One year on, or, hell no I’m not coming back to England

Good news for all the astrology nerds (me) out there – Mercury is out of retrograde/Gatorade/whatever the hell has been happening for the past two/three weeks. Sometimes suggestion is more powerful than the thing itself and I swear if my dumb Mystic Meg ass hadn’t read an article about this, I wouldn’t have had such a dramatic few weeks.

This actual real scientific thing causes a bit of a wonky planet shift and means that all communication goes to shit. It’s especially bad if you are an Aries. The past couple of weeks I’ve had arguments with literally everything from friends to lampposts. I’ve broken countless cups. I’ve openly cried on public transport because of sad songs. I’ve caused accidental beef with a couple of really cool people for no other reason, other than I’ve been an argumentative bastard. It’s been eventful, to say the least.

Apparently Mercury in Gatorade is a good time to reflect on things and close off projects. It’s a time of renewal, and also a time of crying at cute cat videos. For me, it’s definitely been a time of reflection because it’s one year since I left the UK.

On this blog I’ve already rambled about my semi-snap decision to leave the UK, my struggle with adapting to a new culture and learning a new language, various mental breakdowns and relationship dramas, so this is really just a little post, not to re-hash old ground, but to say I DID IT, BITCHES. Also a post for anyone considering giving up the rat race and creeping off somewhere else – DO IT.

In one year of being semi-nomadic and eventually settling in an awesome city, I’ve had a lot of ridiculous experiences, but I can honestly say it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes it was difficult. Yes there were times where I literally couldn’t function. Yes, I ate too many tapas and spent the better part of October wondering where my four extra chins came from. But I made it. And you can too.

To reflect this and to welcome normal alignment of planets again (hopefully), I’m taking a very slight change of direction with this blog. I’m still going to talk about travelling, but I’m going to focus more on a more settled view of expat life, namely in adopted home country. I’m still going to share posts detailing my other travels. I’m still going to be embarrassingly honest and overshare about things like mental health, relationships, my lack of skill as an educator, etc. I’m still going to call out the occasional fuckboy, let’s be real.

I’m also going to talk a bit more about my other passion (besides food) – music, and how I’m currently attempting to establish myself on the DJ scene here in Spain. So expect the next few posts to be a bit more eclectic than normal, but whatever, I don’t care, I’m not here to impress you.

So, despite this weird astrological period causing lots of tears, awkward arguments and general fuckery, it’s made one thing very clear: the mad decision I made just over a year ago was absolutely the right one. Hell no I’m not coming back to England. I’m gonna stick it out here for a bit. I’ll keep you all posted.

I reject your suggestion to grow up

*two years ago at a family party*

“I’m serious though,” said my grandmother, side-eyeing all four of her granddaughters at the same time, “One of you has to get married before I die”. Cue awkward silence while my younger sister and our cousins attempted to avoid eye contact with their respective partners.

I looked at my date for that particular family gathering, a wheel of cheese that would have fed a small town for a month. “NOT GOING TO BE ME THEN IS IT HAHAHAHA EVERYONE AMIRITE,” I practically screamed into the conversational abyss. A surprising amount of people looked like they were about to nod in agreement.

Cue awkward silence, broken most likely by my dad saying something hilarious. He always has my back.

*several months later at another family gathering – we like to party apparently*

“Moving abroad, eh?” said the old dude who was apparently a great uncle of some description. “Won’t that be tough on account of all the foreigners?”

I hadn’t even started teaching yet and I was about to school someone. Before I could open my mouth to educate and promptly disown him, he followed up with this absolute banger. “Well I suppose you’ll be alright if you’ve got a nice fella to look after you. Must be engaged by now, no?”

Unfortunately it wasn’t acceptable to say “Bitch WHAT” at this particular event (my other grandmother’s 90th birthday piss up) so instead I pretended I had forgotten how to speak English and wandered off to the gin.

*one year later*

My sister buys a house with her boyfriend. My friend buys a house with her fiancee. I buy another hat.

*now*

Peter Pan Syndrome has been rife amongst my generation for some time – thankfully I don’t mean wearing green spandex and hanging out with small boys. Because we’re living longer and, sadly, working for longer, we’ve got more time to enjoy our youth and extend it for as long as possible. This isn’t always viewed as a good thing, but as someone who has always been something of an overgrown child, I am fully in support of living in a state of perpetual adolescence.

It took me an extremely long time to realise that there wasn’t anything wrong with me – when I graduated university, I watched people who had once been the biggest wreckheads on campus getting engaged, moving in with their partners, buying houses, and I wondered aloud why I didn’t want that too. When I ended a four year relationship because I was scared of passing the aforementioned milestones, I panicked that I was abnormal. When I quit my job and became a semi-nomadic little creep, I worried that I was destined to be the oldest dude at the party. Sometimes I am, to be fair, but that’s ok.

The way I see it, we have a huge amount of time to be grown up and responsible. The rush to settle down that our ancestors were faced with is disappearing, or at least being pushed back several years, and I for one think that’s a great thing. We have the luxury now of having the time to discover ourselves, learn exactly who we are and experiment with that – and if we decide we don’t want to settle down in the traditional sense, we’re no longer social pariahs.

I am fast approaching my 28th birthday *vomits uncontrollably* and am single, have no children that I know of, and I own literally one piece of furniture. I consider myself successful but I am not a CEO of anything and I’m making a damn sight less money than I was when I was living the PR gal life in London. Despite the fact that I’ve grown up emotionally an awful lot since I was 21, not a gigantic amount else has changed. I still wear pyjamas as daytime wear. I still don’t really know how to work a washing machine. I became a DJ because I literally did not want the party to end. And I am ridiculously happy.

To be fair, I have excellent role models in my parents who, despite being married and owning a house and doing adult things, still know how to have fun. Like, A LOT of fun. When my mum was my age, when her friends were popping out kids like confetti cannons, she said ‘eff this’ (probably in a more polite manner) and moved to the States. And this was the ‘80s. My point is, my parents taught me to enjoy your youth for as long as possible and that there’s no specified time to do things. Take your time and enjoy being young and ridiculous and focusing on yourself, because once that time is gone, it’s gone.

As someone in my mid-late Twenties , I’m nowhere near doing the responsible thing. I’m not bashing people who are taking this path in life at all, but for me, it’s a long way off. I don’t want a boyfriend, I don’t want to get married, I have no interest in owning properly and the only kids I’m interested in are the ones I can give back to their parents at the end of class. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to settle down in the traditional sense, to be fair, and –  despite protestations from my grandma about impending weddings – I’ve made peace with that.

 

 

 

 

 

How to create an international entourage, even when you’re a bit of a dick

You know the feeling you get when you meet someone for the first time and instantly you know you’re going to be friends? The feeling that you’ve known this person for ages, the excitement when you think about all the awful decisions you’re going to make together?  When you’re a child, this happens pretty regularly, especially if you’re an over-friendly loudmouthed little lunatic like I was. Your standards are much lower, granted, but you’re not a grumpy old bastard yet and therefore you’re more open to conversing with anything that stands still for long enough.

The older you get, the more difficult it becomes, however. They say that most adults can count the people they consider true friends on the fingers of one hand. These guys sound like losers to me to be fair, but you get what I’m saying. When you leave school and start doing grown up things like paying taxes and eating ice cream out of bowls instead of the container (or the floor, sorry mum), creating a new circle can become more difficult.

This is especially true if you’re someone who travels or moves around a lot. I tend to accumulate friends easily (Lord knows why) that doesn’t mean it’s not difficult for anyone travelling or moving to a new city. So here are some not remotely expert tips for creating an international entourage of friends if you’re the travelling type, because free accommodation on your future trips is more precious than gold:

If you’re travelling for an extended period, get on the volunteer hype

I did this when I first moved to Spain, mainly because I didn’t want to leave the awesome hostel I was staying in. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s fun, it’s great for travelling on a budget and you meet literally hundreds of wonderful interesting people from all over the world. The best thing is that most of them only stick around for a few days, long enough to create a friendship but not long enough for them to notice how weird you are, so they’ll always think you’re cool

Say yes to everything

Except incest and folk dancing. Go to everything you’re invited to, even if you’re exhausted. My first month in Salamanca I played ultimate frisbee (which incidentally, I was shit at), went out for so many dinners I lost the ability to walk, went to endless language exchange events and played horrible drinking games at various botellons. I aged about ten years in those weeks but it was worth it.

Don’t just hang with other people from your respective homeland(s)

The phrase ‘going to a brothel for a hug’ springs to mind. What’s the point in travelling or living elsewhere if you’re going to spend all your time with Brits abroad and roll around in large groups asking for ketchup at every eating establishment? NOPE. Diversity is key, not just for the aforementioned free accommodation. Broaden your horizons, people.

Talk to anyone and everyone

Break through the shyness barrier and introduce yourself to anyone who looks vaguely normal. Doing this in Barcelona introduced me to some wonderful people from all over the world, many of whom who I’m still in contact with today. Doing it drunk in Croatia gained me a very cool American friend who I’m still mates with two years later. I did it on a bus in Salamanca with carrot sticks (during my first week of attempted veganism) and met a group of excellent Irish people without whom my experience here wouldn’t have been half as good. Trust me, as stupid as you might feel approaching complete strangers, you’ll feel more stupid if you miss out on meeting some amazing people.

Get jiggy with someone local (OPTIONAL)

About a week after I split up with my most recent boyfriend, one of my housemates suggested I get myself what roughly translates to a ‘bed dictionary’. I’m not here to give y’all relationship advice but, you know, it might help you pick up more of the language wherever you are.

Be a good friend once you have established international entourage

Always do what you say you’re going to do. Show up to things you’ve committed to, be a good friend and keep feeding these friendships. Again, FREE ACCOMMODATION. But also yay, friendship.

Don’t change yourself (NOT OPTIONAL)

DON’T BE A TERRIBLE GAP YAH PERSON. Just be yourself and someone will probably be cool with you, even if you’re a bit of a dick.

Parties in Spain make parties in the UK look like a bloody Downton Abbey tea party

When I was growing up in the hood of East England *cough cough COUGH* it wasn’t easy to get on it on a regular basis. Mostly because everyone knew my parents so I couldn’t sneak into clubs without being recognised (thanks again, local celebrities). Before the people in my school with more apathetic parents started throwing Skins-esque house parties, wild nights out usually involved a bottle of White Lightning and a park bench.

It wasn’t until university that I was able to go completely nuts (which explains a lot for anyone who went to uni with me, shout outs) and even though I spent a large portion of my life in central and east London, various issues meant that nightlife in general there has been on the decline in recent years. Carnival, New Year’s and bank holidays aside, I feel we’re becoming a more chilled nation when it comes to celebrating life in general.

NOT HERE MATE. Last weekend, I experienced my first Spanish carnaval. Taking place all over Spain pre-Lent, it’s a slightly mental and absolutely brilliant mixture of parades, fancy dress, excessive drinking and general happiness, traditionally a giant all-out party before everyone got involved with Lent and gave up chocolate or swearing or whatever.

I was in Ciudad Rodrigo, a small city about one hour from Salamanca, where I currently live. Everything kicked off fairly early in the morning, starting off with the running of the bulls through the main square, continuing with a fairly monumental fancy dress parade through the city and culminating with me passing out upside down on my bed somewhere around 8am. It was NUTS. My friend went to the celebrations in Cadiz and honestly I’m not sure if she’s still alive.

Here’s a few pics (taken badly because I was hanging out with my good friend Don Simon at the time). Overly-descriptive captions above each photo:

Before the madness. Ciudad Rodrigo is usually pretty chill, located in the Castilla y Leon region about 80km from Salamanca. Check the weather tooCity

Lone shot of a cheeky astronaut (one of our party) on an expedition. We went for an aliens/space theme because there was no particular theme and when else do we get to wear blue glitter on a daily basis

More fancy dress

Running of the bulls in the main square. As you can see, I could see virtually nothing but wanted to show just how important this tradition still is despite the general beef (no pun intended) surrounding the treatment of the animals. I’m not entirely comfortable with it but it was something I wanted to experience and I’m glad it did (although to be fair one of the bulls was only jogging)

Bulls

Couple of shots of the fancy dress parade. This was ENORMOUS and incorporated every possible theme you can imagine – superheroes, Vikings, traditional Spanish dress, there was even a family dressed as churros, which was honestly the best thing I’ve seen in 2018.

A worrying amount of people seemed to have forgotten that cultural appropriation is a thing – you wouldn’t believe how many people I saw in blackface which was a little confusing, not to mention upsetting. It seems like here it’s less of an issue to imitate another culture (I saw people dressed as Mexicans too) and I wasn’t sure how to take that, being incredibly white and all, but still…

(Special shout out to the dictator costumes though, they were incredible)

Parade 5Parade 4Parade 3Parade 2

Only vaguely appropriate photo of the author in alien costume, hanging with John Cena (because she’s in camo…you can’t see her…GEDDIT) from a party in a tent which lasted for five hours and know I know all the words to every reggaeton track ever

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Aliens again (photo credit my fellow alien)

Aliens.png

 

This isn’t the only time I’ve been surprised/impressed by the level of dedication to partying in Spain. Nights out here start at midnight and end when it’s time for (late) breakfast. Religious holidays and celebrations are taken seriously – all the shops shut, everyone gets involved and if you think you’re going home before the sun comes up you are sadly mistaken. All of this combined demonstrates a geniune lust for life that we could learn a lot from in the UK.

Also, fancy dress is good. Do it more.

 

 

 

 

Things I occasionally miss about London

Usually very little, to be fair. This past (almost) year I’ve been having way too much fun most of the time – creeping around a new country, speaking terrible Spanish and avoiding mirrors because excessive gin consumption has left me looking like Keith Richards. I miss the obvious things of course. Family, friends, Jaffa cakes. Other than that, 90% of the time I’m enjoying my new semi-nomadic life.

Today is one of those days where I’m missing London. It doesn’t happen very often but this week my city had one of its three annual days of rain. Instead of being moderately depressed I actually enjoyed it, because it reminded me of home. My other home, where Tesco plastic bags run wild in the streets, queues are a way of life and if your house doesn’t have a six month supply of tea bags, are you even really prepared for the apocalypse?

I didn’t grow up in London, but it was home for several years and I consider myself, for the most part, at least half a Cockney. So without further ado, here’s a mini love letter to some of the things I miss about the Big Smoke:

The Underground

Not even joking, I used to enjoy the Tube because, being a bike wanker who cycled everywhere, I only took it once or twice a week. I love the anonymity on the Tube, the way nobody wants to make eye contact. I love when, during rush hour, somebody gets stuck between the doors and pretends like nothing happened. I love targeting manspreaders by ‘accidentally’ putting my hand/bag on their leg. When I briefly lived in West London, I used to stay at friend’s houses in East and enjoy my hour-long, hungover journey back to Fulham with coffee and usually some terrible music to keep me company. Say what you want about the Underground – strikes and delays aside, it’s pretty cool.

 

Grumpy Londoners

It’s raining. Commutes are a bitch. Having to wear grey a lot of the time. House prices. Coffee prices. Cocaine prices (apparently). Nightlife coming to a screeching halt at 2am in lots of places. Tinder. Not having enough cash for your weekly cheeky Nandos. There’s a lot of reasons to be a grumpy old fart in London – I know this because I used to be one. There’s a great quote in Zadie Smith’s book NW, where one of the protagonists takes too long to make a decision in a corner shop and feels ‘the shame of having inconvenienced another Londoner’. Literally everyone is grumpy and in a hurry, but I feel like that’s part of the British charm in general.

 

Diversity

My city in Spain is extremely white. I am an extremely white person myself, even I find this weird. One of the things I love about London is that it’s a total melting pot – like lots of parts of America but with less racism. You can walk down a street and hear multiple languages, see multiple continents represented in just a few steps. My area in East London had sizable communities from Bangladesh, West Africa, Turkey, the Caribbean and Poland to name just a few. Plus hipsters. This was pretty great because of the food options on offer, but also because I felt like I was part of a truly diverse, global community.

 

The parks

Victoria Park in the summer is one of the best things in existence. Hackney Downs comes a close second, followed by Allen Gardens just off Brick Lane, which was always a little bit dodgy. One time I was offered drugs three times in twenty minutes, by three different dudes. They were all very nice though.

The God awful weather

I actually like rain in small doses. Plus the weather gives you something to talk about – it’s a British tradition.

My people

I miss my London friends all the time. One of my crew recently relocated to Bermuda which has made it even more difficult for us to all get together more than once or twice a year. Weekends used to be sitting in coffee shops in East for several hours talking shit about work/people/life, drinking overpriced gin and blatantly ignoring the impressive London landmarks everywhere. The friends I’ve made on my travels in the past year are absolute legends, but I’ll always miss drunk brunches in E8 with a group of grumpy Cockneys.

Bagels

For some reason I can’t find good bagels here.

There’s probably some other stuff too but I forgot. I’m not sure when I’ll be back next, but I’m keeping my Boris bike (or should it be Sadiq cycle) membership well and truly open.

 

Very late resolutions, or, how to live your best life in 2018 while still being a dirty nomadic type

It’s fair to say I made most of 2017 my bitch. I quit my job, ditched a tiresome commute and an overpriced (if wonderful) apartment and moved to a new country. It wasn’t without it’s ups and downs (as various whiny posts on here will attest to) but several months in, I’m having a whale of a time.

I fully intend to keep travelling, keep exploring and keep being ridiculous for the foreseeable future. The nomadic lifestyle suits me. It has, however, made it more difficult to come up with a concrete set of new year’s resolutions. Say what you want about will power and statistics, I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of the new year and setting new goals for yourself. Falling at the first hurdle? You bunch of quitters. Small, achievable steps? NOPE. I go all out every January and this year is no exception. So here, without further ado, or much ado about nothing, are my resolutions for 2018:*

Give less effs

This has been number one on my list every year since 2012 and each year, I’ve managed to care a little bit less about what people think, or about very much in general. Last year, I managed to give very few effs at all when I decided to leave the country and was met with resounding choruses of ‘OHMYGOD YOU’RE SOOOO BRAVE,’ and ‘Woooow I could NEVER give up my life like that,’. EXCUSE ME SHARON but I didn’t give up my life, I enhanced it. This year I vow to continue to give less effs and do me

Take more pictures

I may be a fairly nomadic human but I spend a lot of time wandering around with goblets of gin and not very much time documenting my travels. This year I’m going to do more of that – and also take advantage of my new home country and explore Spain outside of my usual haunts (Poble Sec, Barcelona, I’m looking at you…)

Improve my Spanish

Despite only having studied the language for about three months, I managed to give an entire parent-teacher conference in December without a translator. Thanks to an amazing teacher (shout out to S if you’re reading this!) I’m actually pretty good now, even if I do resort back to English after a few pints of gin, or when I’m with my English-speaking friends. Aiming for fluency by the end of the academic year, let’s get it

Do more music stuff

In the midst of post-breakup sadness last year I joined a band and it was the best thing I could have done. I also discovered I might be the only remotely female person in my current city who can DJ (apologies to any ladies I haven’t discovered yet). I’m using this to my advantage this year and hopefully will be able to make something out of this – stay tuned for poorly edited mixes to pop up on this blog in the near future

 

Accept the things I cannot change

Last year I struggled a lot with temporary expat depression, general anxiety about the direction my life was headed, other very millennial problems, etc. I tried very hard to pretend I was fine when what I should have done was face it head on. Three months later and 75-80% better, it’s time to be more accepting of things I can’t change and embracing them instead. Shit happens, after all

 

NEVER MISS A DAY OF YOGA

Or meditation. These are the things that keep me sane and happy, along with other self care (sorry, 2016 buzz word) methods. My other reliable favourites include: 90s hood movies, dancing, clips of Will Smith dancing on the Fresh Prince and Oreos

Stay single

It has come to my attention that I am about 60% happier without a serious partner creeping around. My life is already complete, thank you very much, I have no desire to go down the matrimony path and no sir, all my problems will not be solved by your penis. To paraphrase the late great Biggie Smalls, ‘Mo Peen, Mo Problems’.

*I am aware it’s January 14th and I probably should have posted this earlier. This is one of the effs I do not give

Let’s smash it.

Tips for being a legend when you’re a new teacher abroad and you’re peeing your pants on a regular basis

Catchy title, eh?

Seriously though, important topic. To be fair, I’ve only been at this gig for about two months, so I’m by no means an expert. Before my relocation to Spain I had zero experience – I mean, I taught someone how to dougie once at a party (badly), but this is DIFFERENT PEOPLE.

My previous life as a PR professional (I use the term ‘professional’ very loosely) taught me the complicated art of thinking on my feet, which is of course essential for teaching. Without this, I’d probably be dead right now, real talk. But other than this vital skill, I feel like I was totally unprepared. I feel like this is more of a problem when you’re in a new country – things don’t only go comically wrong, they go comically wrong in two languages.

So without further ado, or much ado about nothing (double negatives, very important for Spanish), here are some of my tips for being a legend when you are a new teacher in a strange country, and you have, at least in the beginning, no idea what you’re doing:

Music, the universal language

It’s no secret that I’d rather be making music than doing almost anything else, so I decided to incorporate it into my classes. Despite the occasional telling off because apparently other students in the academy ‘don’t like trap’, it’s been super useful to get people talking and also break the ice. With my advanced classes, we listen to English language songs and analyse them. For the kids, we sing songs and occasionally I allow a game or seven of musical statues. For one of my students, we dance to Michael Jackson (don’t ask).

Never underestimate the power of drinking games

Disclaimer: no alcohol was used in the teaching of these classes. This one was a total accident but I wanted to get one of my adult classes thinking about a certain subject, so we played Categories. Halfway through a game one of my students put his hand up and said “Wait, Beth, I know this game, we play this when we get drunk”. EXPOSED. But actually, it worked really well. I’ve also adapted several card-based drinking games and they’re super effective. So if you’re in your first weeks and you need a warmer or cooler idea, go nuts! No Centurion though, that’ll backfire.

Even if you only know one game, little ones will love it and become addicted for several months

Bingo is like crack to six-year olds. As long as you mix it up in terms of topic so they’re learning something, you can carry on doing it for weeks. They literally never get bored of it.

Bring cool stuff to class so your students think you’re cool

Again, accidental discovery. I bought some of my DJ equipment to class once because I was practicing that evening at a friend’s house. I left my controller on the table and my group of 12-year-olds went nuts and now they think I’m super cool (which obviously I am but it’s nice to be reminded).

Work smarter, not harder

Be disgustingly organised, even if you’re not. Plan in advance, work out when your free time is and reserve time for school prep/planning/marking outside of your lessons. Also reserve free time and keep it for just that, FREE TIME. Nobody likes a stress head. It’s super overwhelming at first, but do things which make you feel good and relaxed. For me it’s yoga, dancing, meditation, and watching compilations of Will Smith dancing on the Fresh Prince. Little things…

Put inspirational stuff up in your classroom to remind yourself that you’re doing great

Whenever one of my kids makes me a picture I put it on the wall. Last week one of my nine-year-olds made me an adorable heart-shaped letter that said “I love your Inglish class”. Sure, he can’t spell but the sentiment is there, dammit. I also include inspirational quotes; for example “WOO, ha ha”-Will Smith; and pictures of other inspirational educational figures, including Mr Schneebly from School of Rock and the Dean from Community.

Bottom line is, if your students are having a laugh, but still being challenged, then they’re learning. The rest is kind of up to them. But a few pretend drinking games don’t go amiss, of course…