Tuesday, 1 July 2014


The night before I moved out I took a final walk around the barrio. The air was perfectly still and smelled of hot pine and jasmine. When I got home it was uncomfortably warm inside, so I turned all the lights out and went to stand on the terrace for some more air. I’d been there a good few minutes when I heard the gentle squeak of metal springs – and looked up to see my neighbour Teodoro readjusting himself in his garden chair. His feet were barely two metres from my head.

“Last night here, right?”
“It is. I’ll be sad to say goodbye to the neighbourhood, I’m fond of it.”

We spent a while discussing the merits of living in this hilly part of town. Then he told me about the time he had left Barcelona as a young man, having moved here from the South.

“I didn’t like this city, it was too big,” he said, but then explained that he was forced to return because there were no jobs in his town. He’s now in his seventies and has lived in Barcelona ever since, and has grandchildren here. Then:

“Will you live with your parents back in England?”
“I don’t think so. I’m a bit old for that, don’t you think?”
“Not here.”

He said he was sorry I was leaving and that he hoped the new neighbours were quiet. I said I hoped so too, and was about to say something else when cats started yowling at the end of Teodoro’s plot of land that lay below our balconies. Stirred into action, Teodoro stood up muttering something about a broom. We said goodnight and goodbye, and then moments later the yowling was halted with a crash and a Spanish expletive.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Thursday thank you

I've got these two private students, a boy and a girl both aged 17. Every week for almost three years, I've turned up at the boy's house (which is where we meet) and done an hour and a half of English class. I've had lots of students of all ages and levels, but these two have been rather special and knowing we're coming to the end of our time together, I'd like to say why:

Because they're articulate and observant, and more perceptive than I remember being at their age.

Because despite being in the grip of adolescence, they are two of the most genial people I've worked with. I met them when they were just entering their teens. Not an easy age to be yourself and make yourself understood, let alone in a foreign language, but these two managed to do both.

Because they tell good stories and have made me laugh a lot. Some weeks I've dragged my feet a little on the way to class feeling tired, ill or burnt out, but every single week I've felt better after the lesson with them.

Because they laugh at my jokes, which is doubly gratifying because the fact that they find them amusing means they have understood!

Because I am genuinely interested to see what their next step will be, and what they'll be doing in a few years' time.

Because my Thursday afternoons will feel funny without them.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Open Mic

Most weeks people have to be shushed when an act is about to start, but tonight the crowd is unusually placid and when the Catalan guy comes onto stage and taps the microphone nervously there is an immediate lull in conversation. Adjusting and readjusting his guitar strap, the young man seems to be delaying the inevitable. This open mic night is a relaxed, friendly affair and if previous acts are anything to go by, all forms of expression are embraced. It’s his first time though. He steps forward and speaks quietly into the microphone, addressing the crowd in shaky English. The spectators are a rough split between locals and foreigners, and I think us foreigners are all touched at this detail. He plays three songs; one in English and two in Catalan, all three composed by him, and finishes to rapturous applause. He grins widely as he hops down off the stage, and I enjoy seeing him have his hair ruffled playfully by a friend.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Buzz off...please?

It’s late October and the mosquitoes are still very active. How? WHY? I woke up this morning to find several fresh red bites around my ankles and feet. This year they don’t seem to want to go… At work some of us compare bites – it seems the whole city is still suffering.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

School's Out

The last day of class after a month-long intensive course, and teacher and students alike are in a lightheaded, school’s out sort of mood. This has been one of the best teaching experiences I’ve had, and it’s mostly down to the students: they’re talkative, get on well with each other, ask loads of questions and have made a huge effort with all their assignments despite all having busy jobs. The class started every day at 8am but luckily most of them are, like me, morning people. We got into a routine of working for about an hour and then taking a coffee break together on out the terrace, which officially was meant to last 15 minutes but would often stretch beyond that.

I’ve been teaching the group colloquial phrases and trying to get everyone to use them in context. During the coffee break today the recent film Sharknado came up, and was roundly dismissed as complete rubbish. One student then flapped his hands in a it’s-on-the-tip-of-my-tongue way and said “Wait…wait! Sharknado, it’s so bad it’s good!” using one of the phrases we’d learned. I wanted to high five him. Back in the classroom and with 10 minutes to spare before the end of the lesson, I was persuaded to let them watch the trailer on YouTube. Granted, we were already in a silly mood, but it had us almost crying with laughter.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The one where seƱor Teodoro helps me locate the fuse box

Twenty minutes into my first experience of living alone and I’m already stuck. The flat is furnished with some rather lovely things, including a tall, slim lamp with a spherical glass shade. I drag it carefully into the corner by the sofa and plug it in. Sparks fly and I’m plunged into gloom – it is a basement flat that is beautifully cool during these summer months, but a little bit dark. I hunt around in the half-light for the fuse box. It was something I forgot to ask the owner when she showed me around and even though it’s not a big flat, I can’t see it anywhere. Sheepish, I open the door and step onto the landing. I hadn’t noticed it before but to the right of my front door is something which could be a fuse box. I open the plastic casing and flick the biggest switch. At that exact same moment I hear somebody emit a screech from a couple of floors up. Pure coincidence? Horrified, I flick the switch down again.

No choice but to get the neighbours involved. The people opposite are out, so I go up one floor and knock on a heavy, wooden door adorned with a brass crucifix. A smiley man in his seventies appears. He’s wearing trousers and a vest and has a TV remote in one hand. I introduce myself to and explain the problem. His name is Teodoro, and his wife, who joins him at the door, is called Carmen. Teodoro follows me down the stairs. He must be psychic. Either that or the layout in his flat is the same as mine, because he walks straight up to a painting which is balanced on the top of some shelves and removes it to reveal the fuse box. He puts everything right and replaces the picture. Beaming, he welcomes me to the building and tells me to pop up any time.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

What's 'tog' in Spanish?

Some recent moments which gave me pleasure:

Cycling full pelt down Calle Marina, trees dropping golden leaves all around me.

Trying to explain the duvet tog system to a very patient shop assistant in my local bedding emporium. He didn't know what I was talking about. Came away feeling rather foreign but touched by his feigned interest.

The busy Saturday morning market in my barrio: though it's not far from the centre of Barcelona, I feel like I'm in a completely different place, a town in itself.