Lost in Transit

Snail drinking raindrops
Be who you are and do what you do


It’s terrible for me to leave these long silences here.

Every day there are words streaming through my head and I want to write them down and to send out a message to you. It is so interesting to be living through this shift in life direction.

I want to tell you about it but…….

These times of change and uncertainty have brought with them great  self doubt and a strange inability to verbalise what is happening.

Normally when I am lost I use words as guide ropes to lead me back home.

Words can help you understand your experiences but sometimes they seem to be a distraction.  I write and delete, write and delete. Words form on the page and a few minutes later they seem irrelevant.

Writing at times like this is like trying to grasp the wind. What is true in one moment has changed as soon as I have written it down.  Like birds that settle on the branch just long enough to catch my attention but when I try to get close, they fly away.

Of course all this makes me quite anxious. For three weeks now I have had pain in my lower back which makes it hard to do the physical jobs that need doing. There is a constant knot of tension in my stomach. I woke today about 3.30am with all systems alert and slightly panicky.

I am home and yet feel lost and alone.

I have often advised people to let themselves be in these moments of crisis without fighting or trying to escape. To accept the need to rest when your body seems to fall apart. If you can’t write – then don’t write. If you feel vulnerable and self-conscious amongst people  – then spend time alone. If you can’t do the garden, paint the house, unpack boxes, clean windows – then do nothing for a while.

But it’s not easy to follow this advice. I know that. It means trusting that life will move on by itself, without my pushing it, and that in time I will feel better. Words will flow and things will get done.  Being with people will feel easy again and I will be able to lift and carry and eat without thinking of my back or my stomach.

This morning I watched a snail crawl up the window beside my bed. There were raindrops from last nights storm and as she moved so gracefully and effortlessly up the glass, she seemed to drink each water drop that she encountered. She didn’t go looking for it, but accepted what was there.

I thought how badly we treat snails and how beautiful they are when seen through glass, against the backdrop of wild flowers and a new day.  For those moments she gave me the ability to just be present, in touch with the miracle of life in all its forms.

When you can’t write exactly what you want – write something anyway.

When you don’t know if anyone is there who wants to read it – write anyway.

When you haven’t got a clue what is happening – write something anyway and let it go.

Photographs and words are all ways we try to grasp the wind and so in part they are bound to fail, but at the same time, they give form to something that is utterly intangible – life.

5 ways I have changed since moving to Catalunya

Have you ever dreamed of moving to a new country and leaving behind, not only your job,  home and familiar life, but also your old personality?

I know I am shy and retiring but perhaps there’s a wild cat inside?

You want to escape the old you or at least the parts of you that are so tiresome and boring and repetitive and hard to change.

Old thought patterns and habits that hold you back in life.  Shyness, timidity, irritability, obsessiveness, laziness, the list goes on.   Perhaps the only thing that will jolt you awake is a total change of scenery.  The challenges of a new country and the need to start afresh might reveal parts of your personality hitherto unexplored!

I moved to Barcelona with some hopes like these.  I am naturally shy and too self conscious especially when I am with strangers.  I react badly to criticism and am over-sensitive when I feel rejected.  I want to be spontaneous but tend to over-plan everything I do.

I had noticed that Mediterranean people seem to be more confident, outgoing, social, expressive, straight talking, emotional, spontaneous…….. I wanted some of that.  I hoped to discover those parts hidden deep in my own psyche and to find a new me!

So what has changed in the 5 years since I moved here?

1. I now find it hard to eat without a napkin although I never needed one before.

People here always use napkins – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now when eating in the UK I start to twitch and look around me anxiously when there is nothing to wipe my fingers and mouth on. Even when I don’t use a napkin, I want it to be there beside my plate.

2. I turn out lights.

My partner is very concerned about lights being left on and not a day passes without this conversation:-

Him: “Do you need this light on?”

Me: “Yes”

Him: “So why do you have one on in the hall/bathroom/sittingroom/bedroom as well?”

Me: “Because I am moving between rooms”

But I find that now when I go back to the UK I am hyper-aware of people lighting up their houses  like Christmas trees and I too go around turning off lights. Even in Granollers, I try not to have more than two rooms lit.  I can’t leave a light on without being conscious of it.

3. I eat fruit and vegetables only when they are in season

If they are imported – I don’t.  I now can’t buy grapes all year round. I rarely buy kiwis, I don’t expect to have peaches or nectarines except in June and July. Shopping in fresh produce markets has made this change in me.   The wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables that are available here make it seem ridiculous to buy imported stuff.

4. I now drink UHT milk in my tea without making a big deal of it

I too used to complain “you can’t get a proper cup of tea in France/Spain/Italy because the milk isn’t fresh.”  Now I don’t notice it and I even quite like the fact that our milk lasts so long and that we can store lots of packs of it in the cupboard.

5. I have changed when and how I eat.

I still have breakfast of toast and porridge, but then there is a long gap before lunch which we sometimes eat as late as 4pm. Supper may not happen until 9.30pm or even later. We eat a large lunch and something smaller later.  It works for me and feels good for my stomach.

And what about the deeper changes I hoped for?

Have I become a more confident, outgoing, social, expressive, straight talking, emotional, spontaneous person?

This is hard to say.  I certainly do have more confidence and am less self conscious. I don’t mind being the stranger in town.  I can talk with people who I don’t know and in two different languages. I always was affectionate and because people here kiss and hug and touch each other more often,  it is easier for me to do this too.  I have learned many  new things but am basically still the same person underneath, just a bit older and a lot wiser.

And I have taught myself to shout out “Bravo” and “Molt Be” when the marathon passes!

Have you ever dreamed of moving abroad and starting afresh with a new you?

Perhaps you already made the move and found the ‘old you’ came along too?

I’d love to hear about you.  If you have changed your spots by moving home or if you’d like to,  leave a comment and tell me what happened.

Thanks for coming to read this post – I hope you’ll come back soon!  If you want to stay in touch then Like my Catalan Way Facebook page at the top right of this post or sign up for regular updates.

Till the next one, best wishes from Catalunya and from me, Kate



I need to change so many things

January is whizzing by.

Already it is Burn’s night and I feel my feet aren’t touching the ground at the moment as I suddenly have so much to do.

Last  year I had the opposite problem. I spent far too much time sitting at home alone, chatting on Skype and reading Facebook messages. I was keeping busy but also marking time, waiting.

My need to change has grown slowly but now the process has taken off.

Last year I  made some decisions which will make this year a bit different from the previous ones I have spent in Catalunya.

1. I am planning to walk the Camino from Roncevalles to Santiago de Compostella.  500 miles!  This means I should be in training – now!  But although I am reading guide books and making lists of what to take, I have to admit I am not yet doing the walking that will get me fit in time for April.

2. I decided last summer that I must change my house situation.   I still have a home in Cornwall which is rented out. But it’s not ideal because although I go back in the summer and camp out in a chalet, I don’t have anywhere to stay when it turns cold.  What’s more, I spend much of my time in Catalunya wondering where to live and wishing that I had a garden and a proper home but the truth is I do have those things – in Cornwall.  It feels like I must sort this out – either use the Cornwall house or let it go.

Decision time.

3. This blog has already changed because  last year I made the switch to WordPress and bought the domain name for The Catalan Way.   After that I didn’t know how get the blog out into the world so that interested people could see it.   Again my need to change was very urgent but I didn’t have the know-how to take action.  Then a friend told me about an online blogging course run by Corrina Gordon-Barnes and I decided to invest in this.  What is the point of all this writing if hardly anyone sees it?  The course began in January and I am now in the process of looking at why I write, who am I writing for and what do those people want to read?

You are reading this so I am interested in you. What do you want to read?

This year started with a lot of new ideas and plans circling around in my head.

As well as all the above:-

I want to get involved in the local dog and cat rescue centre.  Since Bonnie died I miss being around dogs and while I am not ready to adopt a new one, I want to do something to help.

Since we moved my piano into our main house I have been trying to practice every day. Still plugging on with the Maple Leaf Rag.

Then there is meditation and yoga. And Spanish lessons. Catalan practice over a coffee once a week with a friend.

I also spend time with Lydia, my friend’s little girl. It is incredible that I had to wait until age 57  but this is the first time in my life that I have had chance to really get to know a small child.  Meeting twice a year isn’t enough – it’s the day to day things that bring you together.

I’m also taking photographs of Granollers for my Facebook page.  It has become an obsession, walking the streets and looking for quirky details.

And then there are the balnearis – I want to visit them all and then write a guide in English.  They are so amazing and not enough people know about them.  How many people go to Barcelona and have no idea about the hot mineral bathes only 30 km away?

Are you tired just reading all that?

Perhaps I have taken on too much?  But I don’t want to give any of it up. Suddenly I feel that time is not on my side and I don’t want to waste it.

Perhaps you will notice the posts here will change a bit over the next few months.  I’ll be experimenting with my writing. Please let me know what works and doesn’t work for you.  Gently, of course!

From the end of March I will be sending updates on my walk along the Camino. I will only have a phone so they will be short and sweet!  It will be good to keep in touch as, apart from a few etapes when friends are joining me, I will be walking alone.  Am I scared?  Yes.

And then in the summer, who knows?  I certainly don’t.

All I can do is follow an inner voice that is telling me it is time to sort out my own house.  I want to change and I need to change.  I imagine that after all this thinking and planning, walking the Camino, walk-eat-sleep, will be quite restful.


The Crazy Stepmother from Hell

There are so many changes to adapt to when you move to another country that sometimes it is hard to know where or who you are.
But for me the most challenging thing has been without doubt the change from childless independent woman to evil step-mother.
I had to create another blog to write about that as it has been a steep learning curve and I needed to create a safe place to explore many difficult feelings and experiences.  I was trying so hard to be nice – yet getting in touch with terrible anger and even hatred. If you want to read about people facing difficult emotions then go and read online Stepparent Forums. Noone prepares you for what it is like in reality and there are a lot of people suffering out there and often blaming themselves.

I went through an interesting process today, out walking Bonnie in the park and mulling things over as usual.  I felt myself shift from tired beaten down victim who wants to run away……. to someone who could stand up for herself and fight her corner. I don’t like fighting – surely people can just be nice to each other?  Can’t they?  Well, sometimes that just isn’t going to happen.

Here’s the story.

Don’t Judge
If you have never been a stepparent please don’t judge what I tell you. It is nothing like being a parent – it is much more complicated and in my opinion, harder. And being a stepmother is not the same as being a stepfather. Those fairy tales weren’t joking – stepmothers have a raw deal and it’s no wonder they can get murderous.
In the beginning
I came onto the scene when the boy was 14 – entering adolescence. I have never known him as a normal child.  Never seen him being loving or entertaining or cuddly like small boys can be.  I have no memories of his eyes lighting up when he sees me, nor of him running to me for a hug when he is hurt. I arrived for the worst bit without any shared happy history.  We haven’t been through a bonding experience like mothers and babies do from the beginning
He hates me
I didn’t expect that.
I probably arrived with absurd notions about parenting.  I don’t have my own children and I had no experience at all of what is involved in being a step-parent.  None of my friends had step children and I have never had a step family myself.  I now know that of course a child will hate the person who intrudes into their home and takes away attention from them.
Whatever the original parental relationship was like, it had one strong common bond – The Child.
I arrived and although I wanted to make a relationship with The Child, he didn’t want one with me. His survival does not depend on me and in fact I am an obstacle in his life. I come between him and his father.
He is a boy so doesn’t express his emotions.  He tolerates me so long as I don’t get in his way. But if I come between him and his desires then it becomes obvious. He hates me.
Obviously we have an added difficulty in that we don’t share the same language. Luckily for me he speaks quite good English and I quickly decided to only speak that with him. If I struggle to talk in Spanish or even worse Catalan, it puts me in a very inferior position and he has even less respect for me than he does already.  He is an expert at the raised eyebrow, the silent putdown.
For the first year our main meeting point was the dinner table where he and his father spoke in Catalan and I sat in grumpy silence, trying to understand what was going on.
I actually learnt a lot of Catalan in those days as the conversations were fairly repetitive. Food. School. Homework. That sort of thing.
There were many times when I was totally lost about what was happening as he spoke with his father about plans or trips or events or, more often than not, things that he wanted to have.  Of course he used to turn on me if I intervened and sneer ‘you don’t know what we are talking about so mind your own business’.
Language also affects how I relate to his friends. It is awkward enough talking with monosyllabic teenagers but I am at a great disadvantage as I can’t be natural and chat and joke in a light manner. Usually they ignore me and talk with his father. If I say something I see terror in their eyes –  I might suddenly burst into English and they might have to answer.
I am told he is a normal adolescent. If that means lying, being rude, swearing a lot, missing school, not doing any homework, refusing to help in the house, stealing money and using our credit cards, playing online poker, looking at food on his plate and saying he won’t eat that shit, not showering without being paid, never cleaning his teeth and spending ALL his awake home time on the computer or mobile phone, then yes, he is a normal adolescent.
If mothers always get the blame then what about stepmothers?
My partner’s family complained that I wasn’t playing the mother role in the house. Perhaps it was a compliment that they thought me capable of mothering someone who had so little desire to be mothered.  And in what way was I qualified for this important job?  Just because I am a woman?
Did they think I could make everything better?    This was actually quite an interesting introduction into mother-blame.  Never having been a mother before I hadn’t understood quite how crazy with rage this sort of thoughtless stupid remark can make you.

So, this morning I was walking, mumbling to myself about how I can’t live one more moment with someone who doesn’t want me in their life, who doesn’t like me and who sometimes actively hates me when ……..

….suddenly I received some help from the ethers.
I realised that I am much stronger than I believe.
How can I be so scared of a 17 year old baby who has no money, inadequate social skills, not very good job prospects and at the moment, no qualifications?
I have a bad habit of feeling small and vulnerable and getting stuck in despair but of course there is a part of me that is tough as boots. I just need to remember it!
Years ago I  took an intensive five year survival course in character building at the school of bad relationships when I was in love with someone with borderline personality syndrome.  After that brush with madness (and I am talking about my own there), surely a stroppy, selfish, lazy, rude and spoilt adolescent should be a doddle in the park?

PS I can’t say often enough that if you have never been in this situation then you can’t know what it is like. I used to believe that stepmothers should be patient and understanding and loving and mature. Stepchildren have often been through horrible family breakups and need help not negativity. 

But that was before I actually lived this situation.  We are only human and adolescents can be bitingly cruel and cleverly manipulative.  And deep down, they don’t want you there.  Yes they may be wonderful people underneath but sometimes it takes a saint or a doormat to stay loving and open.  Birth parents find it hard enough but they have a magic potion called unconditional love flowing in their veins. We are expected to be good parents without any help – magical or from society.  Add to this the language and cultural differences and perhaps you can see what I am talking about.

Two Dogs

Two dogs – Border Collies

lived all their lives in Cornwall

until they moved to Catalunya

when they were 15

and 9

they swam in the Mediterranean
slept in the sunshine

scoured the rocks for discarded sandwiches

with a new companion who shared this interest
One overcame her fear of strangers
and fell in love all over again

And the other found her legs could walk further and further
taking her to places – she’d never been before

(as I typed that she jumped onto the sofa without a  worry)