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.



Taking your dog to live abroad

I took Bonnie for our normal walk this morning. We don’t always go to the same place but 4 or 5 times a week we go to the Park by the river.
First we crossed over the little square Jacint Verdaguer where there are nice large beds of sand around the tree trunks, used by many dogs as their local toilet.
(Just in case you are not a dog person and are beginning to breathe rapidly and get all worked up about dog shit, I will add now that although some people do not ‘pick up’ the vast majority do, including me!)
There is a colony of pigeons that live in the trees that circle the fountain and today, like most days, they were eating some food left by a neighbour

We went along narrow streets until we arrived at the green space near the river.
I wondered where the swallows are now – of course it is far too early for them to arrive but when they do, this is the place I watch them flying and feeding.

There is a lot of human rubbish all around this zone and I have to defocus otherwise I would be walking every day in a steaming tizzy.
I have a plan to work one day a month clearing up this path – it doesn’t look too bad here – but it is!

I’ve got the bags and just need to contact the council to ask them where I can leave them when they are full. I am attracted to the idea of being ‘that crazy British woman who picks up rubbish’

We passed the vegetable plots and the wild and chaotic yard where Lola the Border Collie lives. She wasn’t there today so we couldn’t do our normal greeting from afar – HOLA GUAPAAAAA!  QUE TAL?  WOOF WOOF WOOF WOOF in response.

People do stare at me – I have a secret exhibitionist trying to get out, I think.

We said hello to the little dog who lives on a balcony in one of the flats that look out over the river. Many people here have dogs that spend their days on the balconies, barking at every passing dog. I feel sorry for them but try to cope with it by shouting hello when we pass.

In the park there are always lots of dog walkers and this is one of our favourite places. I don’t usually throw balls and Bonnie just gets on with her newly discovered addiction to sniffing around on the path. She never used to do this in Cornwall – she was too busy running and playing with friends and balls. But now she seems very happy with her head down, checking out who has passed by and whatever other secret messages dogs leave in their pee trails.

This all set me thinking about how we both have adapted to our new environment. We lived in a beautiful paradise in Cornwall, beaches, fields, woods, peace and fresh air. Now we live in a polluted and noisy industrial city, surrounded by rubbish and graffiti, with few green areas to walk in unless we go further afield

But we both seem to have learned to get on with enjoying life. I look at the flowers and the birds and enjoy the view of the distant mountains. She gets very excited by all the new and strange smells and obviously loves the way every day brings more news from the doggy world

This is the funny face  she makes when she is sniffing for scents – her mouth hangs open slightly

At least once a week we can go to the beach or the hills and get more into wild nature.  We have the Pyranees and the Mediterranean on our doorstep.  Granollers is not our perfect dream place to live but in general it is fine.  I worried about all this before bringing Bonnie to live here but like all dogs she lives in the present moment and I don’t think she spends any time dreaming of Cornwall and our past life. She also adores Pep and so long as we are all together and there are new things to explore, she is happy.  Me too!

Making Promises to Myself

I’ve been full of energy since the New Year began.
There are things I want to write about but I haven’t quite got them straight in my head yet.
But it’s bubbling around.  Perhaps I’ll try.

Looking back over the last year – I see how many hard things there were to deal with and how the dealing with them brought me closer and closer to finding my centre, to feeling anchored.

What won’t kill you will make you strong!

  • Trying to cope with the three dogs here in our town house
  • Increasingly ferocious attacks by Duna on Bonnie.
  • Injuring first my left hand in the van door and then my right hand when I dislocated a finger
  • Preparing my new treatment room only to spend two or three months unable to use my hands
  • Constant and exhausting problems with the Resident Adolescent
  • Changing our home life when the above came to stay permanently after his mother left.
  • Blue’s death
  • Battling with Catalan at the same time as needing to speak English – just for comfort!
  • The death of my brother

I’m not going to list all the wonderful things from the last year but obviously there were also lots of those to keep me sane and at times very happy.

However the deep lows led me directly to a path which I am still walking.
I started to meditate. I began to go to the gym and get running. I read blogs which inspired me like The Wild Elephant Project. I listened to Caroline Myss and began to explore her ideas around Sacred Contracts.  Slowly and little by little I began to feel my energy changing. I started the year  creeping down the streets of Granollers, leaking energy like an old hose pipe and cringing whenever someone gave me a disdainful stare.  Today I noticed how bouncy were my steps along that same road. The stares still happen but somehow I don’t get knocked sideways by them.

Two things help me a lot

  • When I don’t know how to react to something or someone – I send out Love.
  • When I still don’t know what to do – I try to be Present in the moment.

There have been some amazing changes just from remembering to do these two things.

Pacts and Promises and Vows
I have made some promises to myself and am amazed how powerful it is to build this trust with yourself.  I started with the decision to stop drinking CocaCola.  I also stopped shopping in Tescos. Three months ago it seemed fairly easy to give up smoking and this time it feels like forever.
At the beginning of 2013 I stopped eating meat again and renewed my promise to support animals and be vegetarian.  Today I made a pact with myself to eat no wheat for 24 hours – it is a hard one for me so I find it better to take it one day at a time!
I think that the more I gain my own trust, the easier it gets to keep to my promises.

Lastly, but definitely not leastly,  I have started the Kitchen Sink Challenge.  My dear friend Tiffany put me onto this (and many other wonderful and motivational things)  For one month you promise to keep your kitchen sink clean. You are creating a new habit that you want to stick to.  That’s all – just clean the sink and watch your life change. I know it sounds crazy but somehow it brings order into chaos and sows a seed of change.

That’s it for now.  I haven’t even got onto telling you about Swing – that must keep for next time!

Smiling in Granollers

Today everyone was happier in Granollers.
Is it Springtime?
Someone smiled at me in the street. She was smiling as she got closer, perhaps at the sight of my beautiful border collie Bonnie, and then she looked at me and nodded.
That is really unusual in a town where normally people look at me with a slight frown or a blank stare.

Some boys down by the river were throwing stones at something.  I stopped and asked what they were doing.  Two boys ran off at the sight of Bonnie while the others said ‘rabbits’.  We talked a little about why it is unkind to try and hurt rabbits then they asked me where I come from and we had a nice chat for a few sunny moments. They were just little boys, bored and thoughtless but pleasant enough.

Then, ignoring my resolution to not shop in the Chinese store (the cheap shops that are in every town in Catalunya selling things made in China) I went into the very one which usually treats me like a shop lifter by following me silently around the aisles. I picked up some photo frames and went to the counter and the woman smiled and said ‘Hola’. Then she asked me where I was from!

Incredible, why do you think today was so different from other days?

The Glad Game

I’ve been so caught up in worries about the dogs fighting, Blue’s cystitis, my painful hands, the imminent arrival of the Resident Adolescent to stay for good, and a hundred other little anxieties that, I lost sight of the big picture for a while.
And of course in spite of normal troubles, I do like my life here.
There was a time when I lived in Cornwall when I was struggling to see the point of anything so I started  a practice of writing down every night five things that I was grateful for.  If it was a bad day I could write down basics – I have a home, I can breathe, I have running water, I have two legs, I have food.

But of course when I looked there was always so much more:- people who had smiled at me, experiences that were good, friends who gave me a hug.
It seems to be one of those magic formulae that is easy to do but sometimes we forget to do it.
Too often I get caught up in the small stuff and this is something I want to change.
Just off the top of my head here is my list for today – if anyone wants to join in I’d love to hear what 5 things you feel glad of today.
1.   I am so glad to have my two beautiful dogs here with me so I can enjoy them, care for them and run my hands through their soft warm fur every day.
2.   I am grateful for the sunny weather this winter so that when I go out with the dogs it is a pleasure to be in the open air.
3.   The internet is amazing and I am grateful for all the wonderful bloggers I have found who share their experiences, their creativity, their humour and their humanity. It has helped me feel less alone here.
Here’s one of my favourites.
4.   I am really glad there is a drawing class here in Granollers and grateful to Dolores for taking me there. It is so good to be doing something creative.
5.   How amazing it is to be able to get on a train and in 40 minutes arrive in the centre of Barcelona. I went up this week and it is like an injection of pure happiness. I love that buzz in the air.

I notice in myself a hesitation to let you read this post – perhaps I worry that it sounds complacent to make a list of good things in your life. I promise I would try to do it in on the bad days too.
I believe it is an energy changer and can work miracles.
Why not try it?