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.

Light at the end of the Tunnel

Last week I had a bad cold and stayed in bed for a few days.

Then on Saturday night I couldn’t resist going to Barcelona as planned, to see my friend Cristina and to watch the show Fira at the Ateneu de Nou Barris.

I wrapped up warm and we went in the car. It was my first trip out since getting sick.

The show  was good. Not brilliant but fine. I have seen more circus performances and clowns and acrobats since I have lived here than ever before in my whole life put together.  One of the women acrobats was quite amazing – her balance was perfect and her centre so strong she seemed to fly through the air, defying gravity.  I allowed myself a very brief fantasy that I could have done this if I had kept up with gymnastics and ballet when I was young.  The theatre was hot and I was sweaty and thirsty so  when the performance  finished so we stayed on for drinks in the large bar IMG_3999 There were lots of people. It was great to be back in Barcelona surrounded by a bit of night life.  The Ateneu of Nou Barris is quite a trendy place and we even saw David Fernandez,  the member for Parliament for CUP (Candidatura d’Unitat Popular)  a left wing independent party.

There were two DJs playing music and when they started putting on tracks from the 1960’s I suddenly had a huge burst of energy and started not only dancing but singing the songs.  It is amazing how one day you can be too ill to go downstairs to make a cup of tea and then 24 hours later a blast of energy from ‘who knows where’ courses through your body, almost lifting you off the ground with its power.

That in itself is amazing but for me what was wonderful was that I seemed to have sweated out or expelled along with the virus, my usual shyness and self consciousness.

I felt fine and I danced and sang without feeling silly at all. Something has shifted.  A good feeling.

So with this new healthier energy what am I doing?

The house has been decorated for Christmas. This is the first time I have done this here and it has made a big difference to how I feel at home. I love the lights of the Christmas tree and race downstairs every morning to switch them on. We needed light and here it is!

I have booked a Spanish lesson on the website Italki for Thursday afternoon. I want to improve my Spanish as well as Catalan so this is my first step in doing this.

I am going to do a blogging course in January.  After five years of doing it alone I want to get help.IMG_4090

And lastly a little story of supermarkets in Catalunya.

I went to Lidls today in search of mince pies (there were none) and faced my usual frustration at the cash desk.  It is not the custom here to help you pack your bags or even to wait until you have done it.  All my shopping was piling up quickly, waiting to be packed but the cashier wanted me to pay straight away. I know what would happen next – she would serve the other people in the queue and I would end up flustered and stressed trying to grab my things while they were trying to do the same.

So I said “No. I need to pack first then pay”

She said ” No. First you pay and then you can pack”

We were both smiling and it was friendly but we both spoke firmly.

I said “No. First we can pack my bags –  it will be quicker if you help me – and then I will pay”

And then she just started to pack my bags. There was no problem. No stress of an argument.   She wasn’t in a bad mood with me or even irritated.  I wondered at my own determination but also noticed that I had spoken firmly but without judgement or annoyance.  She could have said no and I would have left it there.

She thanked me at the end and I thanked her.

That is just one tiny fragment of my day but it seems that recently this sort of thing is happening more and more.  I think perhaps I am speaking out more freely, and saying more honestly what I think and feel.  I always wanted to do that but until now it took an enormous effort to get past the old blocks. That’s why I say, something has shifted and I think it might just be that some of those blocks have been moved out of the way.   When I don’t have to push past blocks I can say things so much more kindly and gently.

And if I have finally learned how to do that – then maybe there is hope for us all!



The Day I Fell into the River

A long time ago I went punting in Cambridge with some friends and a dog.

We took a picnic  and decided to moor up when we reached a quiet spot on the river. I was the most experienced punter and guided us with ease through crowds of tourists  being punted expertly by young students or whirling in giggling circles as their punt poles got stuck in the mud.

We saw a lovely place under a weeping willow and,handing the punting pole over to one of my friends, I grabbed the metal spike that would secure us to the bank and then did something really stupid.

I stepped onto the grassy bank with one foot while the other still stood on the punt.  You can imagine what happened next.

You are supposed to jump!

I was thinking this morning that my situation here in Catalunya has some similarities with that thoughtless action. Everything has been going  so well, I was confident and steering my course happily through life until,  suddenly and without warning my survival instinct deserted me and I tried to stand in two places at once, not realising that moving from one home to another requires that you make a leap of faith.

And here I am now, not at home in either place. I let go of all that was familiar and supportive in Cornwall and yet kept a firm grasp on my home there.  I still have that house even though someone else rents it.  My mind is partly there at all times, worrying about damp and storms, hoping the grass is cut and the roof is in place.  We go every summer and work hard doing what we can in a few short months only to leave it again and travel south.

Today here I am in Catalunya.   I have a home here  but it was never my own as I moved into my partner’s house when we began our relationship.  It has been in his family for generations.  How could it ever be mine?  Really I am like a long term lodger.  I worry endlessly about how to create a home here in Catalunya but am daunted by the idea of another place to take care of.

How much energy do I want to spend on maintaining houses?

Two of everything but not a home to call my own

Work, friendships, cars, home – I have two sets of each.  Endless keys, two mobile phones, two purses with different money and credit cards for each country.   Two doctors, two hairdressers, two beauticians for god’s sake!   My family are all in the UK but I have friends in both places.  In Britain I feel confident and strong – I know where to find an electrician,  I go to the doctor and it is easy to explain all my vague mid-life symptoms.  In Catalunya my daily life  is great and I enjoy it.  But there is the constant sensation that my feet are not on the ground.

Isn’t it a lovely dream?  New lover, a chance to learn two languages in another culture, Mediterranean food, sunshine, exciting places to explore.  Yes, it is a lovely dream

On the other side it has been a constant challenge. When I look back to my first years here I see how many ‘new’ things  I tried to assimilate in one big bite.

  • New relationship
  • Living with a man for the first time in ages
  • New family – being step mother to an adolescent was never on my fantasy list
  • Two new languages
  • New culture

Writing it like this makes it seem like a small thing.  I hear you say ‘hey, I could do that if I had the chance

But the reality for me was that it totally overwhelmed me.  I have had to lean hard on all my support systems.  I have never before used so much Skype, email, telephone.   This blog is part of my survival package.  Everything seemed so hard and yet I couldn’t decide if it was normal, or my fault, or that I was just in the wrong place.  And also I was happy so how could it be wrong?

It’s the indecision that creates the wobble

I stayed and tried harder, looking for every way possible to make myself a more flexible and accepting and patient person.   In the end I can see how much I have changed and matured in this process. I do feel stronger and brighter and happier and wiser.

But still I find myself hovering in this strange contorted position with one foot on the bank and the other on a moving object. I have certainly learned how to balance but it is not an easy place to be.

I have been here for five years now.  Isn’t it time that both my feet were together in one place.

There is a strange time warp just before you fall

Imagine that moment in the punt – that long moment when I realised I was in two places but fully committed to neither and that as the boat started to move away from the bank there was only one way to go.   It was a very long moment, one that seemed eternal as my mind took in the inevitable consequence that was about to take place. Arms flailing, throat letting out a visceral AHHHHHH,  on that day I fell in slow motion into the river.

And then surfaced again, laughing and laughing.

If it is time to fall then I am ready. My legs can’t hold out much longer!

Why do I write this here?

I am interested in the process of change in people’s lives and how they survive the stress and what they bring out of the experience.   I want to be as honest as possible about what has happened to me after moving to Catalunya.  In many ways I feel I have failed to thrive as I wanted to.   And yet I have gained things I never imagined were possible.  It has been much harder than I expected, much more challenging and I have felt insecure and anxious much of the time. Yet also much happier than I ever thought possible. Strange isn’t it?

If my experience is normal  then I want to write about it in case someone else finds it reassuring. And if in the end it is ‘just me’ then why hide it?

I made a list this morning of all the people I know who are incomers, foreigners, immigrants.  It was interesting to see that many of them arrived with an pre-existing partner or family.  They brought their own community.  Most of them created a new home  from scratch whether owned or rented.  Others who came alone often had a specific job to do or arrived with no intention of making this country a permanent home.

I only know one other person who moved country, changed language, started a new relationship, entered a step family situation and also lives in someone else’s home.  I know we have a lot of struggles in common.

My advice to anyone would be – if possible migrate in families or at least in pairs.  Prioritise your actual home and make sure it is at least half your own.  In this way you have solid ground under your feet and a safe place to gather strength when the inevitable challenges arise.



Walking to happiness in Menorca

We have been thinking of coming to Menorca for several years but the sticking point for me was how to get here with Bonnie. I read that the conditions on some of the ferries were very poor for travelling dogs with dirty cramped cages, times where you were not allowed access to the animals and in one story the cages were in a lower deck that was hot and noisy close to the engines.  I asked the ferry companies, wrote on travel forums and got in touch with people who live in the Balearics but the stories were mixed and in the end I never trusted that it would be comfortable for Bonnie so we didn’t come.

Now of course Bonnie is no longer with us so we decided to come to Menorca for Easter.

First the practicalities:

Balearia and Acciona-Trasmediterranea are the two ferry companies that take you between Barcelona and Menorca. 

We came out on Balearia to Ciutadella and will return from Mao on Trasmediterranea.  One of my tasks is to look for myself at the dog accommodation areas so that in the future I will know what to expect. You never know – one day I may be travelling again with a dog!

There were a lot of dogs on the crossing to Menorca. They were housed in portable cages in two different sizes. The cages were lined up on a small deck with an area for exercise which was protected by a roof but otherwise open to fresh air. The cages were basic and small and the area was not large and could be noisy if there was barking – which there was. But there seemed to be no restrictions on visiting and letting your dog out to sit with you in the exercise area. I was glad that Bonnie wasn’t having to travel there but I could imagine doing it with a younger dog. The journey is 10 hours so it could be stressful but it wasn’t impossible to imagine doing it.

We are staying in Ciutadella in a lovely flat lent to us by a friend of a friend. We were met at the harbour, given a key and a place to stay and a beautiful reminder of the ancient art of hospitality.  Both Greek and Celtic cultures are known for the sacred practice of hospitality to friends and strangers and it is alive and well in Menorca too. 

We are walking the Cami de Cavalls, exploring different parts of the island.
The beaches are sandy and clean

The water is an incredible turquoise

The path – which is for walkers and bicycles and horses – winds around the island and is well marked

There are cliffs

Sand dunes

And many beaches covered in seaweed

which the action of the wind and the water turns into thousands of small hairy balls

What do you do while walking?   Here is what I do…..
Singing, thinking, listening to music, talking, pretending my dog is with me and calling her or throwing one of these little balls for her to chase.  Thinking some more. 
It is strange to be on holiday without Bonnie but it is also much easier of course.  I feel bereft and sometimes the memory of her comes at me like a punch in the belly and tears surprise me running down my cheeks.  But there is also a new freedom that comes with loss.  I am free to come and go as I please.  With no-one dependent on me, I am alone again and this is both sad and liberating. 
I spent day 1 thinking of this and many other things, of people who have gone, of times that are past, of my own family and childhood.  Swimming on one of the golden beaches I suddenly had a strong sense of being alive and living the life that I always wanted to find. Ever since I was young I had a dream of living abroad and learning new languages.  And here I am!  It has not been just a series of accidents although sometimes I see it that way.  I have actually created the life that I dreamt of.  Surely that must be something to feel good about?   My next step – self confidence for real!

Bonnie’s Story

Last week my dear dog Bonnie died.  She lived twice as long as the vets predicted but it was only weeks in the end. Some of it felt like years, but it was only 14 weeks from the first diagnosis.

There is so much I could say but I don’t know where to start so I am going to tell Bonnie’s story. While she was ill I often talked to her about her life and adventures so here it is for you.

Part One.   Life in Cornwall.

Born on Midsummer Day in 2001, Bonnie was a much loved puppy in the smallholding in West Cornwall where she started life. Her mother was called Sprout and was black and white but with the prick ears that were passed on to Bonnie. Here is Bonnie with her mum and one of her sisters

Bonnie went to live in Lamorna and this is where I first met her at a neighbour’s house.   She was introduced as the new puppy but I was surprised that she was living in a barn, tied on a long rope.
I fell in love with her from the first moment and whispered to my friend “She’s my dog!”

Her early adventure was to run away at the age of 12 weeks and for 11 days she was lost in the autumn wind and rain.  She survived by eating blackberries and turned up, with a purple muzzle, at a neighbouring farm. Her owner was then persuaded to keep her indoors but left her alone much of the time with a cat for company. Thus started her love of cats.
Circumstances meant that the owner was not able to care for her and Bonnie came to live with me, changing her name from Biscuit to Bonnie.  What a happy day when my Easter Bonnet arrived home!

Home was a Cornish granite cottage and Bonnie had a new big sister – my dog Blue. As you see it is normal in British homes to let your dogs sit on the chairs. It amazed me when she came to Catalunya that she just knew it wasn’t acceptable here.

Nearby there was an ancient stone circle, the Merry Maidens and all year round this was one of our most visited and favourite places

And we had all the Cornish coastal path to explore – Blue always taking the lead

So many friends to play with and when Grace arrived next door Bonnie herself became the big sister

Playing ball was always her favourite game – to the point of obsession. This proved to be a blessing later on as even when she felt lousy she always would perk up at the sight of a ball

Bonnie was a typical collie in that she was suspicious of strangers but adoring of friends

She didn’t like being in town but loved travelling and was always happy to leap into the van for a trip.
We went to Scotland the first Christmas after I got my camper van and while Blue had to have a large cage in order to feel safe, Bonnie was happy to lounge on the seat

When I went to Catalunya I didn’t intend to stay forever but life takes you by surprise and when I met my partner and moved in with him I had to make decisions about my dogs. It feels like a huge thing to take dogs out of the UK and especially to bring them to a hot country to live in a town.  So I arranged for them to stay in their familiar home with friends of mine moving in to look after them. It was one of the hardest times for us all. I enjoyed my life here and they enjoyed their life there  – but we missed each other and my visits were bitter sweet for me and –  perhaps –  for them

With other people living in my house, I often stayed at my friends who live next door.  The dogs came over too and we would all sleep together as cuddled up as possible.
When I think back on it I can hardly believe that we all lived like this for so long.

There was another problem at this time. My partner also had a dog and when she first came to visit Cornwall it seemed they would all make a happy family.  We hoped to find another house with a garden so we could all live together in Catalunya. But Duna never accepted Bonnie. And she came to hate her. It came on gradually but there were signs from the start

The summer we visited Cornwall with Duna and then left my dogs behind again was terrible for me. I knew they were happy at home and I didn’t know if they would adapt to a new life in Catalunya but I had to find a way to bring us all back together. I started work on organising to rent out my house, create a living space for us to stay in when we visited and to get pet passports for Bonnie and Blue.  I knew Bonnie would be fine but would dear Blue, so connected to home, benefit from the change? 
My only certainty was that the weather in Catalunya would be better for their joints.

In December 2011 we set off to begin our new life. The journey took us from Lamorna to Folkstone, through the Channel Tunnel and all the way down through France.
It was the beginning of a great adventure.
I was terrified. Blue was willing and Bonnie was keen to get going!

Tomorrow Part Two – Life – and Death – in Catalunya