Location Catalonia

The kids don’t have to love you and other thoughts on being an au-pair

Being an Au-Pair
I believe a street in Cervera, Spain, 2016.

The kids don’t have to love you.

They do, typically, become very much attached, but you can’t force it. There’s a certain sense of discipline that’s required. You’re not their best friend, you’re the responsible adult. An overdose of flattery isn’t going to help, nor is allowing them more sweets, TV time or access to a tablet.

Sometimes they are adorable, wanting cuddles and happy to quietly play a game. Then some very short time later, they can be causing a commotion by sticking their tongue out at you when they thought their parents weren’t watching. Tears ensue. You wonder what you did to deserve such a change in character. Where did the nice kid go?

The truth is, you’re a temporary wall between the child and their parents. When things are going good, this is a wall that gives the child a bit of private freedom from their omnipotent gods. When things are not so good, they are going to play bulldozer or try scrambling over the top of you.

Parents love you of course, while they’re enjoying their moment of space. Peace and quiet is a luxury. But when they panic that they no longer have complete control, they act all sorts of unpredictable. Those I’ve lived with have generally been very good at demonstrating their gratitude, but I’ve known numerous au pairs whose families constantly have au pairs, and so feel taken for granted.

The kids, when they love you, see you as theirs, a precious playmate. But when they hate you, you’re a second-rate commander. You’re an adult, but unlike teachers and parents you’ve failed to be omnipotent. Younger kids follow the stance of the older kids. Saying no to their requests can fire you from best friend to evil overlord in an irrational second. You have to not take it personally. These are kids, they lack empathy or perspective. They don’t know if their words and actions will hurt you, but they’re curious. So, guess what, they’re going to do all they can to ignite a reaction. And then, if successful, perhaps they’ll laugh.

But some days, they’ll curl up on the sofa and ask what you’re reading. And they’ll listen as you talk of philosophy in a language they don’t understand. Some days, they’ll take the drawings you do to school, and you’ll realize that their teacher knows your name, as do their friends and their friends’ parents. This sweet child who refused to put their shoes on has told everyone they know about you. Occasionally, when the school gates open, they’ll scream your name and run, leaping at you with a hug disproportionate to their size.

And then, one day, in a final act of betrayal that somehow feels crueller than any middle of the street tantrum a five-year-old could throw, you’ll pack your bags and leave.

Kids

The hidden secret of the house on the hill

By Posted on Location: 2min read
vineyard teia

If I were really rich, I’d be tempted to renovate an old ruined stone house in the countryside of Spain or Italy. I’d have an art studio and a veranda on which I could sit and write.

Of course, I’m not rich.

However, there is such a house on the other side of the main street, which is known as ‘the river’ because when it rains the water is channelled along it. It’s got a gorgeous view as it’s propped up on the hill. The village where I live sits between mountains overlooking the Mediterranean. If you look towards the village, you have the church and the town hall.

The owners began restoration, but unfortunately (or not so unfortunately) the banks made some mistakes and the economy stumbled. Lack of funds brought progress to a halt. The story could end there. An abandoned house looking out over the sea from behind locked gates, suggestive of a fairy tale or a tale of horror.

But the real story doesn’t just end there. Unable to make progress with the house, the owners came to an agreement with three local men. In return for making sure the house doesn’t go the same way as Sleeping Beauty’s palace, they can use the land and ruined building.

Teia Vineyards

They planted the vines, bought the bottles and got a small machine to insert the corks into the bottles. A new village vintage was born. A local painter designed the labels. They’re now contemplating using the ground floor as an art gallery of his work.

It’s the sort of place you need to know a person who knows a person to get a private informal tour. If you only speak English, then it helps to have someone who can translate the enthusiastic explanations for you. Otherwise, you miss out on the stories. You don’t learn they initially store the white wine in a metal container; the red goes straight into the wooden barrels. You miss the joke about not tasting cheese before trying the wine because the wine speaks for itself. You can’t miss the pride.

The hard work bottled and stacked. I’ve tasted the results and they’ve the right to be proud.

bottle-cork
Cork machine. Spain, 2016.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but…

By Posted on Location: 2min read
getting old
Child’s horse. In the garden, Summer 2016.

I took the two girls I look after to their grandparents this afternoon. It’s an old house with a large garden, like somewhere you might find an unusual wardrobe. The grandparents grow their own vegetables – I’m a great fan of their peas – and have two large friendly dogs. I stood by and watched the girls compete for attention with handstands and roly-polys on the immaculate lawn, with the plastic horse and two bags of swimming kit.

The house has an old fashioned dining-room with high ceilings and paintings of the children, when they were children. Of course, I’m entranced by the artworks. It’s rare to see someone’s house with painted portraits on the wall. It echoes back to a time when people had houses with picture rails. The magic continues with a collection of holiday treasures: Kenyan wooden heads, African masks, glass dishes and a puppet witch that hangs from the lampshade and had something, although I’m not sure what, to do with chocolate. Shelves heaped with travel books line the walls in the basement.

Young and fashionable was my first gut feeling. My brain questioned if this were possible. I describe the couple as young, but what does it even mean to be young? In spite of their appearance, the numbers don’t add up. However much they might want to feel young, we can’t both be young. And yet, they certainly seemed young as they rushed around the house getting ready for their trip out to Barcelona, hopping over the Playmobil pirate ship when necessary. To my surprise, delight and envy, these grandparents have recently come back from climbing Mont Blanc. Next week they’re going on a kayaking holiday. I’m in awe. There are many people my age who could benefit from a little more such youthful zeal.

Sometimes you don’t see a door until your nose is pressed up against it.

By Posted on Location: 5min read
open minds open doors

I live, temporarily, on the side of a mountain, just north of Barcelona in Catalonia. It’s a beautiful mountain. Although I have fallen and scraped my knees on it, it is not a rugged place. Stone markers indicate the boundaries of the villages and those villages take responsibility for the mountain. There are benches to rest on, a cabin for hikers to sleep in and water fountains to provide cool refreshment. Cacti and wild asparagus grow here. It smells of rosemary.

mountain-4

I’ve been away from the village for ten days and have missed the mountain. Living here, I’ve stared out at it from the balcony as I’ve munched my morning cereal, admiring the dark green of the foliage against the bright blue Spanish sky. I have glanced up at it, through the window from the sofa as lightning strikes and a thick mist blurs its edge. I have run, time and time again, up the steep paths, slowly building a courage to push myself. It’s been a safe place to practice self-belief.

My first run back in the village was a gentle one. The footpath weaves up the side of this mountain towards a statue of Jesus – his arms stretch out as if blessing, or laughing at, the village below. For me, he is a touch stone. I reach him; I’ve done a good job. At that moment he and I are equals.

Beside me ran S. We met at the local paella cooking competition and for the next three weeks she has kindly undertaken the job of feeding and providing a home for me. Her wish is to improve her English and for her young daughters to have the advantage of speaking English without thinking about it. My challenge is to instigate a desire in them to master the challenge of becoming bilingual. Being bilingual opens closed doors.

I talked as we ran, providing a conversation that was valued on multiple levels. I rambled a bit as I had to focus on not falling over, again, and try to talk in sentences that are coherent and whole. It’s amazing how difficult speaking slowly is. It’s crossed my mind that clarity of thought may be tied up with the rhythm of speech. I wonder if anyone has tested this? S asked questions, smiled, laughed and on occasion dispelled wise advice. There’s something special and free about talking to someone who is only temporarily invested in your life. Their judgement carries less weight, and they often offer fresh insight. The advice is more likely to be philosophy orientated than results orientated because they know they will never bear witness to the outcome. Our run reminded me how lucky I am to have such a strong network of these temporary advisors.

Family friends came over for dinner and asked me if I am studying.

I laughed and with a smile told them “I’m deceiving you with my face, I’m older than I look.” I explain not only do I have a degree, but also I have been a traditional employee. The question always comes though, what’s next.

open minds open doors

I think of the sugar packets my mother once brought back from Italy in a gesture of acceptance. Each had a word on the back: ‘Think’, ‘Draw’, Love’. At dinner, I explain I will write, in the sunshine and I will be happy. I used to say such things with hope, now I state them with a belief that makes people lean forward intrigued.

And then?

“Be happy.”

I’m told if I’m looking for a job, there in Spain, using my education, to say.

In my life I have been given many open doors. Right now I’m in a great place. Not only am I free from responsibilities, but I have this fantastic combination of education and experience which makes me atypical and therefore able to see in ways other people are not. I have some really great people supporting me, even though they struggle to understand me at times. What’s more, I have faith in myself and my ability to adapt. Despite whatever the future throws at me, I believe wholeheartedly I’m going to be able to smile.

The secret, perhaps, is to embrace the uncertainty of what might happen next. I have to select my doors with care. If I’m walking through, I need to believe it leads somewhere that fits with my values and life philosophy. Sometimes you don’t see a door until your nose is pressed up against it.

Originally, I didn’t go looking to move to this village, I was invited here. I was so unsure about it that when the first offer came up I was hesitant about committing to staying six weeks. By the time I go home I’ll have been in Catalonia for three months. It doesn’t feel long at all.

Staying so long was not planned. In this second part of my trip I’m living with a family I met at an event that I went to because a friend I’d made a few days earlier had suggested I came along to see what was happening. There I could have spoken to anyone, but I ended up briefly speaking with S. In the short conversation that we had that day, S asked my thoughts on her quest to find an au-pair. As I was leaving, I suggested we swapped numbers. The chance of everything lining up was slim. If the dates hadn’t worked out right or if I’d already had booked my flight home, I wouldn’t have ended up offering to stay for a few weeks.

Discovering doors is a beautiful thing.  Initiating and nurture the conversations by which you find them takes an open mind. Walking through is a risk. But, if you don’t have the courage to say yes, you stay between the same walls you always have.

open minds open doors

I am so grateful that I have the courage to smile and say, “Yes, thank you.”

A good morning in a rural Spanish town (Bon dia / Buenos días)

Cervera, Catalunya, Spain

It’s half past-eleven in a small Catalan town. An elderly man at the bar of the pink-walled patisserie is drinking a shot of something golden and being daringly affectionate with a woman who must be a generation younger but may in fact be his wife. Duos and trios of lifelong friends lean in over small circular tables and drink coffee. Some of them, like my sister and I, eat croissants too.

I buy a baguette. The lady in front of me starts a conversation and I state my apologies, in Spanish, that I speak no Spanish. She continues talking to me regardless. I wonder about switching to Catalan and saying I speak no Catalan. The woman at the counter sells me the baguette and charges me one euro twenty. She watches my face as I translate either Catalan or Spanish, I can’t quite tell which, and repeats but as ‘one, two’ just as I pull out the correct change. My Spanish is better than my Catalan, but I’m better at numbers in Catalan. Despite the considerable time I’ve spent using euros, I still have to turn the coins over to check that the numbers on the back are what I expect.

At twelve, we cause a commotion in the fruit and vegetable stall. The owner is standing in the doorway, a large man with a calm face which looks slightly perplexed. The conversation is either in Catalan or Spanish, I can’t tell which. Again I apologize for not understanding. We step into the store and pick up a courgette and a couple of tomatoes. An old man, stooped shoulders, white hair, mischievous grin watches us from a stool in the middle of the shop floor and talks at us or about us I cannot tell.

The shop owner surmises that perhaps we are French. I interrupt with “English, from England, Inglés.”

The elderly man on his stool understands and repeats multiple times, “Inglaterra.” Although it might have been ‘Anglaterra’ which is the Catalan for England. A few moments later, in the middle of the tomato weighing, the old man pipes up with, “Un avión?”  Just in case my Spanish isn’t good enough to translate, he assists me with a gesture which is clearly an aeroplane taking off, flying above his head and then landing.

“Si!”

The old man looks delighted.

The shop owner, after our purchase has been made, suddenly asks, in English, which city we are from. It’s not a simple question to answer. For one, we are not from a city, we were born in one town, grew up in another and neither of us have lived there for a little while. What’s more, there’s little point telling this man the name of a town he’s never heard of. Furthermore, I’ve met a fair few people who don’t know that Yorkshire is in the North of England. Often when I explain I am from the North of England people think I mean Scotland. I don’t, I mean Yorkshire. The obscurity of Yorkshire is, tragically, about football. Yorkshire’s athletes might make a very respectable indent in the Olympic medal list, but its football teams are currently not winning enough for the cities of home to be easily recognized abroad.

My brain has to move quickly and lands on a solution. “Near Manchester. Leeds.”

Manchester, although on the west, does have the advantage of being easily recognizable and geographically above the north-south divide. I’ve had some significant trouble in the past explaining that just because I’m English doesn’t mean I’m a Londoner, so I’ve lowered my success criteria. I write Leeds on the back of the receipt when prompted for the shop owner. He asks me whether I’m a City fan or United fan. I mimic my mother if it had been her, not I, responding and make an appropriate array of gestures to indicate that I am unlikely to ever support Manchester United. The shop owner laughs delighted in his foray into conversing in English.

The final stage of the morning takes place at the supermarket, the other side of the train line. I buy a box of PG Tips and a litre of (sin lactosa) milk. The idea that there are other people in this tiny town drinking English tea amuses me. Supply and demand dictates that it can’t just be us. The transaction is negotiated without catastrophe and I request a carrier bag in Spanish.

Walking home it all feels like quite the success.

How can you thank volunteers? (an example from travels in Spain)

By Posted on Location: 3min read
volunteering at school

You may have read the blog post about how I spent an afternoon in the garden of the local school chasing ants. Well I also went back to school and taught division to a bunch of eight-year-olds. The most striking moment of this second experience happened when I told a boy that his calculation was incorrect. He replied, “What the f**k!”

This blog post however isn’t about swearing or division, it’s about the thank-you I and every other volunteer was given on Friday afternoon for the generosity of our time.

Naively, I imagined that the number of volunteers turning up at school to be thanked would be reasonably small. People after all have jobs and other things to do Monday to Friday. What’s more, I’ve been a volunteer in an English primary school (it was part of a ‘Right to Read Scheme’ and took three months to process the paperwork before I could even begin reading George’s Marvellous Medicine). There were supposedly two of us but the other guy never turned up. Therefore, even knowing that this Spanish primary school was well supported by the community I didn’t imagine there’s be that many people at this ceremony.

I was going because I’d been told I was going by one of the kids, and I have to take them back to school for afternoon lessons anyway.

I followed L through the school entrance, here, forming a corridor of bodies that we were guided through were the school pupils clapping, reaching out for high-fives and generally being excitable. The oldest children were closest to the door and as we snaked through the building and out onto the playground the kids got smaller and smaller. Those younger than six were already seated on the playground, holding hands in big class circles.

This village does things differently to anywhere else I’d been. If I were to guess, I’d say there were over a hundred volunteers, maybe even more, maybe over one hundred and fifty.

L led me up onto the stage which all us adults crowded together or in front of as photos were taken. A Catalan song boomed out of the speakers making one of the grandmas jump. The children who had made up the chain to the stage streamed onto the playground and arranged themselves in class groups. An adult, presumably a teacher, made a speech – in Catalan – and then different children came forward to read their thanks – also in Catalan – passing between them the microphone and pausing at regular intervals for applause.

L pointed me to my ant catching class and we both made our way over to them. Stepping over children on the way. It was probably 26 degrees Celsius and brilliant sunshine. Whilst most of the volunteers did the same as us and left the stage to go to those kids that they had worked with, the volunteer coordinators (15 or so people) were presented with flowers on the stage.

The children had drawn pictures of each of the volunteers and as we arrive, leapt up, let go of each other’s hands and excitedly presented us with pictures of ourselves as a thank-you gift. L talked to some of her friends and I was surprised at how many of the parents and grandparents knew me and said hello.

The chaos went on a while, but eventually a vague sense of order finally resumed and everyone except me sang You’ve got a friend, in Catalan of course.

A story about a postman

By Posted on Location: 4min read
postman

It was coming up to one o’clock in the afternoon. At such a time, even in the narrow streets that wind through the village, the sun casts little shadow.

Here, there is a rather large and expensive house with high walls. I’m told its home to the ‘Countess’, although the translation is hazy. To me, it looks like a castle. The only people I’ve seen coming in and out are the gardener and a man with numerous tattoos, whom my eight-year-old (not really mine) stared at until he’d left our sight and then told me was not a man to be trusted.

There was a drugs raid in this middle class commuter village the other week, and there is a guy who I occasionally see hunting through the bins, but the typical resident here sends their children to piano classes and hires a cleaner to do their household chores. Appearances are important. The houses whose balconies and windows look down onto the pavement are decorated with the yellow and red striped flag of Catalonia, often with the addition of a blue triangle and white star inspired by the Cuban/Puerto Rico flags. Independence is the battle being fought. I’m reminded of the streets of flags in Northern Ireland which made me feel ever so uncomfortable.

I have deviated into politics. Back to the narrow street where, at the hour of one, causing a traffic jam on a one-way street, sat a young girl. She was screaming and waving her clenched fists, in a rather unsociable fashion, without showing respect for the locals. Her face was all knotted together like a wrung out dish cloth, slightly damp.

Further along loitered the eight-year-old. Undoubtedly a contributor to the tantrum but having witness such tantrums many times before and being certain of the righteousness of his own actions, he appeared unfazed.  A car manoeuvred around us to make a parallel park. The postman zipped by on his yellow motorbike.

I frowned and sighed, wondering what it is that one is supposed to do in such a situation. A few weeks earlier I would have been highly vexed, but whilst I was frustrated, I counted my blessings that neither child was in any great danger and we had plenty of time before they needed to be back at school.

Reasoning would be my first thought, but reasoning is not plausible when two people can only communicate in simple games, like playing ‘I spy’ in colours and ‘what time is it Mr Wolf’; or with simple instructions, like ‘sit down’; or questions such as ‘Water?’, ‘Bread?’. Plus, there’s no point talking if nobody is listening and being temporarily possessed by a demon, the young girl had no intention of listening to me.

Without a common language, and nothing but a water bottle, distraction wasn’t an easy option either. I admit considering pouring the bottle of water on her to see if it would make any difference. It worked on the Wicked Witch of the West and I was running out of options. Dragging her kicking and screaming down the street was never going to work. The Spanish might be lax about health and safety and child protection compared to the UK, but I already have enough bruises on my legs.

Which is when, like a knight in shining armour, the postman intervened.

Now you might think that it’s a terribly embarrassing situation to be in, requiring the postman persuade the child you’re meant to be walking home with to go home with you. All I can say is children are children, and this one wasn’t even mine and if ever I am in such a situation again then I honestly don’t care who it is who solves the problem.

The magic was this. It started with “¿Qué pasa?”, a typical greeting meaning something along the lines of ‘what’s up’. Negotiations proceeded in Catalan and then from his motorbike his produced ten elastic bands. This amazingly stopped the crying and transformed the sprawled mess of child into something vertical. Persuading her to walk home took longer. He took the keys out of the motorbike and helped her up into the seat, whilst continuing reciting his spell. Her brother, not wanting to be left out, came and squeezed himself onto the seat with her.

Like the audience watching the magician, I didn’t understand more than a handful of words, but that didn’t matter, for after climbing off his motorbike, the children walked home without a fuss.

The village postman – my hero.

Two women enter a bar…

By Posted on Location: 2min read

Two young women enter a bar.

It’s ten past nine on a Saturday night. One woman is blonde. She typically wears liquid eyeliner with a flourish and the wrong shoes for the occasion. Tonight though, her skin is bare and she’s wearing her feet relax inside an old pair of trainers. The other woman has brown hair. She rarely wears make-up, but tonight it’s her with the liquid eyeliner.

“Sorry I’m late,” says the blonde German woman.

They sit down at a table and the waiter comes over, followed a short while later by another waiter who helps them through the Spanish menu. They each order a can of Fanta and a bite size sandwich. The blonde orders a dish of fries.

On the TV screen at the back of the room Valentino Rossi is shown winning his pole position for the Mugello race the following day. It’s still too early for the bar or restaurant to be busy. As the women chat more people arrive and order food. This is the biggest place in the village you can gather for a beer or glass of wine in the village.

“I didn’t want to go to Barcelona tonight.”

“Me neither. It’s just too exhausting.”

“Yeah, my family think I’m so boring when I don’t want to make anything.”

“Mine too.”

“The last au pair went into Barcelona every night drinking and making party.”

“The last au pair at my place drank wine every night.”

It’s a quiet, steady conversation. ‘Clumby’ is corrected to ‘clumsy’ and an acknowledgement of how difficult it is to know if something is ‘stronger’ or ‘more strong’. It echoes back to an early conversation debating ‘shyer’ and ‘more shy’. Great amusement is found at the idea that ‘kitchen roll’ is practically the same word in German, ‘Küchenrolle’.

They both explain the make-up discrepancy. The blonde explains she was too tired and had been crying a lot during the day  because her friend who had been visiting had left to go home.

“I need the war paint to hide the fact I look like a zombie,” says the other woman.

They both laugh. The blonde woman orders another Fanta.

After a few hours talking, the blonde woman is blinking more frequently than normal trying desperately to get some moisture to her contact lenses whilst her companion is trying her best not to yawn. They both decide it’s time to leave and go home.

A mutual friend sends a message, “Are you at the bar yet?”

Where I write (And why it matters)

By Posted on Location: 5min read
Where I write

Where I write today

The bright Spanish sun that forces me to wear the children’s factor 50 sun cream on my face when I leave the house, and which has made the left side of my legs darken a little from where I sit on the balcony to read but has so far been ineffective on the right side which typically faces away from the glare, this sun is not present today.

Instead, I sit inside, on my sofa, in my room below the main house, peeping out from behind barred windows, past the palm tree that stands in the front garden and a lamp post which feels it could belong in Narnia. Most days, I can see the tops of the mountains, and a statue of Jesus with his arms outspread as if he were blessing the village in the valley below, but today the trees of the hillside hide behind the mist. It might be May in Spain, but the rain is Welsh-like, moving left to right across my window in great sheets like a GCSE textbook diagram of a sound wave.

To compensate, I’ve wrapped myself in a huge thick fleecy blanket and nestled within the cushions. There are four, two for this sofa, two for the bed with elephants embroidered on them in what looks like an Indian design which I can’t help thinking doesn’t fit with their pastel yellow and purple colours. It’s a fabric haven in a room without carpets or curtains.

Pulled up, right against the sofa is a little black metal table, which rocks precariously as I type. I mustn’t stand too quickly or my mug of tea, made using a microwave and UHT milk, will splash and end up flooding the floor, again.

The temporary nature of the situation is further exaggerated by the music playing out of the tiny tinny speakers on my phone. Spotify has decided I’m Spanish and its recommendations are for playlists of mostly Spanish songs. Occasionally something familiar pops on and my memories drag me to a different place, a club in my home town when I was eighteen, sunbathing in the garden at university whilst mentally chastising myself for not revising, or an argument about my distinctly bland taste in music with a friend who’s own taste involves pirate songs.

Bland music though suits me when I write. Anything too rich can be too much of a distraction and writing requires my concentration. It does not involve hoisting the sail on the Jolly Roger.

The importance of variety

The best advice on writing is always to write more and read more. But is it really all that simple? I’m reading How We Learn by Benedict Carey.  It’s a book I wish I’d read before doing a degree, for it has taught me that I never learnt how to learn efficiently. Surprise, surprise but practice, practice, practice isn’t the quickest way to get better at a task. And almost more startling, it’s better not to have a single dedicated quiet study space. Variety promotes learning too.

The idea runs like this. If you study the same material in multiple environments, with different background noises, if you’re mixing up working inside and outside, switch between the bedroom, the study, the dining room table and the coffee shop, you’re somehow providing your brain with more context to the information, which makes finding a way back to it easier. Or at least according to my understanding of Carey’s analysis of the scientific studies on the effect of context.

The same goes for mood. Only studying when you are in a single mood limits the moods that your brain associates with that information. Cleverly they tested this with people who are bipolar and people who were under the influence of mind-altering drugs. Mock exams are important because they train your brain to work in the environment in which you’ll have to regurgitate the same information. Laying on the beach after months of stressed revising and exams, your brain probably still contains the same information, but without the cue of mood struggles to know where it went.

A tangent on sleep

I wonder if the idea can be transferred to sleep. Do people who regularly switch beds have an easier time finding the path to content sleep in a new environment?

There are few places I struggle to sleep. It’s not that silence and comfort aren’t extremely valuable to me, but that their absence doesn’t prevent me resting. For years I slept to the not quite audible drown of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter in the room next door. I hate sleeping with music on, but sometimes it’s not worth the argument to get it turned off. (Although I admit there is occasionally some music or radio adverts are too aggravating for even me.) I have slept soundly in tents beside loud and drunken festivities and in the centre of London with sirens sounding all times of the night. Hostel rooms aren’t my favourite but their cheap beds and the sound of cheerful chatter at 3am have never stopped me sleeping.

Ideally I sleep in silence on my super soft foam covered mattress snuggled under my own cosy warm duvet. Here in Spain I play a game with the blanket and the window, trying to gauge whether it is going to be a warm night or a cold night. Tonight, will surely be cold after all this rain, but it is a continuous guessing game.

Tomorrow

I switch beds and desks with ease. Travel forces me to keep adapting, for I must write and sleep anywhere. When the children are at school I’ll move my computer out to the dining room, or upstairs to the living room sofa or, should that bright Spanish sun change its mind, I’ll be out in the balcony frantically scribbling into my notebook or down on the high street beneath the parasol of a little coffee shop. And just a few weeks ago, I’d never seen any of these places, and in a few weeks time I’ll take my last look at them. Where I write changes, and that, I hope, gives the end product a little more richness.