The Line Must Be Drawn Here

Yes, that’s a Picard line. No, I’ve never watched even a single episode of Star Trek. However, it’s famous enough to transcend that particular level of pop culture, and it suits this past weekend just perfectly.

What with flight week drawing closer (I’m giving myself until the end of this week to buy my flights for good), I’m getting money-savvy and making fewer travel plans. And me being me, that’s resulted in a knee-jerk spontaneous Moroccan adventure with a few Spanish friends and a Semana Santa celebration in Córdoba. The former is largely reliant on my two friends actually getting back to me, so in a way I’m none too bothered whether I end up crossing the Strait or not – I’ll still be heading to Tarifa for the weekend anyway – but it’s there on the table and I’ve budgeted accordingly.

This term has been no less sparing on the adventure front, but I have been a lot more sensible money-wise, forking out on only one big adventure per month: Madrid in January, Cantabria in February and Tarifa in March. Accepting that I’m coming back for at least two years more after Durham has removed me of my desperate need to see all Spain whilst I can and that’s been a very healthy decision on all counts. It means that (with the exception of rent) I rarely need to draw anything out of my account: my weekly private lessons cover groceries and all other expenses, as well as buying the majority of my travel expenses. To fill the time, I’ve allocated at least one or two weekends a month to being sociable in Almendralejo, something I didn’t do nearly enough last term and am currently making up for lost time.

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It’s been a big weekend for swallows – there’s a few here to stay now!

Almendralejo is a bigger town than Villafranca and as a result there’s a lot more to do, especially on the nightlife front. This weekend was the twenty-second anniversary of one of my usual haunts, the Concha Velasco, a kitschy bar decorated with Gothic props (most of them from a film set) and plenty of Goya paintings. It’s usually playing a selection of 80’s rock and it’s a nice place to chill before or after a dance. To celebrate, they were holding a concert for a few local bands, beginning with a free paella and caldereta lunch in the street.

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How long do you think a concert lasts? Four or five hours, perhaps? I’ve been playing in concerts for most of my life and the longest was about five. Not this one. There were about four acts and each one had a two-hour set, there or thereabouts. Due to start at half five, things finally got moving at around ten to six. That’s normal.

First up was the band we had come to support, with our friend Miguel on electric guitar. I’m told it was their best gig yet. I’ve only seen them perform this once and I’m sold. Rock is one of the last frontiers of music that I haven’t really reached into and I’m sold on a few of them. Beginning with the theme tune from Back to the Future sold me and I enjoyed the set immensely – and still found time to take some snaps. Consider me now a fan of Spanish 80’s rock (ed. BB, will you ever learn to be normal?)

I felt pretty voiceless and worn out when the set was over so Fran and I set off to De Blanco, a quieter local, for a change of mood and a few early birthday drinks. Having gorged on all the freebies on offer at lunch, I forgot dinner completely, which was a mistake for several reasons. The most obvious was the effect of a single rum and coke (ron barceló). Having been teetotal until this year, my alcohol tolerance still isn’t brilliant, and I felt rather dizzy for about half an hour. Motoring through a bowl of fizzy sweets the bartender brought didn’t help in the slightest. Fortunately, we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere and I regained my senses after a time. Still, I know what I’m not doing in future.

One of the strangest things about being English abroad is the simple novelty of being English. Apparently it’s motivation enough to strike up a conversation, and this was just another example. A trio of Spaniards sitting next to us joined us after a few minutes out of curiosity and ended up inviting us out to go dancing with them at another nightclub, Almen’s Whisky A Go-Go. Apparently there was supposed to be a star from Spain’s Gran Hermano turning up, but whether she did or not, I have no idea. At any rate, there was no sign of her by ten to four in the morning, at which point Tasha and I returned to Concha to see if we could catch the end of the last set for the night.

Remember what I said about concerts? Well, here’s the thing. The fourth set hadn’t even started when we got there. At four in the morning. A DJ and saxophone duo (who knew?). This is probably the first time I’d heard a full set without even a single reggaeton number – all dance, from start to finish – and I went into a creative overdrive of at least half an hour before I ran out of ideas and returned to simple jives. The result was that several of the crowd were egging me on for the rest of the night every time I began to run out of steam. At about half five the five hours of almost non-stop dancing, ten hours of music, general fatigue and more pressing hunger began to wear me down. Tasha insisted that I could keep going and kept me fuelled on glasses of water, and I’d like to say that on any other night I’d have willingly stuck it out until the end… but we had been going for almost ten hours, and I hadn’t eaten since three o’clock the previous day. In the end we retreated at the ‘early’ hour of six o’clock for a quick bite to eat at the kebab shop opposite and then, gratefully, I crashed on Tasha’s sofa and slept.

Until the Breast Cancer fun run woke me up at nine o’clock the following morning, that is. I’ve been recovering sleep ever since.

Here’s to a more relaxed weekend to kick off the Easter holiday this weekend. I could do with it. BB x

Be Kind, Rewind

My primary function over the last week has been more akin to a substitute CD player than a teacher. The Epiphany term is drawing to a close and mock exams are very much in fashion. The trouble is, the school’s CD players are acting up, and have been for years. I was called in to help – in my free time, I’ll have you know – to ‘improvise’ a brand new listening text for them on the Tate Modern.

And I’ll also have you know it was totally worth it. Whipping up a different, two-minute text on the same subject to suit different ability sets every time might sound dull, but as a writer I found it deliciously challenging. And as a former Langtonian, to whom improvisation comes quite naturally (for want of a better term beginning with B), it’s something I’m rather good at.

I’m now quite used to doing favors for my school. I feel I owe it to them every time I get a lesson off (which isn’t often, but it does happen from time to time). But that’s a mercenary approach: it’s more because I simply love what I’m doing. If I didn’t have these occasional hankerings to go adventuring at the weekends, I don’t half wonder whether I’d throw my day off out the window and work Fridays as well. It’s not as though I don’t already come into school on the occasional Friday almost hoping to be asked to take a lesson. I really must be a few screws loose.

I appreciate that I’ve been damned lucky to have landed such a jammy set-up. I wouldn’t say it’s the best shift in the world – the kids are about as rebellious as you might expect from teenage Spaniards – but it comes very close. I’m still going to strike out for somewhere new in the year after Durham – and I’m thinking one of either Aragón, Andalucía or a different part of Extremadura – but I’m almost 100% set on coming back to Villafranca in September 2018. I mean that. It’s not the most exciting place in the world to live, but it’s a wonderful place to be from a people perspective. The only thing I lack is a friend circle of people my own age, and that’s due in part to my Olvereñan fatalism and my awareness that this was always going to be a year in transition; perfect for getting a taste, impossible for laying down roots.

Sadly, I’ve become painfully aware that there’s only ten teaching weeks left. It was Brocklesby who alerted me to that; beforehand, I’d barely given it thought. That does mean ten more weeks of new lesson plans, of riotous primary classes and of absent teachers, but the ups outnumber the downs.

And best of all, it really is spring now. I forgot to wear my hoodie to sleep last night as I’ve been in the practice of doing since October (Spamish duvets are stupidly thin) and I didn’t notice until I put it on this morning. Spain’s about to put on her very best dress and I can’t wait to see what her stylist has done with her this year. BB x

  
PS. One of my colleagues just came to the staff room to tell me that despite the difficulty of the text, quite a few of them actually overachieved, so it shows they were listening after all. Which is kind of what you’d hope in a Listening exam, but there you go. It’s little things like that that make my days! They were also shown the artwork which I chose to talk about, which just so happens to be an old enemy of mine. It’s Andre’s Equivalent VIII (The Bricks). I’ve met it once before. The students hated it. The teacher hated it. And if I’m perfectly honest, out of my entire art class of 2011, I couldn’t stand it either. Great minds, eh?

Out of Control

I’ve described being an auxiliar as a pariah state before; a grey blur between staff and student, neither one nor the other. The disadvantages include discipline control, ambivalent reactions from the students and generally feeling like you don’t belong in either group. It’s also pretty hard work, depending on how much your school wants from you. So what’s the upshot?

Well, that depends entirely on how much party you’ve got in your soul.

Ok, disregard that last statement. What I meant to say is that it’s a massive boon to the auxiliar job if you’ve got more than a few party tricks up your sleeve. Having had two teaching jobs before, I’ve been wiser this year and doled them out over the course of the year rather than all in one insufferable first lesson. And boy, do I need every one of them… because it’s not easy living in one of the world’s premier footballing countries when you really can’t see the attraction in the sport whatsoever.

Kids like an entertainer – it’s why clowns exist – and as long as you can keep your head, there’s no harm in playing up to that every now and again. Since October I’ve drawn for them, I’ve sang for them, I’ve acted for them, told stories for them and cracked several bilingual jokes, usually at my own expense (the latter gets easier, or more effective, as you get to know your surroundings). Yesterday I rolled out another firecracker in the Día del Centro, our school’s annual celebration, in what I’m told saved the show (though I beg to differ – and if you could see the filmed results, you probably would too).

Where Thursday is usually my busiest day of the week, with a full ten hour shift from eight til eight, yesterday I didn’t have a single class in the morning. The day began instead with a free breakfast of churros con chocolate, which I must say is no bad start to the day. Anna and Tasha turned up, representing their schools, who seemed to have let them off for the day, too. I assumed that the other thirty schools in attendance would have brought their assistants with them, too, but with the exception of one giant blonde American who pulled a disappearing trick shortly a cameo appearance at the end of his school’s mini-production of Grease, there was no sign of any other guiris. That, or they were all so Hispanic that they evaded our searching eyes.

Not that I had all that much time to waste searching for fellow Anglophones. I was roped between two presentations to sing at both, for which I’d prepared a cover of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine; my attempt at a social comment on the furious gossip culture in the Triángulo de Loro that is La Fuente del Maestre, Almendralejo and Villafranca de los Barros, a mildly humorous spin on India’s Golden Triangle. My cheerleaders had dashed out before me, as they too were needed in both productions, so I was left with an audience of the Mayor and three student representatives from each school. It was a fairly good show, but a relatively tame audience…

…which is more than can be said for the crowd over at José Rodriguez Cruz. Melendez Valdés’ resident dance troupe took their show across the road just before I got there, and then I had to re-run my Grapevine cover to a much warmer reception. The next act, however, was nowhere to be seen. Garci, our school’s magician-turned-technology teacher, was still only halfway through his magic show across the road, and we had to cover in his delay. That meant another number from yours truly, which, it hardly needs saying, was yet another solo rendition of Circle of Life. Unlike my cohorts back home, who were all too ready to drop the number along with the rest of the old repertoire – and who are currently doing exceedingly well – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it; and fortunately, I didn’t have to feel guilty for going over old ground, because this time it was my own students who requested it. So, despite having left the stage to pack my bags, I was launched back onto the stage with the kids chanting my name. I tell you, this job does no good for one’s ego. No good at all.

But the magician still hadn’t arrived. Then a professional choreographer, who was there for the day to lead various workshops after the presentation, stepped in to get the crowd dancing. If I mentioned before that Spaniards are none too keen on dancing – especially if it’s not Latin – then I forgot to mention that they have absolutely no problems with it if it’s fully choreographed. Think of the Macarena, for example. Give them a song where there’s a set routine and they’re off. MV’s dance troupe were the first to their feet, naturally, and after not even a minute, they relinquished the shadows of the back of the hall for the lights of the stage. Fired by the sheer enjoyment of it all, I could hardly help myself and found myself following them.

At least I had the sense to take a stand at the back, because to begin with, I had no idea what I was doing.

Dancing, however, if one of those few things I think I’m not that bad at, if only because I don’t give a damn what people think of me when there’s music playing (years of Michael Jackson and James Brown might also have helped along the way). We kept the show going for a full quarter of an hour until Garci finally arrived, which was pure laugh-a-minute, as I don’t think the dancers had any idea that I’d have gone up with them.

Oh boy, but it’s going to be tough going back to work on Monday.

But teaching, like so many arts, is on a stage. I used to go to pieces at the idea of speaking in public, but years of concerts, productions and musicals have worn down any stage-fright I might have had, and all this teaching’s done for the rest. One of these days I’ll grow up and learn to balance maturity with responsibility, but whilst I’m still young, I’ll dance and I’ll love every minute of it.

Enough of this reckless, youthful banter. I feel like it was necessary after the sobering social commentary of the previous post – if only to remind you that I’m still very much a work in progress. And long may that be so! BB x

Speaking like an Indian

I’m completely out of it. I just cleared half of Seville at a sprint. The Sunday evening bus from Olvera pulled in five minutes earlier than usual and I figured I could just about make the eight o’clock bus to Villafranca at a run. As you might expect in such situations, all the traffic lights went red as I reached them, but despite everything (and aided by a significantly less-crowded city centre than usual) I made it to Plaza de Armas with five minutes to spare… only to be mortified to find it operating on a pre-paid tickets service. I’d already resigned myself to a two hour wait and a miserably sloppy 2.30€ egg salad sandwich that almost fell apart in the vending machine (one of the world’s most villainous rip-offs) when the bus driver hailed me over. There was room for one more after all. Just once, just this once, I got lucky.

And now it’s your turn to be out of it, because this one’s a real titan. Get comfortable.

I’ll be perfectly honest with you, I was umming and ahhing about going ahead with this weekend’s plan right up until I went to sleep the night before. I had my reasons. The torrential rain forecast across the south was one of them.

To cut a long story short, am I glad I didn’t! It’s been quite a weekend.

I didn’t really do it summative justice in my last post, but last weekend was Carnaval weekend across most of Spain, and Villafranca de los Barros (in some ways for once, and in others as always) was no exception. The reason for that is because I wasn’t really happy with the quality of the two write-ups I drafted, both of them being a little too dry and/or morose for my liking. I’ll put that down to spending all of my creative energy on the novel.

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More problematic by far, there’s simply no escaping the Lilliputian environment of Villafranca. It’s very hard to go anywhere or do anything without the whole school getting wise of it in twenty-four hours. It’s like my every step is watched. As I’m often guilty of doing, it’s possible that there’s more conjecture in that statement on my part than fact, but in any case, Carnaval weekend was a poor time to test that theory. All of my students were out on the town – every last one of them, in various states of dress – and that old pariah state of feeling like an intermediary between teacher and fellow human being was buzzing about my head all night like so many brown flies. Even underneath a salwar kameez, a red felt cap and thick sunglasses, they still smelt me out. In the end I got tired of being asked the same question – ‘Who did you come with? What? You came alone…?’ – and went home. It’s the fourth most common question I get out here, after ‘What’s your football team?’, ‘How do you know so much about stuff?’ and ‘Are you gay?’.

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Well, the forecasted rain came, and it came down hard. I was fortunate enough that most of it fell during my commute to Seville, giving me an hour’s reprieve to test out my new auto-focusing wide-angle lens on Triana and the Giralda (as if I didn’t have enough photos of them both already). It’s a doozy and we’re going to work some serious magic together.

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I have to say, I do feel bloody lucky to have to go through Seville every time I feel like heading south. Like Canterbury Cathedral before it, I’ve become very blasé about the gorgeous streets of Seville, knowing the place like the back of my hand as I do now. But as cities go, it’s every bit as enchanting as its reputation. It’s a thought that struck me as I sat in the parakeet-infested park by the Alcazar sketching a girl who was sketching some Japanese tourists. I thought it was worth sharing, because sometimes the best things in the world are already at your feet.

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I mentioned that last weekend was Carnaval weekend across most of Spain. Not all of it. Thanks to the immensely popular celebrations in Cadiz, some of the province’s neighboring towns follow the practice of delaying their own festivities until the following weekend, giving their denizens the chance to support Spain’s Carnaval capital both home and away, as it were. Olvera is no exception.

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As Hindu-ified as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, snub-nosed Englishman can manage, I found myself outclassed a thousand times over by my hosts, some of whom might well have passed for bona fide Pathans, if not Indians.

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Durham, please look upon this little corner of the world and learn. This is how fancy dress is done.

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Whatever Moorish blood remains in the heritage of the Andalusian is brought straight to the fore when he dresses in Eastern garb. The curling black hair, dark complexion, regal profile and sparkling brown eyes of these people evoke both an ancestry hailing from across the Strait, not more than a few hundred miles away, and the mystical infusion of a more ancient, more haunting legacy chased from the Punjab so many centuries ago.

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I could sing the praises of the beauty of the Andalusian all day. Fortunately, I won’t.

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After arming themselves with all the rings, chains, hoops and bangles in their parents’ possession (most of this lot wear nose-rings habitually anyway), we set off to dine together. Adrián, very much the leader of the group – if not for his age or spectacularly authentic costume, then because of his experiences in India – led the way, beating a tambourine and striking up a ready chorus of sevillanas (in both senses of the word). I found more than one willing future traveling companion amongst Alicia’s friends over lunch, which is quite an achievement in this poverty-stricken part of the world; although, as Ali put it, ‘esá chicá tiené dinero, eh’. I also snagged an invite to Granada, which I intend to make good on now that the first snows have finally arrived.

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The rain returned with a howling vengeance during lunch and there was much talk of the street parade being called off. In the end the locals seized on a five-minute reprieve as the excuse they had been waiting for and it went ahead despite the return of the driving rain. For the sake of our outfits – and my camera – we left after only twenty minutes to seek shelter in the familiar settings of Bar Manhattan, but not before I’d ticked off all of the usual Spanish politically incorrect faux-pas: blackface, falangistas and an Arab with an ISIS flag getting mock-assaulted by a troupe of minions. This is my country – half of it – and everyone and everything is fair game for a laugh. Is it any wonder I’m so anti-PC?

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After a cubata or two we raised the roof at Manhattan in a manner that you could only hope to find in Andalucia. Once again led by the tireless Adrián, the lot of us laid down sevillana after sevillana, with much clapping, dancing, wailing voices and the full support of the neighboring tables. This is the South. This is Andalucia. And I adore her. And to think I was tempted to even compare you to Extremadura…!

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At length we set out for the carpa (the local barn-cum-sports hall) where the real party was just getting started. The three black men I’d noticed at our restaurant earlier – always an oddity in the Spanish countryside – turned out to be the drummers of the Brazilian dance troupe leading the festivities, backed by a true slice of Rio in the form of four feathered dancers decked out in the most sparkly lingerie.

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There were prizes going for best costume, which was necessarily split into nine categories: essential, when you have the likes of a centaur herd, the seated judges of La Voz and Pedro Sanchez (complete with PSOE podium) to choose from. The top prize went to the most obvious gathering of the night: the Amish. Who’d have thought they were such party animals?

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For once – FOR ONCE – Reggaeton did not dominate proceedings, and my shameless footwork landed me in the centre of several dance circles. Fortunately, I was the only one with a camera by this point, and therefore there’s no evidence of this. Of my cohorts, however, there’s plenty of material.

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Simply put, Spaniards have far less qualms about having their photo taken than other nations.

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Things wound down after a while and we retreated in search of dinner at the ungodly hour of ten o’clock; too early for dinner, and far too early to call it a night. That meant another sit-down meal, which in turn meant more sevillanas. Then it turned into a bilingual Disney face-off between Adrián and I as we sang Disney classics at each other across the table in our respective languages until either one guessed which it was and joined in. Wizard. Ali was getting pretty tired of it all by now and told us to shut up more than once. The victorious Amish on the other table didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. They were too busy getting mortal.

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We ended up in Frena, the usual disco spot, for a dance and a couple of drinks, and I talked travel with the endlessly charismatic Adrian. By half one, though, everyone was worn out. Dreadfully early, even by English standards; but then, we had been partying since five in the afternoon.

I spent the following morning at a friend’s house watching Bride Wars whilst they downloaded all of the photos I’d taken. In all fairness, I’ve had worse Valentine’s Days than munching popcorn over a chick flick with the one-that-could-have-been and her best friend. At least, I think I have.

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As a final note, I’ve been considering climbing down off the fence and choosing a football team to support. It must be said, family bias aside, I’m drawn to Barça, but the insufferably indefatigable commentator on the radio and his full-throated adoration of Messi may make a Real Madrid fan of me yet. BB x

Ned Stark was Wrong

Two weeks ago I saw the first martins wheeling about over the bus station. Last week the first swallows began to arrive and the lonely stork on the chimney of the old factory was joined by his mate. This weekend the chiffchaffs have finally joined in on the dawn chorus and, whilst it’s hardly been what you’d call wintry around these parts, today suddenly feels decidedly spring-y. The sun is blazing away in a sky of cloudless blue and everybody is out in the town square, soaking up the good weather and generally having a good Sunday of it.

The truth of the matter is, quite honestly, that winter has simply not come this year.

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Maybe I’ve been in the north of England for too long, but it stills feels like I’ve been cheated of a season out here. Extremadura is, as its name suggests, a land of extremes: of fiercely hot summers and bitterly cold winters. There are people in Villafranca who remember whole years when it never rained at all. It has rained here, but not often; about four or five times since I arrived, all in all. And whilst the presence of the cranes is a sure sign that it’s winter somewhere, it looks a great deal more like spring right now. The cherry blossom is already in bloom, over a month early, which is more than can be said for the unseasonably early arrival of the migrants. I think I’ll head on down to Tarifa next weekend to check on how things are going in the Strait. If spring has come early anywhere, it’ll be there for sure.

Which reminds me, I really must go looking for the cranes before they leave.

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To celebrate the gloriously early return of spring (alright, so that wasn’t really the reason), a local friend and our would-be guide, Jesús, threw a barbecue gathering in his casa de campo out in the vineyards of the Tierra de Barros. A casa de campo is a real Spanish boon that I’m still struggling to translate. Country house might work, but that conveys a sense of grandeur that most such buildings – merely glorified sheds where your average town-dwelling Spaniard stores his produce, spare furniture and ‘all the shit that doesn’t go anywhere else’ – simply do not have. Ask a Spaniard to show you their casa de campo and you’ll quickly see why Spanish houses are so ludicrously tidy.

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A common mistake that foreigners make is that these are dwellings in their own right. Far from it. They’re almost all two-room bungalows, equipped with sofas, plenty of chairs and a kitchenette, purely for the purposes of hosting summer gatherings like the one Jesús held yesterday. The locals will pay regular visits to their campo, especially during harvest season when they’re more practical than pleasurable, but most of them would never stay in one. It’s simply not done. Would you sleep in the tool-shed?

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Jesús had invited a fair crowd, with an equal balance of Spaniards and guiris, the latter representing England, Wales and three American states. The Almendralejo crew, in all but name. I had the audacity to avoid them almost entirely last term, stopping by only twice, for fear of being sucked into an English-speaking failure of a year abroad (I speak enough English for my job). That was poorly done indeed. Quite unlike the infamous all-English compounds in many a Spanish town, the Almen lot are very much half and half. As the most fluent of the guiris (a title the Spaniards themselves have given me and which I cherish above all other compliments), I get more than enough practice in my grandfather’s language as the ultimate go-between and little could make me happier.

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Although, that said, the copious offerings of grilled chorizo, crackling and manchego cheese on offer yesterday did a damned good job of it.

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No campo gathering would be complete without una vueltecita, or stroll. Jesús’ casa de campo is just off the Vía de la Plata, the lesser known northbound Camino de Santiago and the old road from Seville to the silver mines in the Asturias. We didn’t stroll particularly far, but then, you don’t have to; the Tierra de Barros is so vast and flat that you can see for miles in all directions. It’s hard to imagine when you compare it, but the village of Hornachos, sat astride the high Sierra which shares its name, is as far from Villafranca as Walmer is from Canterbury. Twenty seven kilometers, or fifteen miles, there or thereabouts. And you can see one from the other. It’s that flat.

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We didn’t find any unicorns (don’t ask) but we did find two very excitable dogs and an emu. And a characteristically gorgeous sunset over the olive trees.

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Andalucía, that dusky southern beauty, might have stolen my heart years ago, but honest Extremadura is doing her hardest to win me over and very nearly succeeding. If I end up returning to this land of endless steppe, of Kings and buses named after Zeus’ lovers and home of quite possibly the hardiest of all of Spain’s assistants (I maintain that you have to be at least a few screws loose to choose Extremadura as your home for a year), it wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

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Carnaval is coming, but it’s not here yet, and before that yawns our second five-day weekend; the best we get by way of a ‘holiday’ besides Christmas and Easter compared to the French assistants (a necessary sacrifice, I suppose, for being in a superior country). I’ll sign off before the Spanish blood in me goes to my head. BB x

A Dearth of Music

I have to confess, the absence of YouTube in my life is doing me wonders. But it comes with a cost: the main reason I use it, for browsing music old and new, is sorely missed. Villafranca de los Barros is supposedly the ‘City of Music’. In all honesty, you’ll find more music variety in Lloyds’ Durham on a Wednesday night.

Ever since the sequence of events in February 2015 that saw my iPod disappear and reappear a month later, my laptop give out and the arrival of this highly portable but sadly much-desiring Chromebook – which is too feeble to support either my music library or even an iTunes account in the first place – my iPod’s music selection has been stuck on the stuff I had loaded onto it from January this year. All the music I’ve discovered since, from the Moroccan beach-town hostels to my music-concert escapades in Jordan, has to be consigned to memory instead. Which is fine, but as music is such an important part of my life, it’s a little tragic. I’m not umbilically attached to my iPod by any means, but on Mondays and Wednesdays when I’m faced with an hour of mutinous six-year old Spaniards, it really is an essential piece of my arsenal to go in armed with at least five minutes’ listening to my Africa playlist, or my Super-Hyper-Motivator playlist, or what-have-you. It keeps me smiling. It’s like a more short-range and portable form of meditation.

But I’m limited to what I knew in January 2015 – which is obviously the bulk of my music, that’s a given, but music’s a transitive thing; more often than not, it’s the more recent tunes that I want in my ears, and not the old classics – though they surprise me anew and anon with Shuffle on. The Rite of Spring came up this morning and I listened to the whole thing from start to finish for the first time in a while. I’d quite forgotten how masterful the whole thing is – personal prejudice from growing up with Fantasia aside.

But it’s not just the listening I miss. It’s the performing. Bowing to the occasional whims of my students as a performing monkey isn’t the same. I miss singing and I miss the stage. Teaching is always on a kind of stage with all the spotlights on you, and so’s the dancing I tend to go in for, but it’s not the same. And that’s where my personal vendetta against ukuleles and guitarists comes in. You guys have it far too easy, and open mics are the ultimate test of proof. Unaccompanied singing just doesn’t work. I’m a singer before anything else (we’ll forget that I wandered away from Grade Six violin several years ago for now) but singing alone is more of a shower affair than a stand-up thing. Armed with a uke in hand or a guitar across your lap, you’re good to go. Me, I just feel like a fish out of water without the backing of a band or a chorus.

As such, I’ve only ever done one open mic. Shake Your Tailfeather a cappella. Never again.

There’s a Christmas concert coming up in a couple of weeks (in November… go figure) for which the music teacher and a small group of girls have asked me to help conduct/choreograph All I Want for Christmas Is You… Predictable, much. It’s the best I’m going to get for a while so I’m throwing myself into it, naturally, but just you wait until the bilingual schools’ intercambio here in February, for which we’re supposed to put on a show. I’ll be pulling out all the stops with some classics then, for sure. The only question is, do I go with Northern Lights or do I throw them some easier African numbers? Either way, I win. And either way, I’m going to end up tear-stained, as I dearly miss both my old gang and the feeling I used to get in every African Singing and Drumming performance. Jimminy Christmas, but I miss having music in my life. It’s the only killer of living in Spain. They’re big on their reggaeton, and of course there’s flamenco, but they just don’t get music in the same way. Or maybe that’s just me growing up in a family where both my parents were music teachers, and thus spending almost all twenty-two years of my life involved in one way or another in choirs, bands, musicals and orchestras of all descriptions.

On a positive note I’ve just been paid by one of my two jobs, which is a welcome relief in a time when the rest of the world (myself including) is still waiting on the all-important paycheck from the Ministry of Education, which may or may not be with us in arrears until Christmas, or so the horror stories go. I’m currently dreaming of where to go with both the time and money next August, as I’m not used to having both at the same time. Having the latter at all is a novelty, but together with time is a very new thing for me. The painful memories of the longest gap year with no job, no desire to obtain one and consequently barely a penny to my name are still vivid in my mind.

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Hooked on Africa

I’m currently hooked on the idea of backpacking in South Africa, which I’ve been toying with on-and-off for years. The first girl I ever dated was half-Afrikaner, which I suppose is where the obsession began in earnest, but it’s the music that’s the real draw. My mum and dad are of the opinion that I would be better served waiting for the Soweto Gospel Choir to tour a little closer to home if it’s the music I’m after, but I don’t see it that way. I miss the joy of the open road, the terror of nor knowing where I’m going to end up, the awkward encounters and the divine, and the host of colourful characters you meet along the way. In short, I miss a decent bit of travelling. All I have to do before August 2016 is to find somebody bonkers enough to want to come with. Not that I wouldn’t go alone, but it’d be a lot more fun with a friend. If you’re reading, dear companions, give it some thought!

I’ll leave you with the latest pox upon my heart, which is (of course) a Soweto number. I tell you, if it weren’t for my job, my degree and a certain gaditana, I’d up sticks right away and go straight to South Africa every time I hear this. Yours truly really is a bleeding heart, and if I’m not careful, it’ll be more than just my heart bleeding one day. BB x

Diamond in the Rough

This week started just about the same way as every week begins, with me waking up to the sound of my seven o’clock alarm, with the morning’s first class just an hour and a quarter away, and finding myself struck with the weekly conundrum that is ‘now, what am I going to teach today?’.

For the first three weeks I had some stellar lesson plans, but we’re filing into my fifth working week here now (I told you before, my observation week became my first teaching week) and my tried-and-true classes have come and gone. Four down, twenty-seven to go. Since in school I teach across the age-groups, from six to twenty-two, I have to split my material in half depending on their ability, which requires two new lesson plans each week. Not exactly a challenge, per se, especially when several of those are shared between groups, meaning it’s possible (and highly recommended) to recycle material; but it’s a weekly problem, after a weekend spent traveling, partying or what have you, that on Sunday night the question is always there on the tip of my tongue as I bed down for the night. What am I going to teach them today?

Today I thought I’d brave it and try literature on the kids. Foolhardy, I know, especially after my last attempt at sparking some creativity amongst the would-be dullards, but I’m not about to give up on them yet. To spark their interest – and since I’ve just spent most of the weekend reading the tale – I kicked things off by drawing a blackboard-sized Moby Dick on the board, complete with scars, harpoons and rigging. Most of them had heard of it, but understandably, none of them had actually read it.

Well, not quite. One of them had.

I did a little double-take at this and made him explain the plot to the class. The way he put it, in English, a language that is not his own, told the tale better than Herman Manville (personally, I found the text hard-going, turgid even, though the story itself was impeccable). Better yet, he beat me to it and cited Manville as the author. I thought I’d let him sit on his laurels for a while and ask the others for any books they’d read recently, but they just stared blankly at me, as though I’d asked them if they’d like to spend the rest of the day doing quadratics. Moby – the pseudonym I shall forthwith use for this very literate kid – had his hand up the whole time and went on to tell me about Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. That he had read them in translation is beside the point. This is a boy of fifteen who’s busy working his way through the classics.

As I was struggling to elicit some kind of interest from the rest of the class – who, as you might expect, were getting visibly bothered by Moby’s contributions – my colleague spent the hour taking notes of other writers that he might enjoy, amongst them Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens. One of Moby’s companions lost it and complained loudly that it was unfair that only Moby was talking. My colleague and I soundly brought him down a size by repeating that all I was asking for was a story any of them had read, and that as Moby was the only one who was willing to talk, they only had themselves to blame for their silence. I opened the floodgates a little by allowing them to tell me about a film or television series they might have seen, but on that inch they took a mile and missed the point completely; three accounts down the line I had to remind them that match reports, game shows and reality TV are not stories, and consequently didn’t count.

Pushed into a corner, one kid looked very chuffed to say he thought his favourite TV show, a Spanish version of Match of the Day, was far better entertainment than any book he’d ever read. Granted, he probably hasn’t read very widely – I hadn’t at his age – but for good measure I told him that a show where two obnoxious early retirees discuss what happened, what might have happened, what should have happened and what might happen next time in a football match for an entire hour could hardly be as entertaining as a decent read. I could have done worse, of course, but I held back. Most of it went over his head anyway, as it was supposed to. I’m not foolhardy enough to let my personal prejudices against the tedium that is the world of football discussion ruin my relationship with my students, who already know I’m none too keen on it.

As you might have guessed, I was getting pretty frustrated by this point. I’ve learned to mask it after a month of teaching these kids, but it’s still pretty galling when you ask a simple question and all you get in return is twenty-three gormless expressions. But Moby came back with the goods, stating that he hadn’t read any books in English yet, but that over Christmas he was going to try with Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. You’ve got to hand it to the kid; starting to read in a foreign language with Tolkein…? That takes guts. My parents are prolific readers and they can’t stand his writing, and sadly they’re not alone (though I, for one, can’t get enough of the stuff).

In the other establishment I work at there are several kids like Moby in every class; students who are well-read, well-cultured and whose English is streets ahead of their companions. It’s the norm in a private school. And teaching in both private and state has its merits. But kids like Moby make the state school experience so much more worthwhile, for all the challenges. Here is a boy who, despite everything, is working his way through the literary greats for the pure pleasure of it, with his mind bent on attending university in Toronto of all places. It’s kids like Moby who remind me just why it is that I love teaching. Because for all the sour looks, disinterest and gossipping that goes on, when there’s at least one kid who’s shining with promise there’s a reason to go on. Obviously you can’t cater to that one child alone – if it were that simple, everyone would want to be a teacher, I think – but as long as you know that what you’re dealing is going towards somebody’s personal development, that’s reward enough for all your travails.

As for me, I’ve got a fair amount of catching up to do. Moby Dick was this weekend’s read; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Robinson Crusoe await, along with Allan Quatermain (after a two-month hiatus). Maybe I’ll recommend King Solomon’s Mines to Moby when I next get the chance. It’s certainly one of my favourites. BB x

The Trouble with WhatsApp

By the time this blog post reaches you, it’ll have been several hours since I finished writing this article. In a world where so much of what we do is instant, from long-distance communication to microwaveable dinners, it’s both painful and exhilarating to be stuck on what seems like a desert island in the wavestorm. Perhaps even a little rebellious, too. So, in a way, quite a bit like sex. But what do I know?

I’m currently living in a very comfortable two-bedroom flat on the edge of town, just a three minute walk from school and a seven minute walk to the nearest supermarket. During the week I share it with a flatmate some ten years older than me who returns home to his family every weekend, leaving the flat all to me if I’m not traveling. That’s just to give you some background detail. We agreed early on that there wasn’t much point in getting internet for the flat, despite his having access to a discounted deal, as we have no mainline phone, but chiefly because there’s free internet whenever we want it at school.

That means one thing: I live under a communication curfew. When school finally shuts its doors at half past nine, I’m off the grid until the following morning.

To my knowledge there are two other WiFi access points in town, if you don’t count all the cafés and bars: there’s the hotspot in the town park, and the WiFi service operated by the town’s youth hostel. I’ve been leeching off both for the last month, but neither are reliable. The park is a very hit-and-miss affair; sometimes there’s WiFi, sometimes there isn’t. Usually, there isn’t. The albergue is normally operational, but it’s a longer walk, and you have to be inside the front door to get a good signal, and that just looks plain suspicious. Which it is. I only play that card these days if I’m out of all other options and really need to contact somebody.

The crux of the matter is that I’m leading a largely internet-free existence. I’m not fully weaned of the system by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve taken the first few steps.

For one thing, YouTube no longer dominates my spare time the way it used to. I haven’t even accessed YouTube since I left England some four weeks ago. Nor do I have the option to spend hours trawling Facebook for whatever reason I used to do so. And since nobody out here ever uses SMS – this is a world where WhatsApp has well and truly taken over – my contact with the outside world is limited to an average of an hour a day: which, when you think about it, is still more than what you need. In an hour you can send and reply to a few messages, check your emails, Google a query that might have been troubling you and still have time to check the news. Anything more than that is unnecessary.

The trouble, as I’ve already mentioned, is WhatsApp. The whole world seems to turn on it, and Spain in particular has taken a really obsessive shine to it. All communication happens through WhatsApp. ‘Join our WhatsApp group’, ‘envíame una WhatsApp’, ‘don’t bother with Facebook, I haven’t checked mine in weeks, message me on WhatsApp’… I hear the same lines every day, unfailingly echoed word for word, like quotes from a cult film. It seems to be the only way people keep in touch, both personally and professionally. Even my colleagues among the staff have their own WhatsApp group, which swamps me with some three hundred new messages each time I’m back in wireless range. I asked a class to guess how many messages they send a day – upon investigation, every single one has both a smartphone and WhatsApp – and got the answer five hundred. As an absolute minimum.

I don’t know whether it’s the same in England, because I never could get WhatsApp on my old phone, so I never bothered. It’s an undercurrent I’ve done without thus far. And I don’t know whether, like Facebook, eBooks and Instagram, I’ll get sucked into the mire like everyone else in time, but I hope not. Face-to-face conversation is so much more worthwhile, worth waiting for. Surely there’s no need to go on talking into the small hours, firing round after round of thumbs-up, smileys, voice clips and the rest of the arsenal? I’m a very chatty bean when I want to be, but only if I’ve anything worth saying – small talk is something I’ve never really mastered, let alone understood – and anything worth saying is worth saying face-to-face. Cue Thumper: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all’.

The hypocrisy of my argument is this blog, of course. But as I said before, these posts are usually conversations with myself more than informative insights – as well as being my university job.

I thought I’d broach the subject because I had a particularly fulfilling debate with my Seniors class on this and other subjects last week. I had them explain to me the Spanish attitude to the online world and their stance on the blight of WhatsApp. They’re all well and truly connected, but they were at least able to recognize the foolishness of it. A few observations from my students, for the record:

  • Facebook is for older people. (This is notable because that’s how it was, once upon a time, in the UK, before it became a social staple for everybody from eleven and up.)
  • Instagram is only for artistic photos, not for food. (Preach.)
  • Checking in should be solely a holiday feature, if you ever use it.
  • WhatsApp is a problem, but it’s unavoidable – and cheaper than SMS.

In my internet-free evenings, I’m getting a lot more done than I used to. I’m reading more. I’m writing more. I’m even watching the odd film on TV. The news suddenly means a lot more to me, now that I’m not getting it ticker-tape-style every second. And the conversations I have with the people I live and work with on a daily basis are so much more entertaining for the silence between each encounter. News is fresh and comes in a wave, and I enjoy that. It’s a hermit life, but I’ve always been rather partial to that kind of existence.

Please don’t take this as a holier-than-thou condemnation of the rest of the world. I’m the one at fault, the Luddite, the Philistine; as usual, it’s probably yet another case of ‘it’s not the rest of the world, it’s you’. (More’s the fool I am for having left my weekly shop to a Sunday, when everywhere is shut… Tch. Catholic countries. Looks like lentils and rice for dinner once again…) What it is is a welcome break from the year abroad whines and shines that we’re all bombarding you with right now, though you might read it as a wake-up call to myself and others as well, before we’re all swamped by the touch-talk phenomenon of the twenty-first century… if you’re so inclined.

If you made it all the way to the end of this tirade, all I can say is I admire your stamina, and thank you for your patience – I had quite a lot to get off my chest! I’ll leave the musing and tell you all about this past weekend’s adventures as soon as I find a way of getting my photos off my old SLR. In the meantime, I’ll reward your endurance by giving you a final insight into something sweeter.

This coming weekend I’m finally returning to my old hometown of Olvera, some nine years after I left for England for good. I can’t wait to see my old friends again, as I was still a child when last I saw them, but there’s one in particular I’d dearly like to see. She was a good friend, and one of the only ones I haven’t yet got back in touch with, for whatever reason. But I’m saving all nine years of stories for when I see her, like something out of the fairy tales I spend my life writing. It’s childish, foolish and more than a little bit wet, but it’s a damned sight more real than a buzz in your pocket. That is the reality of it, and that’s this year’s big project: breaking free. BB x

And the Manacles are Off

It’s over, at last! After almost a month of to-and-froing between school, the ayuntamiento and the Almendralejo police station, I have a Spanish bank account and the admin period is finally at an end. Alright, so there’s still some confusion over whether I really need a Spanish social security number and I’m not entirely sure how to top up my phone since it isn’t compatible with its own network app, but the most important stage (and one that, by the sounds of things, the other assistants accomplished weeks ago) is done and dusted.

So what better way to celebrate than with a little travel?

You see, I adore traveling. I’m sure I didn’t need to tell you that, but I feel like in the three weeks I’ve been here I’ve never had the chance to get out. Not for want of opportunity, of course, but I told myself right at the beginning that I wasn’t to go traveling until I’d finished all the paperwork. That was supposed to be before my (abortive) training course in Cáceres on 1st October. Well, now it’s the 16th. But that’s ok. Villafranca feels like home now, I’ve christened it with my first stupidly long walk, and I have to say I’m quite enjoying being ‘El Inglés’. But I’ve waited long enough, and now here I am in the Plaza Alta in Badajoz, enjoying a ración of some seriously high-quality croquetas as the city wakes up for the night.

A paltry three and a half euros took me all the way to Mérida, the regional capital of Extremadura. It’s also minuscule compared to Badajoz and Cáceres, for which the two provinces of Extremadura are named, which means you can get around the place in a couple of hours. I didn’t plan on staying long, since I only intended to use the city as a launch-pad for getting to Badajoz – there’s only one bus direct from Villafranca and it leaves at nine in the morning – but, as is so often the way of things, Mérida turned out to be a whole lot more than a collection of pristine Roman ruins.

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At first glance it looks a lot like Córdoba, with the Roman bridge and the great big river splitting the old town from the new. But then, so does Badajoz. It’s missing the beauty of the mosque, of course, but then, Córdoba is and always will be in a league of its own. What it does have is a spectacular aqueduct on the north side of town. If you see any photos of Mérida, it’s bound to feature in more than one of them. Unlike the one in Segovia the city gave it breathing space and there’s a park around it now, but that hasn’t stopped the storks from taking advantage of all those convenient flat-topped towers.

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Ah, but I can do better than that. It took me almost half an hour to cross the Roman bridge over the Guadiana this morning, not because of its length – you can span it in five minutes or less at a stride – but because I was held up by two of my favourite little riverside friends, both of them easy to spot because of all the noise they were making.

I haven’t been to Doñana National Park almost every year for the last seven years for nothing, and when I heard a distinctly disgruntled grunting cutting over the babble of an approaching horde of school kids, I was hanging over the side of the bridge and scanning the reeds in a flash; and sure enough, there he was. Old Longshanks himself.

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What can I say? Gallinules. Love ’em. Loved the ridiculous things since I first saw a picture of one in a book. The name’s daft enough – Purple Swamp-Hen, in full – but the feet are something else.

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I don’t know why I make such a big deal about gallinules over anything else, but they’ve always been the ultimate Doñana bird for me. Perhaps it’s because it’s basically a giant purple chicken. Mm, close enough.

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Feathered friend number two should be a lot more familiar to most of you. He’s also rather colourful, but a heck of a lot smaller and shinier to boot. And once you know what they sound like, you’ll see a lot more of them. It’s a kingfisher, of course!

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At least, I hope you know what a kingfisher is. Nobody here does. Not even if I give them the equally impressive Spanish name of martin pescador.

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I’m still waiting on that perfect kingfisher photo. The one everyone wants: wings spread wide, water droplets falling from a dive, fish in beak etc. but until that moment, they’re always a pleasure to watch.

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Everybody else was walking on by and doubtless wondering who that young loony was in the maroon hoodie-and-chinos combo with the ridiculous lens, hanging half over the bridge, but hey, I was having a good time. That’s my idea of a morning well spent, anyway.

Sheesh, long post. My travelogues usually are. Badajoz is rather beautiful, and if my right thigh weren’t still punishing me for that 45km cross-country hike last weekend, I’d probably be enjoying it more. I could do with a rest. It’s a lot bigger than Mérida and I had to double the distance when it turned out that the albergue I had in mind was a school groups affair. I was accosted outside by three young girls who asked me if I wanted a blowjob and called out ‘oyé, feo’ and ‘mochila verde’ after me when I ignored them. Then I tried taking a shortcut through the park into the Alcazaba, but shortcuts do tend to make long delays, and in this case the road came to a sudden and unexpected end. The door was there alright, but the road… wasn’t.

The adventures never end! Left the restaurant to soak up the night in the square and a wandering troupe of musicians asked me for directions to the ayuntamiento. I pointed them in the right direction, but their leader deduced that I clearly wasn’t from Badajoz. Back atcha, tío; ‘I’m from Villafranca de los Barros’. ‘Villafranca?! Hombre, somos de Ribera!’ (the next town along from VdB). It’s a small world. And I’ve just noticed that I missed a major performance from the best gypsy musicians of Badajoz at the theatre tonight. Only two doors down from the hostel, as well. Rats. I’ll be back.

I’d better call it a night there and head on back to the hostel. I might try for sunrise over the Guadiana after this evening’s gorgeous Portuguese sunset. On a final note, I had the happiest moment of the month on the road to Badajoz when I saw, in the distance, a giant V-flock of some one hundred and twenty cranes on their way south. It’s only the very moment I’ve been waiting for, the first true sign of winter in Extremadura. I was practically jumping out of my seat, I was so happy.

The photo hardly does it justice, so I’ll go hunting for them some other time when I’m not stuck on a bus. But that’s an adventure for another day. BB, which may or may not stand for Bird-Brain amongst other things, signing out x

Shrinking World

I got my new timetable last night, first from the Carmelitas, then from my own school. The end result, as of a few last-minute additions this afternoon, is a twenty-two-hour working week. Not a truckload by regular working standards, but the longest by a yard in my working life so far, and a world away from the twelve-hour maximum we had dangled in front of our faces at the first British Council meeting. So much for that holy four-day weekend! I’m lucky enough to have clung on to three days of freedom, and I had to stick out my neck for that. At the very least they let me have Friday off instead of Monday, which gives me quite a few more days off in the long run, though navigating back to Villafranca on a Sunday is going to cause some headaches, mark my words. Still, I signed up for the back end of nowhere and that’s where they put me. At the very least I’ll not be getting bored here. I don’t have time to get bored. And I haven’t even started on any of the music groups yet…
But hey, there’s thirty kids who now know what a loon is, what it sounds like, and consequently why we say ‘as mad as a loon’. That was an icebreaker and a half.

Teaching at both a state school and a private school gives me the opportunity to take a look into both worlds, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how very different they are. My main obstacle with the state school kids is getting them to be quiet. Their English is good, but they quickly revert to their mother tongue for argument’s sake. Conversely, my private school pupils have a very high level of English, but they just won’t talk. And in primario, it’s every man for himself. I’m expected to take those classes alone, so it’s a biweekly war with a small army of Spaniards in the making, shouting everything and everybody demanding attention at the same time. The one thing they all have in common is the inevitable ‘do you have a girlfriend?’ interrogation, to which the answer has reduced from ‘not anymore’ and ‘not yet’ to a simple ‘no’. It’s easier that way. It doesn’t stop them changing tack and asking ‘what about boyfriend?’, but hey, at least that’s as far they go. One kid in primario had a particularly unfortunate way of phrasing it this afternoon – are you gay or “normal”? – which I tried to rectify as best I could, Catholic school or no, but I guess it went over his head. On the plus side, I haven’t been hit on by a guy for several months now. It must be a new record. Maybe I’m doing something right! That, or I simply haven’t been going out. Probably the latter.

I’m now in the curious position where I find myself teaching across every conceivable age group, from the rowdy little tykes in primario right the way up to people my own age in grado superior; and then, of course, there’s the private classes for adults in the afternoons on top of that. Teaching kids and adults is one thing, but with students your own age it’s an odd feeling. I guess the real catch is that in a town as small as Villafranca (I remind you that, by my standards, it’s still pretty massive) the chance of getting to know anybody on a non-professional basis is rather slim. I bumped into some of the girls I teach whilst out walking last week and they were adamant that they were going to find me a girlfriend in Villafranca. The trouble is, where does one draw the line? Because, like as not, anybody roughly my age in this town who I don’t teach (a number which shrank even more this afternoon) probably has a sibling I do teach, and that makes things rather complicated. I wouldn’t say no to a Spanish girlfriend – sheesh, who would? – but it’s easier said than done. The auxiliares in Almendralejo, the nearest city, don’t have this problem, as there are plenty of young people there for the job prospects on offer, but here it’s a family town, like I said before. And I’m still very much in that mindset of ‘absolutely no fraternization with the students outside of class’, as I had drummed into me in my last teaching job last summer. Which means if I want to meet people my own age, I’d better check out Almendralejo.

Here at least, I’ve had a stroke of luck. There is another auxiliar placed here in Villafranca, though like more rational minds than mine she chose to base herself in Almendralejo. A bright and beaming button of a Texan. I must have gone berserk speaking English with a native speaker at last after almost two weeks without doing so, but she bore it patiently enough and gave me an insight into Almen life. Apparently there’s a nightlife scene. Who knew? I was beginning to forget what nightlife is. And yes, they abide by Spanish hours; ergo, a far more rational 11pm until 6am mentality. That, at least, makes the possibility of a night out in Almendralejo feasible, as far as buses are concerned, though it’d probably knock out a whole weekend in the process.

All in all it’s been a pretty long day at the office. Those 8:15am starts are very hard on the eye but I’m simply going to have to get used to them. It’s largely thanks to them that I have Friday off. Monday isn’t the longest slog – that’s Wednesday, from 8:15am until 6:30pm with one hour for lunch – but it’s certainly one of the more mixed. I teach a bilingual gestión y acogida class in the morning (essentially, life skills: interviews, CVs etc), then a mid-teens 3º ESO, then I have twenty minutes to walk to the other school and mentally prepare for the chaos of a class of six-year olds, after which I get a free lunch from the nuns (probably the best part of the job) and return to take my final class of the day, a private school version of 3º ESO, before hopping down the road to my private class with my lawyer friend. And thus is a light day.

It’s bonkers. Good bonkers, paid bonkers, but bonkers nonetheless. It’s like last year, but without the music. That’ll come, you just watch. It’s the only thing I’m genuinely missing right now (I sang through the entire Northern Lights set when I was home alone yesterday, until the neighbour told me to shut up. Oops.

So there you have it. Busy, busy, busy – but I’m never truly happy if I’m not truly busy, that’s what I always say! Yet another example of yours truly not knowing when to shut up. So here’s BB, shutting up. BB x