Afterglow

Walking home from work this evening I found myself unnaturally aware of the night sky. Normally in the corner of West Sussex where I live, the skies at night are impressive, and you can see all the constellations of the season with a clarity you wouldn’t expect to find so close to London. Last summer I even saw a comet shining a brilliant blue as it shot across the sky overhead. But tonight the clouds were low, and a strange, eerie light hovered along the horizon on either side of me: a greenish-yellow to the north, hanging over the distant lights of London, and a more unholy bluish-green patch of cloud to the south, indicating a floodlit pitch somewhere below. Elsewhere along the skyline, similar patches of tarnished gold and green light made the night a rather sinister shade of grey. Somewhere in among the phosphorescence, the glow of an almost-full moon went unnoticed.

When I lived in Spain as a child, I remember a night when several towns in the area decided to take part in a five-minute power-cut. I believe it was in protest about climate change, or energy wastage, or something along those lines. Our town sat atop a lonely hill in the middle of a great valley ringed by mountains. Villages were few and far between, and the nights were dark enough even with the interference of the thousands of twinkling yellow streetlamps. But one night, for five minutes, it was even darker still. My mother took me up to the square at the top of the hill to look out upon a world blanketed in a darkness it had not known for decades, perhaps even centuries. I was only twelve years old, but it made a deep impression on me. I have never forgotten the quality of the darkness, the stars that shone so brightly that in memory they seemed almost like suns – which is perhaps not so very far from the truth.

We spend a lot of time discussing the irreversible damage we have done to our oceans, how we have choked the earth and its rivers with our plastics and detritus, but it is far deeper and more sinister than that. Man’s quest to vanquish his fear of the dark is well on the way to robbing us of our natural light. In some parts of the world, it already has.

It is not so much our desire to ape that concerns me – our fierce instinct to twist the natural into the artificial – because I know that story. It is the fable of the Emperor and the nightingale. Tragically, as is often the case with stories meant for children, it seems the moral was lost on us a long time ago – a modern-day version would no doubt have the Emperor plug simply his iNightingale in to recharge. No, it is our desire to outdo. The go one step beyond. To beat nature at her own game, like a petulant child insisting they are old enough to look after themselves. I am reminded of another children’s story concerning a devil’s mirror, that sought to make a mockery of all that it looked upon…

When you spend weeks going over the pollution topic of the iGCSE and IB exams with your foreign language students, it’s easy to forget the creeping damage of light pollution, if only because we choose not to see it. Light is good. It shows us the way, it helps us see where to go. It makes us comfortable and it keeps us safe. So perhaps it is a loss we must bear. What is, is what must be. But I do wish, on nights like these, when the clouds are low and heavy and stained with the unholy afterglow of the city, that I could go back to the night of the power-cut, when the night was clearer and more beautiful than any light show I have ever seen. BB x

YearAbroad (430)

Stargazing in La Siberia, May 2016

 

Reaching Out

Dear World,

I remember a time when Brexit didn’t mean an awful lot to us. When it was just the latest in a string of buzzwords bandied about by the press. Before the year when the experts were all wrong. Before the referendum, President Trump and the sudden violence of world politics, like a particularly large and menacing dog woken from slumber by the rumble of a passing car.

I have tried to keep my mouth shut on Brexit since the beginning, suspecting that we could only have come to such a junction because of one failing or another in the system. Mutiny might breed in idleness, but anger, hatred and intolerance do not come from nowhere. The spark must have been glowing within the ashes, even if so few of us saw it smouldering there. And how could we, in the echo chamber of our comfortable social media bubbles, where everything hurtful and unorthodox is slammed before it is questioned, and the angry back down in silence to nurse their wounded pride and their encircling fear in the darkness. Certainly, we are not the architects of our own destruction, but we are not entirely blameless in bringing about the situation that so many are now quick to decry.

I was in Morocco when it all kicked off, now almost three years ago, when the referendum was as out of sight and mind as the essay I was supposed to be working on for my university. I was informed of the outcome by an American, who came rushing into the classroom to tell me, holding nothing back, that ‘your folks voted out’. Of course I was shocked, though perhaps not as much as I should have been – I confess to having forgotten entirely about the referendum that morning. Last night’s Arabic homework seemed more important at the time.

It was certainly not the result any of us had been expecting. But then, I did study languages at a British university, so almost all of my contemporaries were naturally predisposed to take an immediately dismissive view of anything akin to Brexit out of hand. I don’t think I ever saw anything other than rage against Brexit on my Facebook feed, and that in and of itself made me concerned from the start.

The eldest son of my Moroccan host family saw in it a cause for celebration, and he wasn’t the only one. I remember seeing fireworks from the balcony, set off from somewhere within the city outskirts. “It’s the best thing England could have done,” said the son. “Anything that weakens the EU is good for us.” I suppose being in a country that felt ostracised by the EU opened my eyes early on to the other side of the argument, in spite of my obvious leanings towards the remain camp, not entirely unconnected to being of Spanish blood myself. Without my grandfather to voice his European view on the matter, I had to find the answers myself. And as much as it hurt me to imagine where it all might lead, I had to listen. I had to know. Because there’s no use in complaining about the situation if you aren’t prepared to listen to the other side.

It seems strange to me that, in an age when even Disney’s recent heroes and villains have become various shades of grey, today’s politics should provide the black and white.

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It’s been a few years since then. The strange, almost unbelievable scenario I discussed at length with an American in the shade of a Tetouani hotel roof on a hot July afternoon has now shimmered into reality. In a matter of weeks it will be B-Day – unless something radical happens. The last few months have been nothing short of chaotic. Defeat after defeat in the House of Commons. An increasingly beleaguered Prime Minister who soldiers on, determined to defend the decision of the referendum in spite of those who call for a second referendum, claiming the British public was lied to by the Leave camp – as if the concept of politicians spreading lies were something revolutionary.

Would a second referendum help? I can only hope that it would do more good than harm. We have walked right into a bear trap. To say the first referendum was wrong would be to call into question the referendum process, nay, democracy itself. And though it would not be the first time the United Kingdom has changed its mind over its core values – see attitudes towards homosexuality in the former African colonies – it does us no favours, having sold, extolled and foisted democracy upon the world to then tamper with it. In the words of the Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian, “never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it”.

Tonight the MPs voted against a “No Deal” Brexit. Tomorrow there will be a vote on whether or not to delay Brexit altogether – if the EU will even allow such a thing. I have given up predicting politics, preferring instead to take after my namesake in Animal Farm and hold to the adage that things will go on as they have before, that is, badly.

It is, of course, entirely plausible that Brexit was all one big power play – a high risk, high return move in a long and complicated game of chess. Perhaps Farage, Johnson and the rest of the Brexiteers are simply riding the storm, and have done very well out of it, to the detriment of millions. It is also entirely plausible that I have spent too long looking into the abyss, trying to empathise with a point of view that is so alien to my heart. The Spaniard in me cries out and beats his chest, with true melodramatic flourish, for all the harm that will be and has already been done to our sense of European unity. The Englishman I am, contrite to a fault, pleads for patience and searches desperately for answers.

Time, the master of all things, will tell on the matter of Brexit. And if there is indeed a special place in Hell for those who led us to this junction, we may yet all see a window into the inferno on the night of the 29th. Or we may simply wake up to another unpredictably disappointing morning, where everything stands on its head. The era of topsy-turvy politics continues.

World of the future, when you look back on all of this… Be kind with your judgements. Remember those who fought tooth and nail for unity, remember those who fought for what they thought was right, and remember those caught in the middle who tried to listen.

BB x

British street artist Banksy takes on Brexit in Dover ...

PS. I confess to not having read enough on the subject before writing, and being informed only by my European family, the odd snippet on the BBC and my almost entirely Remain camp circle of friends. But I have tried to be honest about my stance on the subject.

Instant Friendship

I’m sure I’m bringing nothing new to the table when I make the claim that instant communication has changed what friendship is all about. It might not have altered the definition of the word, but it has radically changed how we go about expressing it. You only have to take both the mobile telephone and the internet away for a moment to consider the implications.

I was at a party last night when this particular dilemma crossed my mind, and it occupied my brain for the greater part of the journey home across central London. I heard in passing a friend mention how he’d been on the phone to another friend of mine just that morning. In and of itself it shouldn’t have unsettled me, but it did, because in the entire time I’ve known that friend, I couldn’t remember a single occasion I’d called him on the phone. In fact, in the last fifteen years or so I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of friends I have spoken to over the phone, two of which one can write off instantly for being girlfriends (on the popular assumption that a relationship necessarily requires such amenities). For some reason, I’ve never been the type to ring up my friends. It’s not for want of things to say – I’m an infamous chatterbox in good company – but I’ve simply never known what to say over the phone.

Should this trouble me? On a purely superficial level, no. Friendship isn’t calculated on a basis of words per minute. And yet in today’s hyper-connected world, it’s very easy to feel that if you’re not the kind of person who enjoys texting, WhatsApp groups or catchups over the phone, you’re failing in your task as an attentive friend. Why wait months for your next personal encounter when you could fire off a quick Facebook message? People often say it’s the little things that count, and it’s the “little things” like this that social media and it’s various offspring facilitate. You can, of course, turn up your nose and say you’ll hold out for the next time you meet in person, but that is easier said than done when we must necessarily part ways to pursue our various careers, which may well be far away – another hurdle of modernity. The fickle hand of progress draws us together with one hand whilst the other does its level best to drive us apart.

I must endeavour to write more letters. We all must. Far too much emphasis is placed on speed and frequency of communication these days. One should consider that, if we lived in a time without social media, data or the telephone, insecurities such as these simply wouldn’t exist. But because we can now be reached at the touch of a button, we should be reached. There’s no excuse for sloth. You can apply the scenario to work; it’s the same problem there. There’s simply no escaping it now. We’ve made ourselves slaves to our own desire for immediacy.

Working in a boarding school has left me with little time or energy to write as of late, be that my books, my blog or even my letters. At the party last night I found myself speaking to “close friends” I had not spoken to in all of a year, two in some cases, to my shame. My workload is set to increase twofold next year, but despite the obvious hurdles I have yet to face, I mean to turn that trend around. I have to do what I can. Snail mail may not provide the instant satisfaction that WhatsApp delivers, but there is a genuine sense of joy to be found in patience. And patience is surely what friendship is all about, when it comes down to it.

I can only hope my friends have been patient with me. BB x

Family Reunion: Part Two

When all is said and done, there is surely nothing more important in life than family. I always knew that. A hundred books and films tell you explicitly what your parents don’t have to. But my mother did, in one way or another, and one way or another I set my heart on finding my lost Spanish family years ago. It makes me proud, prouder than I’ve ever been, to say that I’ve done it. It was nerve-wracking and emotional, but I did it. My world just got five sizes larger over the space of a single night. I’m happier than I’ve been in years and not even a third repeat of Charlie Puth’s How Long over the bus radio can dampen my spirits. Not today.

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“How did you know where to find us?” they asked.
“You’re Spanish,” I said. “I knew you wouldn’t have gone anywhere.”

Twenty-four years on and none of my relatives had moved so much as a mile from where they were before. God bless the Spanish and their strong family ties.

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I had so many questions when I pulled into Villarrobledo on Thursday afternoon. I got so many answers that I almost ran out of questions by the end of it all. Now it all makes sense! The great-grandmother from Albacete, the school in Teruel, the letters from Cataluña, the ties to Murcia and the car accident in Alicante. I had all the pieces, but I needed somebody who knew how to assemble them. Luckily for me, my grandfather’s cousin Encarna was just that person. Born in Alicante, raised in La Mancha, educated in Murcia and displaced to Cataluña for a short time, my grandfather Pepe covered in twenty-nine years just about every corner of Spain that I haven’t in twenty-four. Between the two of us we have the whole peninsula in our hands. I still have so much of his world to see, but I’ve made a great start, and that’s always the hardest part.

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It’s hard to know what was the very best moment of the last three days. Rafaelín’s insatiable curiosity. Encarna’s spectacular cooking. Natalia’s “en Semana Santa no se pega”. Hanging out with a generation of cousins I never knew I had. Jokes about vegans, vegetarians and hapless Brits abroad, three spine-tingling saetas, and Jesús brought back to the church in what looked like a body-bag by the Guardia Civil to protect him from the rain. I’ve never felt closer to the spirituality of Semana Santa and the family were only too happy to introduce me. I’ve only ever seen it through the eyes of a curious outsider before, hooked – like so many guiris before me – on the magic of the spectacle. But now it’s closer. It’s not just wishful thinking on my part. Finally, I belong.

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Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came out of my notebook. In all cases but this, I’d have loved to have my family with me for the reunion, but in this instant, I’m glad I came out on my own. Were my mother or father about, they’d have told me not to bring the notebook. They’d have said it was “showing off” or being “unsociable”, perhaps. That was what they always used to say. But if I hadn’t had it on me, I would never have found out that my passion for carrying a notebook everywhere I go is not just a strange quirk of my own – it’s a family affair. You see, my great-grandmother Lucía María Cruz de la Concepción Mercedes – Mercedes for short – was also a prolific notebook keeper, who liked to sit on her balcony on a sunny day with a cigarette, a glass of brandy and the radio on, jotting down whatever she found interesting and penning her thoughts between her doodles. Quite by accident, I’ve been channelling my great-grandmother’s spirit all this time, and I never knew.

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Well… I’m home now. There’s always something a little sad about the end of a great quest. The journey there is filled with hope, excitement and a host of well-wishers who spur you on like a good wind in your sails. Every step is a climb and the end of the road, as short and sweet as it may be, is the most beautiful of rewards by far. But there comes a time when home calls, and every adventurer must gather their things and return to reality, and the road home is quieter. My quest is my family, and it will go on forever.

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It isn’t all too often that you get to be your own wishmaker. But every once in a while you just have to get over your fears and go for it, whatever it is. And if the last week has taught me anything, it’s that whilst something as simple as making a phone call still has the power to cripple me, nothing and nobody will stand in the way of me and my family. Fate tore us apart years ago. My mother gave me the tools, Don Rafael gave me the opportunity, and I have put us back together again. Whatever happens in the remaining nine months, 2018 will go down as one of the greatest years of my life.

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P.S. As if today couldn’t get any better, when I got off the bus I was met with the screams of Villafranca’s swifts, back from the winter in Africa, and when I got home, I found a letter from nothing other than the wonderful Kate Brocklesby waiting in my letterbox. Today has been a very good day!

Dust and Ashes

I watched a house being torn down on my way home yesterday. The sun was setting behind, casting beautiful golden rays through the dust as the maw of the digger ripped the walls apart. Destruction is an odd thing to witness. It obviously has its pull; there were some four or five others standing by who, like me, had paused in their perambulations to watch: an old man, a chap in blue overalls, a man and his dog, a mother and her daughter, and me; all of us gathered there to witness the last moments of a 60’s flat block. The walls came down like sand.

I once heard it said that it can be a thrill to watch somebody on a downward spiral. I never did understand what it meant, though I suppose it’s along the same lines as the death of the flat block. It’s a spectacle. We don’t pay to see movies where the hero overcomes every single obstacle and has a wonderful life thank-you-very-much, with no end to his or her wish-you-were-here lifestyle. We want to see suffering. We want to know they’re as vulnerable as us. And if they succeed, and they don’t always succeed, we want to know it came at a cost. Nobody is invincible, but everybody is human to some degree. It’s about what rises out of the ashes, rather than the ashes themselves.

I’ll have to think about that downward spiral case some more.

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Villafranca celebrated Candelas last night. It’s a local festival, similar to the English custom of Bonfire Night only in that the main ingredient is a number of bonfires. Folk were gathered in front of the main bars in town, where a handful of small bonfires had been laid out and set alight. Whatever they were putting on them was coughing up thick smoke and a hellish rain of sparks. Beyond, on the town outskirts, the neon lights of a visiting circus glared through the haze. It looked like something out of a Don Bluth film. I tried to imagine the first candelas, four hundred years ago and more, then the only lights in this dark land. A friendlier festival than Halloween – or, perhaps, what Halloween has become – if only I had somebody around to share it with. That night I wandered the streets alone, knowing once again after a long time how it feels to be on your own.

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Our electricity bill is almost double what it was last term. That’s hardly surprising; since then, we discovered the flat’s heaters – both the presence of and the real need for them. No biggie. I’m keeping my options open on the job front, looking for work in both Spain and England. It may be some time before I have the enviable position of being able to make such a decision from a position of comfortable stability. Until then, I need to put Reinette through her paces (Hornachos is still beckoning), read a few more books, write a few more letters and apply some serious muscle to my novel. Time is in my favour this year, but still it slips through my fingers by the second. Orion watches from the night sky as he has for millennia, and the sight of him comforts me.

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I’ll be back in England in under a week. It’s a nice way round to have it, I’ll grant you, living in Spain and holidaying in England. There’s also talk of an upcoming gig for the Northern Lights which I might feasibly be able to make. The ground beneath my feet is moving. In the meantime, I’m relying on Thomas Hardy, Marvin Gaye and a never-diminishing rota of classroom games to keep my mind at work.

In other words, life goes on. I’ll see you around. BB x

Leaping Liebsters, Batman

It surprises me often and anew just how many folks I know keep up with this little blog of mine. It surprises me further just how many folks I don’t know keep up with it, too. I’d hardly call myself a prolific blogger. I write what I can when I can. I seldom proofread my material (and doesn’t it show?). I really dislike the process of travel writing. And I don’t even read that many blogs myself. Beyond the writing process itself, I’m something of a stranger to the blogging community. But it keeps my writing muscles flexed on a regular basis, and that’s good enough for me.

So it surprises me even more that superstar Mary at Mary, She Wrote nominated me for a Liebster Award! But, on the understanding that one does not question manna, I’ll take it and pass it on gladly. If you haven’t already stumbled upon her wonderfully positive blog, be sure to take a stroll there sometime, it’s a garden of upbeat sunshine! I made a point of sliding a read of her latest entries into my morning routine last month and it put a smile on my face every time, so if you ever need a smile-doctor, she’s your lady!

Onwards. To the nitty-gritty.

Liebster rules

 

Q&A with Mary

[Disclaimer: For the sake of entertainment, I’ve put words into your mouth here, Mary. I hope you don’t mind. As an interview, it has a little more spunk to it!]

Mary: Alright, let’s get started. Tell me, why did you start blogging?

BB: Originally? Because I wanted to write, and I was born into a generation where getting your own material out there for the world to see was easy enough for a fourteen-year old birdwatcher to operate. I sort of let that slide when real life took over, and got back into the game once again in my second year at university. It’s been sort of non-stop from there, I guess.

Mary: Okay. Tea or coffee?

BB: Tea. Green, if you can help it, though a Rooibos wouldn’t go amiss. A mint tea would be pretty fabulous, though. I don’t suppose you have any fresh mint on you right now?

Mary: Sadly, no.

BB: Shame. Throw me the next question.

Mary: Alright then. Do you have a life motto or an inspirational quote you try to live by?

BB: Don’t drive when you can cycle. Don’t cycle when you can run. And don’t run when you walk. You’ll see more of the world that way.

Mary: Um… okay. Tell me your guilty pleasure.

BB: The Spice Girls. Spiceworld is the real deal.

Mary: Is that really a guilty pleasure?

BB: Well, I’m not a card-carrying Spice Girls fanboy, if that’s what you mean. But I am partial to a little Spice Girls from time to time.

Mary: What is your favourite time of year and why?

BB: Spring. Autumn is beautiful with all of its colours and sounds and the feeling of change, but here in Badajoz you hardly notice the slide from summer to winter. Spring, however, is universal. The world puts on her best dress, the birds are singing, there’s blossom in the trees and winter is over in a field of crisp, blue skies. My heart sings.

Mary: Well, since we’re on that note, how about describing yourself in a haiku?

BB: …Give me a minute.

Mary: Take your time.

BB: Almost got a First / I mean, sixty-nine point four / that’s close enough, right?

Mary: Are you seriously still bitter about that?

BB: …..no. Next question.

Mary: What is your signature recipe and why do you like to make it?

BB: Lentejas a la abuela, most likely. It’s amazing comfort-food for a throw-together dish that has the added bonus of making use of any bread that might have gone stale. Plus it’s earthy and warm.

Mary: What’s in it?

BB: Lentils, breadcrumbs, garlic, a little stock and a few pieces of chorizo. And lashings of olive oil, of course.

Mary: Of course. Do you have any favourite jokes?

BB: Apart from my degree?

Mary: That joke is old and you know it.

BB: I kid, I kid. I don’t actually have a favourite joke to hand, I’m afraid. Tevye has a few golden lines in Fiddler on the Roof that always make me laugh, though.

Mary: What is your favourite mode of transport and why?

BB: From the couple of months of lessons I had as a teenager, I’d say horseback is pretty fantastic, when you know what you’re doing. But old habits die hard, and when it comes to hurtling down country lanes, there’s nothing better than a trusty bike.

Mary: That’s something I can agree with. We’re nearly there. Do you have any hidden talents?

BB: I’m a pretty good bird mimic.

Mary: Would you say that’s a hidden talent?

BB: I would say it’s a talent I don’t pull out so often for the sake of public decency.

Mary: Ok. Last one, then. Tell me your best dinner party anecdote about yourself.

BB: Do you mean about a dinner party I’ve hosted or attended? Or the kind of anecdote I’d reel out at a dinner party?

Mary: The last one.

BB: Well, that’d have to be the run-in with the Guardia Civil when I was fifteen. It’s a tale that’s a little long in the telling, but to keep a long story short, I was detained for not having my papers on me by Fidel Castro’s doppelganger and his two lackeys when all I really wanted to do was walk home across country after a morning spent photographing  vultures.

Mary: I don’t think you could have said anything more you.

BB: Lady, I’d have to agree with you there.

 

11 Random Facts About Myself:

  1. I keep a journal on me at all times, even at work.
  2. I haven’t ever crossed the Atlantic.
  3. When I was younger, I wanted to be a photographer.
  4. I have a very poor sense of smell.
  5. I absolutely love it when it rains.
  6. I frequently leave objects hanging or balanced in strange places.
  7. I don’t actually like listening to a cappella music by choice.
  8. I used to have fifteen Joe Browns shirts. Presently I have just the one.
  9. I have a triple crown, which makes styling my hair particularly problematic.
  10. People seem to know I’m British wherever I go, except once in Germany, where I was mistaken for a German.
  11. I say I’ll eat everything except liquorice, not because I dislike it per se, but because the buck’s gotta stop somewhere.

 

My Nomination(s):

Lang Adults (langadults.wordpress.com)

 

Questions for my Nominee(s):

  1. Why do you blog?
  2. What’s your worst food memory?
  3. What’s your favourite word and why?
  4. Do you have any favourite herbs or spices?
  5. If I say the word HOPE, what do you think of?
  6. What’s more important to you, the lyrics or the music itself?
  7. Pick a Nicolas Cage film title to describe where you are in life right now.
  8. What exactly would you do with £248.76? You have to spend every last penny.
  9. If you could only be left with one sound memory (non-musical), what would it be and why?
  10. Everyone’s had a think about their wedding playlist, but what (if anything) would you want played at your funeral?
  11. I’m going to drop you in the middle of Kyrgyzstan with a bottle of water, a map and a compass. Tell me three other things you feel you might need to get by.

 

I guess that makes for a good shot at this. Are there any other challenges like this out there in the blogosphere, I wonder? I reckon we could do with a challenge to take up at this cold and grey time of year.

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Lisbon’s Padrão dos Descobrimentos shortly before New Year’s Day

And now, back to the job applications. À tout à l’heure, folks. BB x

Withdrawal

My school has a band, now. Secondary school or not, I have to admit I was a little excited when I found out. It consists of a piano, a guitar, a trombone, two saxophones, a drummer and a singer. Three guesses who that last one is. Better still, the music they thrust into my hands upon my return was by none other than Stevie Wonder. It’s For Once in my Life – in my opinion, not one of his best (I WishSuperstition and Uptight are in a godly league of their own), but better than a poke in the eye.

The first rehearsal was a bit touch-and-go. The drummer had an egg-shaker and I had to explain the concept of counting in.

The withdrawal is real. I’ve written two and a half arrangements for my old a cappella group in three days. I’ve had Marvin Gaye’s greatest hits on repeat and I threw myself at the Concha Velasco Band as their most avid supporter at their gig in Villafranca last night. I lost my voice from shouting the lyrics so much. That’s probably a good thing. My Romanian neighbours are spared another day of me wandering in and out of the house keeping my unused tenor voice exercised. Saturday morning means gym for a lot of folks here, time to work on their bodies. My voice isn’t getting the workout it used to. I have to keep practising.

This week, perhaps more than ever before, the blow of severing ties with the musical world has come down hard. Perhaps doubly so because almost all of my old Lights buddies will be back in Durham this weekend for a reunion gig of sorts. I made the decision not to go, even though it’s the Puente del Pilar this week and I haven’t been at work since two o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. It didn’t break my heart as it might once have done, but the aftermath hurts. We all have to make tough decisions, sometimes. It’s got a lot to do with growing up and moving on. The collegiate music scene, brimming with talented musicians from near and far, is behind me. I’m here now, in a country which a friend of mind once described as simply having no ‘afán’ (desire) for music for its own sake. Even my holdfast, the Concha Velasco Band, are set to disband soon. Real life, work and responsibilities have risen like the tide, and as is so often the case, it’s only the lead singer who’s pushing blindly for unity in the wake of disarray. It’s as much a reflection of how things could have been had I not let go of the group I loved the most. I needed that.

If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it again now. Spain is not ideal for the musician. I laughed at the notion that it would get to me like it did to my parents, thinking that with twenty-odd years’ less immersion than them, I’d be alright. I was wrong. The lack of a music scene hurts. It hurts a lot. I think I’ve done more listening to music here in the last week than I did in an entire term at Durham, discounting the obligatory use of my essay-writing playlist. Granted, I’ve compounded my situation by living not just in Spain but in the sticks. But even so, music isn’t as much a part of this world as it is in England. In a class the other day we were discussing activities you might do at a youth club, and I genuinely had to spell it out that music was or could be an option. One of the brightest girls gave me a nonplussed look and said, very matter-of-factually, ‘music is only extracurricular’. Make of that what you will.

Flamenco is more than music. Flamenco is an art form which, like so many, has its masters and its endless amateurs. And so much of it is tied up with dance. The joy of making music for its own sake is lost here. As the son of two music teachers, it hurts. Having been in choirs, groups and bands my whole life, it cuts deep. I feel lost, and more than a little distant recently.

On the way back from the library, I saw something in the sky and I looked up. It was a vulture. I’d just been writing about them in my book, so I felt pretty fortunate to see my own material brought to life before my eyes. Riding the thermals on wings spread wide, with tapering fingers splayed in the current, it circled the park for a few minutes. Within a minute there was another one, closer. They rode higher and higher until, finally, they tucked their wings into that upside-down W shape and, like spinning disks, soared motionlessly from the top of their spiral to the west.

I could have cried. I love this country. I love it so much. I love the language, the people and the food, and I especially love the animals that live here. Especially the vultures. Music lifts me high, but nothing lifts me higher than being where I want to be, in a land where such magnificent creatures still roam the skies on your way to and from the supermarket. My heart bleeds a little. I had to give a queen to take the king. I may yet regret my decision. Or, I may find some new wellspring of energy in this country. I may not have my music, but I still have hope. That’s all I can ask for. BB x