of ice, oozing with fresh fruit pulp, a great hangover cure after a few copas.

The international scene

Although Spain might be hesitant when it comes to international cuisine, it can be found. Their Indians offer little more than mild, overly sweet sauces. Chinese food is often a throwback to the 1980s. Italians are somewhat more passable but heavy. However, some sushi is excellent given the fresh seafood.
Most other foreign foods get no look in at all, unless it’s in Madrid. International fast food chains are present. However, their popularity isn’t as evident as elsewhere. Tourists, terrified of change, will venture in for a taste of bland mediocrity. Party goers find their munchies satisfied at 4am. However, even these weren’t enough to save the Seville city centre famous fried chicken joint. I smirked as the multi millionaire colonel had to surrender to Spain’s preference for quality food.

Spanish food rules!

Breakfasts Spanish style are not my favourite. A piece of crusty toast, smeared in olive oil and rubbed with a tomato isn’t as good as a freshly baked French croissant or as comforting as a full English. But I love the breakfast times. Served leisurely until midday, there’s no rush to grab a Mac something by 10.30am. Nor is it odd to have two breakfasts.
Tapas can get frustrating. Sharing food often depends on the company. If you dine with a starving friend, you’re likely to face a tapas duel when forks clumsily clash as you attack the final albondigas. The rules of who eats what and when aren’t defined. Sometimes there’s an overwhelming desire just to have your own plate and your own food. However, usually it is a pleasure to share food. It is a really sociable way to feast.

The rules of eating

What I love is this sociability. And the meal times. This is really the only rule in Spain. Lunches, the larger meal, are around 3pm and often at home. This allows for a nice little nap afterwards. Never under rate the siesta. It’s the perfect accompaniment to food.
Good dinner places serve tapas in a small time frame of 9pm to 11pm, with 10pm being people rammed. Reservations aren’t really a thing in Spain. Taking a chance for your food is. Eat earlier than 9pm and: 1) you are foreign, 2) you are ‘loco’, mad or 3) dangerous, as you are both. As with the sunshine, follow the habits of the locals. Follow them to the popular places too. They’re popular for a reason. Even with a queue, a 2€ glass of wine makes a wait easy to cope with.

Tasty temptation

Spanish food is something that I long for on a daily basis. Yet another reason to relocate to Spain as soon as I can.

2. Outdoor living: Spain!

An outdoor life

Outdoor life is a natural consequence of sunny days. It pairs beautifully with sunshine. Life moves outdoors at every opportunity with this tolerant and beautiful weather. The streets of Spain stay active for long hours. Only a siesta seems to bring quiet.

Days are long in Spain. This outdoor life continues even when night falls. This is family life like no other. Babies in strollers, deep in a comfortable slumber at 11pm. Their parents slowly finish their cerveza and tapas at a local bar, gently pushing the slumbering infant. Their siblings race around a busy square, kicking a football, with no concern for tables or wine glasses. Outdoor living is an integral part of Spanish life.

Healthy lifestyle

I remember teaching in Seville and I was alarmed that my adolescent students rarely saw bed before midnight, at first. There again, before I sound sanctimonious, I also recall UK students telling me how they usually slept sometime after 3am. But not until they’d finished playing computer games and updated their social media status one more time. However, Spanish kids spend copious amounts of time outdoors. Adults and children socialise as one large community. Consequently, I know which lifestyle I consider the most healthy for mind and body. Outdoor living!

Siberian winter

This winter of 2018 ultimately convinced me I wasn’t suited to the onslaught of this savagely cold weather. It wasn’t just one outburst of a near Siberian winter. It was three. Three! Each weekend the Met office warned us not to travel. So, I lived in PJs for what seemed forever. The third freezing event fell in what was officially Spring. It killed the daffodils. These were my one hope that warm weather was on its way. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the outdoors and sunshine. I couldn’t stop thinking about Spain.

February UK
Spring is here, almost!

English tea shops and coffee places despite their lavish, spectacularly tall, belly busting cakes, brought no joy. Everywhere was indoors. Everywhere was centrally heated to the temperature of a hot, inferno-like oven. Maybe this hothouse was an inviting escape from the artic blasts. Perhaps not. Unfortunately, just to get to the cafes I was compelled to layer up with at least several additional clothing items. I moved slowly as I was carrying the weight of winter clothes on my body. It was a gargantuan effort just to walk along the path. The path that had hidden dangers: snow, black ice and freezing rain. In the UK, the outdoors can be painful whereas in Spain, the outdoors is pleasure!

Simply outdoors

Inside the cafe, I was just sweaty and uncomfortable from the insulated layers of clothes and the intense heat. The whole idea of a relaxing coffee was scuppered by the feeling that I had contracted some type of fever with my clammy skin. The best solution was to strip off. So, I started to disengage my body from my clothes.. However, in a tiny English café, it was hard to find a place to deposit an arran jumper, scarf, hat, gloves, coat and possibly another jumper. In doing so, I made the place look like a jumble sale or TK Maxx.

As a result, I lost interest in the coffee and, more traumatically, the cake! Ultimately, cafe life in Spain was so much simpler. All I had to do was find an outdoor table, read the menu and sit comfortably and happy.

Sping evening in Spain
Spring evening in Spain

Thus, I pined for a café where I could sit outside throughout the year. I pined for outdoor living. This is a reason to be in Spain!

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Sunshine, siestas and sanity? Spain!

Reasons to be cheerful

Seems like we can’t flick our remote across the TV channels without coming across some daytime, easy watching show. Revealing a range of smiling ex pats, embarking on a new life in sunny Spain.

Enticed by supposedly bargain properties, daily sunshine, cheap food and drink. It seems the wet weather, fed up Brit cannot wait to board a low cost flight and leave the work obsessed motherland far behind. The majority of us island dwellers love the idea of a coastal life. Spain certainly has a pretty extensive shoreline to tempt us.

 

So, is all the media hype really true? Is Spain really the land of milk and honey? Or should that be excellent wine and tapas? Well, I was an ex pat there for a couple of years until the UK beckoned me back. Did I return to the UK because I’d had enough of the relaxed lifestyle? Or because I was afraid of an imminent Brexit? No. I needed to catch up on my pension for a few years. The ultimate goal has remained to return to Spain. That will happen: very soon.

Why is Spain such a wonderful country? Despite enduring a savage economic crisis, internal turmoil as Catalonia tries to break free, and the mañana culture which frustrates the punctuality obsessed Brit, it is hard not to fall in love with Spain. I’ve compiled my top 5 reasons for wanting to live in Spain.

1. Spain & Sunshine

It is hard to fully comprehend the restorative qualities of the sun. Much of the time, our rain soaked island with about a week’s sun annually, makes us fear thee sun’s radiance and warmth. Out in it too long and our pasty white English flesh turns initially to porky pink and then to a livid and agonisingly painful burnt red. This, in turn, might horribly lead to melanomas. Perhaps even: death. Oddly, though, despite its power to hurt us, the majority of us Brits crave sun. We seek it when we plan our holidays. We desperately soak it up for the duration of our trip. In fact, we feel almost cheated, to the point of demanding a refund, if the rain dares to fall on our sunshine beach holiday.

Slap on the screen!

Thus, endless Spanish sunshine is more or less guaranteed from mid March to late October and this schedule is often extended. Don’t get me wrong, the health dangers of direct sun on naked skin is real and deadly. But the wellbeing and benefits, when the sun is treated as a daily occurrence cannot be underestimated. The sun’s daily attendance is not so rare that we need to position our naked selves horizontally, in its direct fire, during its hottest hours. Unprotected, or with a tiny splash of lotion, with a factor value offering little more protection than a light coating of olive oil, to catch the rays.

If we only took notice of the locals. We would leave the beach by 2pm to return at 6pm. Perhaps then, our Brit bodies would not look like we were an extra in Casualty. Alive from a horrible accident with fire, but with life changing scarring. Perhaps we’d use the sun, not to change our natural skin colour in a few hours, but to simply enjoy the long hours of natural daylight.

Respect the sun in Spain!

Respecting the sun’s mighty power, and it’s ability to burn, as only a huge fire star will, means can reap the wonderful benefit of it. Without damaging our bodies! Instead, we could sit happily in a café, in the shade, drinking a café con leche or a fresh orange juice. The sky a stunningly vibrant blue: people watching in the sunshine. This is my idea of bliss. As is sitting on a beach in the late afternoon, watching the sun descend on the sea’s horizon. Knowing it will return the next morning, like a faithful friend. Each day dawns with a seemingly endless blue sky. The sun brightly and cheerfully lighting the world. This is enough to lift my spirits.

This is why sunshine is firmly in my top 5 of reasons to love Spain.

 

Midway through Madness

Grimble was now halfway through her initial bout of treatment and taking stock of what had happened on this route to recovery and an anxiety controlled existence.

Road to Recovery

There were several side roads on this recovery route as Grimble had immersed herself in the range of therapies offered to her in order to locate the source and control it. The funny thing was that really she knew the source: work. What she didn’t know was how she could amend or control work. Her plan was to survive for eighteen months until she escaped abroad. Her mind was focused on blue skies, long hours of daylight and more time with her G. As each day passed, the fantasy in her brain was growing closer to reality. Coupled with anxiety was the excitement of a new life . A very disconcerting but slightly reassuring coupling.

Make my mind think

Treatment 1: CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, or how to make my mind think problems in different ways. The psychology department was sited on the second floor of a bland, modern Swindon surgery. The course was set out with about twenty five chairs replete with clipboards and pens. This was overly ambitious as there were seven victims in total. It wasn’t a miscalculation but the inevitable outcome of a course designed for people with anxiety issues. Anxiety could rule the brain and a trip through soulless Swindon would create anxiety in the most hardened souls.

In order to reassure us that we would not be placed in an uncomfortable situation, they mercifully explained that there were to be no ice breakers, no whimsical self introductions, meaningless as no one ever remembered them, but they made each individual, even those who didn’t suffer from anxiety, feel agitated and ill at ease. Grimble cynically recalled the heavy number of training days, when the ubiquitous ice breaker was imposed on groups of disparate people. Here at CBT HQ, participants only had to don a sticky label with their handwritten name which no one ever referred to, rendering it useless but making the whole event seem more personal.

Uncomfortable silences

Each session was supposed to be just information based, but not even in her keen first year of Uni, could Grimble have sat for a full two hours just listening, even with a hangover. It was clear that the two psychologists would have struggled to keep a disparate group of anxiety ridden individuals entertained. Instead, despite them telling everyone that there was no need to contribute anything, they offered open ended questions to the group which was met with a cold silence and a general close inspection of our own footwear. As the tumbleweed rolled through the room, as the silence persisted for an inordinate time, Grimble and another brave soul decided to contribute to the questions to just to break the solid wall of silence.

CBT wasn’t bad. It offered constructive ideas. It taught the participants how to breathe better and take time out for our selves, even in the workplace. Initially, Grimble pondered the rationale behind this and then articulated to all how she couldn’t actually see this working. Her 35 minutes lunch lasted about 25 minutes maximum, once she tidied up her classroom. Walking off site would take her, at best, to Tesco and back. Putting in her headphones and ignoring her colleagues could seem anti-social to them. They’d keep asking what was wrong. Her only escape would be to sit in her classroom, on her own, thus assuring her colleagues that she was devoted and dedicated but leaving her open to a type of solitary confinement. Perhaps she could just breathe deeply at them, using her new techniques. Grimble concluded that all these ideas were marvellous if they could be applied within a real and stressful world.

Counsel me better

Treatment 2: individual counselling. A forty minutes chat really helped to focus her mind on the important aspects of her life. The counsellor had the expert knack of combining listening with prompting. Grimble felt everyone should have this on tap when they felt low. This was really the best form of treatment ever. No drugs, just time to talk through the myriad of mad moments that invaded her mind. Grimble had a range of sleepless nights. An attempt at sleep usually started about 11pm, then a thought would enter her head: sometimes trivial, on occasions, existential but always with the same result. She stayed awake with her mind racing until about 4am when she drifted off with nothing solved. The counselling was a way to try to put these ideas to bed, so that she could go to bed.

Treatments 3 & 4: regular doctor support and occupational health. Given past experiences of OH documented here, fear and dread accompanied the wait for the call from them. However, Grimble was surprised by the sensitivity and kindness here too. Yes, for sure, the ultimate goal was to get her back in work: productive and efficient, but there was an acknowledgment of her state of mind but also the recognition that it was better to be strong and functioning too. She had explained to OH the overwhelming feeling of failure and the needless and, often ridiculous, tasks she felt compelled to complete. She explained how the anxiety made her feel lethargic generally but, if she thought about work, she began to feel a sense of sheer panic.

The ensuing report was fair and reasonable. It suggested that work could communicate with Grimble to offer good wishes. In the period prior or this, there had been work emails with messages such as don’t worry about year 10 reports (she wasn’t) and we will see you soon (maybe yes, maybe no). But, on receipt of this report, Grimble had no further communication at all from work. It was as if, without some reference to work, no one was able to say anything to her at all. This was rather sad but not totally unexpected. In truth, Grimble was aware that there was little, other than work, that connected her to her colleagues and the brutality of this silence confirmed this. In every job, she’d accepted her expendable nature. Jobs might dominate people’s lives but it rarely gave us life long friends. This, for Grimble, explained much about why all work needed firmly putting in its place and why life’s priorities had to amount to something more.

Anxiety for dummies

Finally, there was the self help that Grimble introduced into her life, anxiety therapy for dummies. This included walks around their village, following her mobile’s health app, to get her steps into the required 1000s. She even dragged G on one of her circuits, tempting him out of his deep daytime, post work slumber with a promise of a post power walk latte at the newest café in town. It worked: once. She then added length swimming to her recovery repertoire. The local leisure centre had a tight schedule interspersed with school groups.

Grimble initially selected an over 50s forty five minute slot on a Monday morning. She had hoped that the receptionist might age challenge her: she didn’t though she was significantly younger than the other swimmers. Her aim was thirty minutes and twenty lengths and she was both draconian and determined in this ambition. However, a setback in her scheme was the others who seemed determined to thwart her steady pace. A group of several women geriatrics seemed to be convinced that simply immersing themselves in the water constituted exercise. They had made a token gesture with a semi floating doggie paddle and then abruptly ceased all further attempts to swim in favour of a mid pool natter. Grimble wondered why anyone would want a wet social gathering when there was a great selection of coffee shops in town. However, their rendezvous made the length swimming more of a slalom. Her future swim would be the early morning lanes when, hopefully, the rope barriers would be a clear indicator as to the purpose of the pool.

Feeling groovy

Midway through and physically Grimble was feeling better than ever. In fact, she pondered on the idea that, when she returned to work, on the outside she’d look better than she had done in years. To the extent, that were she to venture back to the over 50s swimming session she’d demand her age was challenged.

Her mood was lightened further by the government announcing that pointless tasks were to be removed from the teaching workload , simply because it made her belly laugh and guffaw. As G perceptively observed, if the tasks were pointless why did it require government intervention? Surely, he noted, pointless tasks were simply that and shouldn’t be in any workplace: shouldn’t they just be stopped? Perhaps G’s common sense had revealed the ultimate cure for her anxiety.

G and Grimble move mooring.

Brrrrrh!

It had been a particularly cold February. There had been weather warnings galore issued to expect it to be very cold. Grimble shuddered and shivered in anticipation of conditions that she described as Baltic. G noted that it was February, it was winter, what exactly were people expecting?

Then came the news and Met office warning: the beast from the East. This announcement of cold beyond cold started a full week before its arrival on our weather weary shores. With each day came further details of an imminent Siberian winter, akin to a disastrous Brexit, and, such was the potential disruption, that the Grimbles decided that their boat needed to be moved before the onslaught of the next Ice Age. This gave one weekend to perform this task. Strategic planning on the scale of the D Day landings came to mind.

No ordinary move

Of course, normally, such a sailing would take place in Spring, when the temperatures were more clement and there were sunny daffodils and joyful lambs in the freshly green fields. However, this was no ordinary move. In some ways, it was a moonlight flit performed during the shortened winter daylight hours. Initially, they were going to remain at their bargain rate Thames mooring but certain factors meant Grimble wanted to leave forthwith in a way akin to a Dunkirk evacuation, as they were escaping the enemy.

There had always been issues with a long standing couple who moored there. This couple had appointed themselves as the mooring’s security, font of all knowledge and givers of unwritten rules. Their aggrandising of their role beyond normal boaters sat uneasily with Grimble who was all about equality, especially when it came to the hobby of boating. Clearly, this couple were the new added Cockney term, Gilbert Grunts of the boating world (for definition read ‘Sunbathing by the Pool’ blog or try rhyming it…) and Grimble would have happily ignored them. However, as is often the case with irritating pricks, they weren’t for avoiding the Grimbles. In fact, the boat wankers took charge of the grass cutting for the mooring which gave them a reason to communicate, nose into other people’s areas with an excuse of gardening services.

Looking for the iceberg

Gilbert Grunt vs Grimble

In a ideal world, Grimble would have liked to have cut her own grass but this mooring had no power and she only had a set of shears. She could have purchased a scythe or a sheep but neither would have been as proficient as humans with a petrol mower. So, begrudgingly, she paid them the annual fee of £50. What made G and Grimble different to all the other boaters was that they actually sailed their boat…a lot. The Gilbert Grunt boat wankers didn’t particularly sail but they did seem to reside there. In fact, the only time they’d been seen sailing, they oversteered their mooring and anchor hanging off the bow, they effectively speared their neighbour’s boat like a kebab. Their authority clearly didn’t extend to actual sailing. What was evident was that they were used to having the whole 500 foot mooring to themselves as most boat owners bought their sailing craft and then let it languish in the water, unattended and unloved.

Along came the Grimbles, accompanied by friends, and loved the whole boating thing. They had BBQs, camping trips, picnics like they were in an Enid Blyton story. They always incorporated a good playlist which they happily sang along to. The boat wankers had a guitar to which they strummed indecipherable folk sounding music. There could have been an uneasy peace and a mutual tolerance of folk versus Sinatra but these Gilbert Grunts had to stamp authority and when Grimble continued to ignore them, they tried another method. They complained to the mooring manager. Apparently, Grimble once kept them awake with a powerful rendition of ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ at 22.30. Three weeks later, they erected a huge marque, several portaloos and camper vans for some sort of shit folky Glasto but Grimble just ignored their constructions, knowing that weekend in June had a severe storm warning which was revenge enough, especially as the weather delivered what it promised.

Grimble fury

However, as mooring renewal approached and, despite it being mid winter and not exactly boating season, the Gilbert Grunts sent several January texts to request the following summer’s gardening fee. Grimble responded politely that all mooring fees would be settled in due course. However, when the mooring invoice arrived by post, the manager added a note about tidying the area and there was another letter from the Gilbert Grunts requesting the fucking money once again. Grimble saw red. The mooring manager had issued her private address to these boat wankers. Plus, he’d the affront to demand they tidied a water logged, inaccessible mooring when he’d left dismantled jetties everywhere and, more dramatically, he’d abandoned a bloody boat in a farmers field. Her immediate thoughts were, “Fuck this shit!”

When Grimble got into a fury, there was little that could stop her. As G slept after a long work night, she contacted another mooring right by a pub and arranged a viewing and reserved a space. It was twice the price but it had a pub, and therefore pub toilets, a summer festival, their own jetty and an awesome garden. With their Spain trip taking a week of time, and the old mooring invoice due the last weekend of February, they had one opportunity to move the boat: the final February weekend before the UK was being plunged into an Artic Winter. Her decision to move moorings would be communicated to the manager in a scathing and savage letter posted straight after they’d shifted their boat.

Termination

Thus, accompanied by their friend CB, who’d assumed she was having a weekend of prosecco and PJs, and all dressed like Scott embarking on his trip to the Pole, they waded through fields, past the abandoned boat, to their mooring. It was cold and breezy and not conducive sailing conditions. They were amazed to see the Gilbert Grunts aboard their own boat. Bloody hell thought Grimble. She knew from their letter that they resided in Stroud, which was marginally less of a shit hole than Swindon, but no one would want to be on a small summer cruiser in this weather, unless they were fucking insane, which sort of explained it. There was no communication but there was close observation of the Grimbles. It looked like the Grimbles were finally compliant, tidying up the mooring when actually they were buggering off. Smugly, Grimble knew she had dedicated an entire paragraph of her termination letter to the Grunts.

They loaded their boat with their bits and bobs. They endeavoured to stuff a pop up tent, that had never fully popped down into a large storage box. As G attempted to place something nearby, the tent, caught by a draft of wind, bounced out like a giant jack- in- the- box, startling him. Grimble found this excessively amusing even when it happened a third time: G less so. Finally, tent secured with pots of maritime paint, they were ready to set sail, still spied on by the boat wankers. Luckily, it was a bright day even if it was mercilessly cold as they bade farewell to their first mooring.

The trip

On a summer day, this trip was a leisurely two hours, assisted by lock keepers and good conditions. This journey took them four hours. The wind made the Thames almost tidal and, as this was nearer to the river’s source than the barrier in London, riding the waves was unexpected. There were lock keepers but there was always a desire in Grimble to help and be useful. She was out of practice. At one point, she found herself assisted by five or six pre school kids, who were so excited to see a boat sailing in winter and wanted a full, largely irrelevant explanation of how and why locks worked. Normally, at locks, Grimble liked to happily swear to herself but she had to curtail such profanities.

At the last lock, there was a terse Grimble and G moment. For her, this lock had unfortunate memories. The previous summer, she had tripped off the boat and had face planted the land whilst still admirably continuing to pull the boat in from a reclining position. This time she dismounted the boat successfully and gracefully and held the rope firm. What happened next was a matter of dispute. G blamed the wind: Grimble the fact the engine was running and the truth was possibly a mix of the two. Grimble held fast but the boat didn’t want to moor. Instead it was heading out to the river and she found herself being pulled at speed towards the edge like a water skier without skies as the rope followed the boat. With seconds to go before she joined the boat in the Thames, she released the rope and the boat was now a free radical, open to the elements. There was some cursing and profanity at this stage.

Chips by the fire

Onwards they sailed towards their new boat home. The sunshine belied the sharpness of the icy air. Their friend, CB probably regretted her decision to visit as the prosecco was not flowing and the cold was biting. In an act of gratitude for CB’s selflessness, Grimble had reserved a table at the pub for 2.30 but it was 3.30 when they finally landed. Raw from cold, they ordered hot coffee and asked about the possibility of hot food. They were to be disappointed. However, when Grimble requested the one remaining slice of fruit cake and three forks, the manageress overheard and intervened, offering to fry up three portions of chips.

Contended, they sat by the fire, using the chips as sustenance and finger warmers. Grimble wasn’t sure if the ruddy glow on G’s cheeks was contentment but, as they thawed and the red colour remained, it was clear that G had a sun tan which surpassed his Spanish one. They felt a sense of contentment already at their new mooring. It was welcoming and easy and no boat Nazi in sight.

The price of prosecco

Now a week later, formal letter sent, G and Grimble were hunkered down. The storm did hit and then some. The Beast from the East collided with Emma, which sounded like a bad sequel to a Jane Austen novel. Their village was completely shrouded in a frozen white sheet of ice. The BBC news went almost apoplectic with tales of woe, misery and distress as the country attempted to pursue normal daily activities, like work, in the equivalent of the Antarctic or just winter. Grimble and G had enough food, though wine supplies were depleted. In recompense for her services, CB had been permitted open access to the prosecco top shelf in the fridge. A half bottle with a spoon inserted remained on the milk shelf and one red was the rack. As the storm continued unrelentingly, G and Grimble contemplated leaving the security of heat, PJs and the sofa, to trek the ten minutes for supplies. Grimble checked the town’s online Facebook messages where kindly souls were offering 4×4 trips to the shop to bring necessities of milk and bread to others. Grimble mused as to whether one of these Good Samaritan trips could include getting a few bottles of the Co Op’s palatable red.

Costa Blanca: home or away?

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The most lively thing in Calpe

At the end of any trip to Spain, G and Grimble reflected on the possibility of this destination becoming a potential relocation. So it was with Calpe, and the Costa Blanca. After all, this was the favourite outpost of the Brits abroad, if the TV was to be believed. This was their mecca and the beast that was Benidorm their home from home.

Of course, this actual holiday had started as a potential trip to Benidorm, though G had been at a loss to explain why his Grimble, who had an aversion to collective boozy Brits on holiday, had even suggested this, let alone booked a flight to Alicante before she’d even contemplated accommodation. In the end, Benidorm hadn’t even warranted a day’s excursion, despite it being a short journey by tram, from Calpe. Why not? Well, the airport transfer had driven past the horizon of the town, along the motorway. This distant sighting was enough of Benidorm to confirm their views and fears.

Grimble was entranced by its ugliness and ill planning. Monstrous tower blocks blocked any daylight for their short and stumpy neighbours. At 5 foot, and pretty stumpy herself, Grimble felt an empathy for those short buildings. It was just how she felt, when she had to queue with the tall nations of Germany or the Netherlands. Overshadowed and shaded by girth, these buildings must have rarely seen the sun. It cast a grey shadow which contrasted with the azure sky and sea.

G had not really been paying attention to this emerging vista. He was busy, focused on his phone game, killing things happily. Grimble nudged him, a few times, as he endeavoured to ignore her, to show him the horror. He commented on its similarity to Hong Kong and she wasn’t sure if this was good or bad. Grimble compared it to Salford with sea, rather than the Manchester Ship Canal, which offered a clearer opinion. They both realised that for many folks this was holiday heaven and they loved their annual Benidorm breaks. This was great to have a chance to escape to high rises in the sun, drink lots of cheap booze, eat English breakfasts and roast dinners and zap around on a mobility scooter but, for Grimble and G, it was the equivalent of a living hell.

Thus they focused their attention on Calpe as a potential final resting spot. The signs were good. It’s location was awesome with the scenic rock jutting out to sea. It was humbly compared to a Spanish Gibraltar though it had two major differences: no lewd baboons fidgeting with their bits and stealing handbags and food and no territorial dispute over ownership. Aside from their multi level, high rise hotel, all was pretty low key in Calpe. However, as the week progressed, they became acutely aware that Calpe was not for them. True it’s climate was wonderful and the prices for dining out highly competitive. It had more real estate agents than Grimble had ever seen in one place and seemingly more properties available than residents.

However, as they sat in the morning sun partaking of café con leche they came to a joint decision and it was based on similar criteria. As Grimble simply put it: Calpe made them feel young. Rejuvenation and retirement might seem like an ideal partnership. However, it was not the warm sunshine acting as an elixir of youth for their aching arthritic limbs that gave them this sensation of youth. It was the fact that most of the population of Calpe was made up of very senior and ancient North Western Europeans. Their age profile was at least twenty years in advance of G and Grimble and, whilst their longevity might seem reassuring to two potential retirees, it hardly made for a hip (unless hip replacements were counted) and happening location. As G put it, there was no flange to observe. Withered bodies in Lycra hardly made for excellent eye candy of the flange variety.

G and Grimble often wiled away a sunny hour people watching. She’d observe the dress and design, commenting on its unsuitability or ill choice. In Calpe, in February, she had noted that, despite it heading upwards of 25 degrees, Spanish people were still attired in padded jackets, scarves, hats and all manner of winter paraphernalia standing next to holiday makers in shorts, flip flops, and ever increasing sun red skin, almost like an Iberian weather clock. G’s observation focus was on flange, which basically translated to a quiet noting of an attractive physique. In Calpe, this sedentary hobby was going to be rather limited in scope or interest.

Their tentative opinion on the Costa Blanca was affirmed when they ventured to a diminutive English bar one evening. Given the past experience at Calella (see ‘Grimble and G have a night on the Town’ for further explanation) this did create some apprehension though, comfortingly, the bar did have a Spanish name, Pueblo, and there wasn’t an inflatable penis or hen party gathering in sight. It was evidently a budget operation and the name clearly from a previous life form and not because the new owner had any intention of integrating with the indigenous population. It was a tiny bar with a huge pool table that filled most of the space, leaving only the bar as an area to sit and they did. It was affable enough, run by a formidable Yorkshire woman, assisted by her Cockney friend. Grimble noted and sympathised with this North South companionship knowing that, if her own experience was normal, there’d be times when this partnership would understand Spanish, or even Russian, more readily than each other’s accents.

Chat turned to the Calpe lifestyle and they learnt from a Dutch guy there that it was relatively boring. Every disco, late night joint and dance place had gone, closed down by a lack of enthusiasm, to be replaced by sandwich shops, coffee places and places to hire a bike or mobility scooter depending on the client’s needs. This might have sounded ideal but instead it made it seem quite dull and so old. The small Spanish bars serving late into the night didn’t exist in Calpe as there were few clientele who wanted to chat and drink until the wee hours. Accommodation was expensive, inflated by the affluence of the German and Nordic euro. Grimble was surprised that she recalled this conversation the following day, as fuelled by wine and ill advised shots, her head was rather groggy. G had a better recollection of the night’s events and informed her that there had been a brief moment when she had considered table dancing. Grimble had hoped that this was a fake memory but she did recall clambering on a bar stool in a quite undignified manner before giving up the final table ascent. She groaned to herself at this mad moment and wondered how British bars were able to transform even the most dignified tourist into uninhibited monster.

Once on the plane home, they reflected on the Costa Blanca experience. G and Grimble realised that there was a predominance of hurdy flurdy languages and that Spanish voices had been rare. In addition, from a point of view of Grimble making a small income teaching, there were two major pitfalls. Firstly, the ageing population had no secondary age offspring to educate, unless they wanted to send their holidaying grandchildren to school rather than the pool. Secondly, the Spanish population in Calpe had a fairly good grasp of English after five decades of Brit visitors, who refused to learn or even try the local lingo with the exception of “cerveza” and “por favor”, had saturated them with the nuances of their mother tongue. For Grimble and G, Calpe and the Costa Blanca was a pleasant holiday destination but not a lifestyle choice.