15.06.24 — Journal


It’s been a while since I posted on here, with my last post going over the fact that I needed a bit of a break to rethink how I manage the decade-long project that I call my website. I’m back today with an update, and this update consists of little bit of good news and a little bit of bad news.  Against conventional wisdom, I’m going to have to start with the good and end with the bad, as the conclusion I’ve come to dictates that I go through it in that order.

So, here’s the good stuff.

I think I’ve figured out a way to make my blog much more sustainable in the long term. This consists of reworking the format of posts from the current combination of text and image towards a model with less text and a more curated selection of images. While this may sound like blog posts will be less engaging, I’m excited by the challenge of packing information into smaller and more manageable paragraphs, as well as the possibilities provided by a new way of displaying photos.

Now for the bad news.

In order to make this change, I’m going to have to wait for my new website design to be ready. The new format requires higher resolution images, an entirely new post template, and other technologies that I just don’t have on my current website. This means that blog posts will most likely be on hold until the end of the year. Behind the scenes I’m doing all I can to finalise the new website design and begin technical development, but there’s still plenty to be done before I start coding.

So there’s the update. I’m excited to get back into my regular rhythm of posting with this new format, but both you and I are going to have to wait a little bit before it’s all ready to go.

As I write this, sat on a plane from Oslo to Madrid and watching a very red sun set over the west of France, I’ve had a little bit of a brainwave. In order to keep you entertained until I get the blog back up and running, I’m going to set up a new page on my blog with a comprehensive list of every blog post ever written. That way you can easily look back over the eleven years of content that’s already here. Read on to see if I’ve managed to get that up and running on time…

It turns out I have. You can find the new page here. Happy surfing!

13.04.24 — Journal

The Times They Are A-Changin’

It’s been about eleven years since I started writing my blog.

I began back in 2013 when I moved to university, as I wanted an online space to show that I was more than just the list of experiences on my CV. I wanted future employers to know that I do other things with my spare time, that I have other hobbies: travelling, cooking, photography, writing, baking, knitting, and so much more.

I started off with the goal of writing one blog post per day, a pretty ludicrous proposition in retrospect. For a while I managed to keep this up, posting a couple of photos with a bit of hastily written text and calling it a day.

Naturally I couldn’t keep this up forever, so in the end I resorted to one per week. Over time, this steadfast rule loosened, and I began writing posts as and when I had something interesting to report back on: sometimes more than once a week, sometimes less.

This has been the format that I’ve stuck with for the past ten years or so, with very little changing. In that time, I introduced the ability to search my posts by destinations and begun peppering my daily updates with the odd more reflective piece and even a bit of prose, but the general idea has remained largely the same.

One thing that has changed has been the amount of detail I put into each post. What were once a few photos with a bit of explanatory text have turned into detailed accounts of my adventures with more carefully selected and edited imagery. I also began posting everything in Spanish too. These changes mean that each blog post now takes me longer than ever to write, translate, and publish.

In short, the blog now takes up a lot of my time.

Recently, I’ve been trying to spend more of this time doing other things. I’m getting into the swing of things at the gym, I’m really enjoying swimming, and I’m making more time to enjoy the simple things like cooking and reading and spending time with friends. I’ve also got a few little side projects on the go which I’m very excited about, but more on those when they’re ready to go.

As you can imagine, I can’t fit everything in all at once. Something has to give.

That’s where my blog comes in. I can’t keep up the scope and detail that I’ve tried to in the past, and so I’m reevaluating the format and frequency with which I post updates on here. This will mean that I post less often, but it will also hopefully mean that I will post better content.

My idea going forward is to not get so bogged down in the finer details of what I’ve been up to, but rather switch to a more entertaining overview of the best (and the worst) moments from my daily life, travels, and shenanigans – of which there will be even more this year!

I do love taking photos and I do love writing, so there’s no risk of my blog disappearing any time soon. I just need to rethink the format a little bit so that I’m not constantly conscious of having a lot of photos to post and things to write about. I want to enjoy writing on here, not be fretting over a growing list of pending posts.

So the times, they are a-changin’, but they’re not changing all that much.

31.03.24 — Journal

Celebration Time

Recently I’m a bit slow with the old blog posts, as I’m busily working away on programming my new website and various other projects that I’ll discuss once they’re a bit further into development. For now, I’ve to get everything here up to speed, and we start that with no less than another wedding!

It was my ex-colleague Teresa’s big day, which brought together a collection of past and present Erretres employees here in Madrid. María and I headed over to Julia’s house in the morning, where the three of us got our glad rags on. I managed to squeeze into a suit for the occasion, with the only drama being the cufflinks I’d bought not fitting into the corresponding button holes on my shirt. A bit of huffing and puffing from Javier and Julia soon got them in place though, and we were ready to go!

Then followed a lovely ceremony at a rather splendid church, after which we all hopped on a bus and up to El Pardo, just outside of Madrid City, where there were canapés and drinks before the wedding meal. This involved a surprise ending, with bingo cards being handed out and Teresa taking the mic to read out the numbers in her best teacher’s voice.

You can then imagine my surprise when I had one number left, number 27, and that was just the number that Teresa called out. I jumped to my feet shouting ‘bingo’, and was then shocked to be presented with a whole leg of cured ham. I’ve never had a proper jamón: it feels like the process of españolización (becoming Spanish) is advancing slowly but surely.

The meal was delicious and the dance after was a great laugh. Teresa told me that she had included a song for me in the playlist after I played it once in the office, but I had no idea which one it could be. I thought it might be Barbie Girl by Aqua, so you can imagine my surprise when it wound up being Tarzan & Jane by Toy-Box. What a random throwback!

The next weekend I was out dancing (read: jumping up and down) once again. Sara, Rocío, and I had bought tickets to the Teatro Barceló, an old theatre which has now been turned into a well-known club. As we’re not drinking, Sara had discovered that they offer an early party from 6pm until 11:30pm which just plays old classics from the 90s and early 2000s. My kind of night!

We had an absolutely fabulous time, dancing along to a mix of Spanish, European, and even British hits from our childhood. I got so into a Mónica Naranjo classic, Sobreviviré, that I didn’t even realise that they’d turned on the house lights and were shooing us all out of the door…

The next day my feet were rather worse for wear, but by Monday I was right as rain and off to a client meeting up in the north of the city. Afterwards, me and some colleagues went for lunch, after which I ran into an enticing looking new job opportunity…

In case it wasn’t obvious, ‘diseño gráfico’ means ‘graphic design’.

I then had a rather busy week between work, the gym, swimming, website development, writing, and reading. It was only fair that I should have a relaxed weekend, and the Madrid weather seemed to agree as it turned cold and threatened to rain. I took the opportunity to do a spot of cooking, making a tortilla de patata with a touch of chorizo, which I must say came out rather well.

Sara and I then met up in the evening to go to the cinema, something I’ve been doing a lot more of recently as my colleague has got me hooked on films. We then wound up in a kaitenzushi restaurant, helping ourselves to plates of sushi and chatting way into the evening.

From Spain to Japan and then back again.

The poor weather then continued throughout the week, but I was way too busily along with my weekly routine to notice. My culinary adventures continued as I made an apple crumble and some vegetable soup, both of which received Pedro’s seal of approval. I also introduced him to proper English butter after I’d had the chance to pick some up when down in Murcia. He was very much sold!

My other weekly outing was for another client workshop, a day which was a lot of fun and took me to a part of the city that I don’t normally explore, but one that I may visit more in the future as I’ve discovered that my gym has another location around that area.

The only thing left for me to do now was to rest. Well, that and clean my house, as I’d a set of very special guests coming for a few days. More on that next time…

01.03.24 — Travel

Murcia Forever

It feels a little strange to be writing this post, seeing as I felt like I’d said my goodbyes to Murica last year when my auntie and uncle sold their apartment and moved back to the UK on a permanent basis. I did end the post, however, with an allusion to the fact that they might rent an apartment at some point. That they did, and so once again I grabbed a train and made my way down to the south of Spain to spend a few days with them.

They were staying in an apartment on the same golf complex but in a different location, something which felt quite odd as we drove in on the Friday evening and then I tried to make my way back to the next day. I was up bright and early on the Saturday so I went for a snoop and a trip to the shop to pick up some goodies and enjoy the morning sun.

The area is rather beautiful, more so in the morning sun.

It was nice to have a relaxing first day because we’d plans to spend the evening with a couple of my auntie and uncle’s friends. Hopping in the car together, the five of us headed to a lovely restaurant in a nearby town, owned by a Chilean guy and his wife who is from Madrid. I first went to this place with my auntie and uncle a couple of years ago and we had a great time, so I was excited to go back.

This cat was keeping watch of things as we headed out for the evening.

At the resultant, the food did not disappoint once again, with a seemingly endless selection of soups, seafood, meats, and drinks. With the whole restaurant on endless glasses of wine, things soon got a little animated, ending in a quasi-karaoke session complete with wigs provided by the owners. It was lots of fun!

The next day it was time for us to head down to the coast, where we’d booked a table at one of our favourite tapas restaurants. The weather wasn’t looking so lovely but we did run into a little street market, where I got chatting to a lady on one of the stalls and bought a surprise gift for one of my friends.

Despite the grey skies, the food was excellent and I was happy because we stopped off on the way home to grab some chocolate from Aldi. Chocolate makes any day better!

As Monday came around it was time for me to connect to work, something I did rather less begrudgingly than usual as I managed caved out a spot for myself on the resort’s terrace. It was a glorious day with the sun beating down, so I ordered an orange juice and started work under the shade of a parasol. Fabulous!

In the afternoon the sky began treating us to a colourful light show.

My auntie and uncle swung by the resort’s bar just before I finished work, which gave us chance to have a quick chat and a drink before the sun began to set. When it finally did, we were in for a real treat, as we were lucky enough to just catch it as it began to illuminate the sky over the lake. I love a good sunset, so I stayed there for a good while taking photos while the two of them walked back to the apartment. Here’s a photo dump, selected after much agonising over which were the best of the best.

The next day was then my last; these trips down to Murcia always seem to fly by. I had the day off work and we had a plan, so we got in the car and made our way back down to the coast for a bit of shopping and a quick stroll along the beach. I was happy because I managed to get some Branston Pickle from the British shop and my auntie and uncle were happy as I then took them out to lunch to say thank you for having me. I’ll say it again on here, though: thanks for having me!

Once we’d enjoyed a rather filling menú del día, it was time for me to get one last lift to the train station and await the first of two trains that would take me back up to the capital, with an hour in Alicante which gave me enough time to enjoy the sunset there whilst I had a coffee.

I’ll end the post with this photo of my auntie, which I’ve checked and she’s happy for me to put on. It’s from the night at the Chilean restaurant once all the wigs had been dragged out!

13.02.24 — Journal

More Skies & More Stuff

You’ll be happy to know that I finally got around to making my lentils, but that’s not all I’ve been up to. All this eating has meant I’ve been going to the gym just as much as I can bear, both my local gym and the other location they have in Madrid. This one turned out to be quite a discovery, as it comes equipped with a pool and spa facilities. The dream!

I also spent time with Sara and Julia over the weekend, with activities including shopping for clothes, picking out a suit for a wedding, and hitting the streets of La Latina and Lavapiés for some drinks and an impromptu comedy show with the Italian owner of the bar we ended up sat in.

I then spent the next weekend with Sara and Rocío, as they wanted to go and see the sunset from the Cerro del Tío Pío, a spot in the south of the city with the best evening views over Madrid. I’d last been down with Ellie and Johann last year, so it was lovely to go and catch the colourful sky again – even if I did wake up from my nap a mere half an hour before we were all due to meet! It was nothing that a quick bike ride couldn’t fix, though.

The park offers an aerial look over the city and its mountains.

We then made our way back into the city centre and spent the evening around the Barrio de las Letras, the city’s literary quarter. We ordered some tostas, small bread-based tapas, and a selection of food to share including some decadent fried shrimp pancakes. It was all rather delicious!

My next week at work was then punctuated by a couple of key events, the first being a breakfast of waffles that was provided by the office and which led to the whole team mooching around after the sugar high of so much Nutella and dulce de leche had passed. The second was a trip to the IE University, where I’d been invited to talk about our work and methodology at Erretres.

The IE Tower is an imposing new addition to Madrid’s skyline.

It was lovely to get a chance to visit the university after we worked with them on a book to celebrate their 50th anniversary last year. It’s also always great to chat to budding designers, as I remember that I always loved when design studios came to visit us back when I was a student.

My week then ended on a train up to Madrid’s train station and off to another place to spend a long weekend, but more on that in my next post…

24.01.24 — Journal

Changing Skies

Now back in Madrid after an extended period of Christmas and New Year celebrations, I’d a few days of sitting at home taking care of myself ahead of me thanks to the flu that I’d managed to catch in between all the chocolate and turkey and stuffing. Once I’d seen the back of the coughing fits, I was back out to make the most of the city in defiance of the bitter cold.

One day I headed up for a walk around the city centre and all of its tourist offerings. I walked past the palace and the cathedral to a vantage point, from which I could see that the mountains in the distance were covered in snow. It was quite a lovely sight, despite the grey day.

That weekend Sara and I spent an evening around Antón Martín, our favourite little neighbourhood for a drink which is named after the market that sits at its centre. We had some drinks and nibbles at the markets various stalls, ending our night in a jazz bar which serves some great mocktails. From there I cycled back home, passing by the city’s decorative streetlights and the impressive structure of Atocha train station. What a thrill!

A few days more at work followed, after which I was back up to the airport and on a plane back to Manchester. I was returning so soon after I’d left in order to pay a surprise visit, as Danni’s grandad had sadly passed away just a week or so prior and I wanted to be there at the funeral. This had me up bright and early, but the views over a snowy England as the sun rose made it all worthwhile.

Upon landing in Manchester, I hopped on a train into the centre and headed to a WeWork location to work from there until I clocked off. I arrived at the WeWork only to discover that it was literally one floor below the offices of the Manchester branch of the company Danni works for. What are the chances!

Luckily, Danni was in another office that day, so I was safe from being discovered. I popped myself down at one of the desks and took in the lovely views over the Manchester Central Library whilst I chatted to my colleagues and prepared a presentation.

My day was broken up by a lovely pizza from Rudy’s at lunchtime and then a bus trip back to Burnley in the evening. Throughout this trip I was keeping an eye on Danni’s location, as knowing my luck I could well have run into her in Burnley Bus Station!

All went well though, and after an evening with my parents and then some drama with my taxi showing up early, I arrived at the chapel for the service. It was a lovely send off, one which was then followed by food, drinks, and a good old chinwag down at the local club. Danni, Abi, and I wound up playing a few rounds of pool and had a great laugh.

Once I was hungry and tired, my parents came to pick me up and we swung by our favourite Chinese restaurant to pick up the evening’s meal. This we enjoyed together before my mum headed back off to work the next day, leaving me and my dad to entertain ourselves for a while before I had to head back off to the airport. Talk about a flying visit!

My dad and I spent the morning reconfiguring the record player that he gifted me before putting it to the test with a collection of our favourite music on vinyl. After a good dose of ABBA and Kraftwerk, I packed my bag and we headed off to the airport, stopping off at the hospital along the way so that I could see my mum before leaving.

Now back in the Spanish capital, I spent what was left of the weekend with Sara. We met up at the city’s main park and went for a walk around its many sights as the sun set, winding up on the far end of the park where we left in search of la merienda, which is a small meal that the Spanish have around the time we’d probably be having tea (or ‘dinner’ in standard English).

Retiro looked lovely in the afternoon sun.

Sara and I wound up enjoying some sweet pastries and coffee for our merienda, after which I’d to dash off on one of the city’s rental bikes in order to be home in time for a very special appointment. At 8pm I’d arranged to call Cake Club, which was a real treat. Our call lasted so long that I completely forgot to make one of my favourite Spanish dishes, lentejas a la riojana, so I’ll have to make these delicious lentils some other day…

14.01.24 — Travel

Epiphany in Gijón

As I teased at the end of my last post, my return home didn’t take me straight back to Madrid, but rather up to the north of Spain. My flight landed into Santander, a picturesque city I first visited just over a year ago. Cami had come over to spend the afternoon there with her partner, Hessel, and graciously picked me up to take me back over to Gijón.

Here in Spain, presents aren’t presented on the 25th of December and nor are they brought by Father Christmas: rather they are brought on the 6th of January (the Epiphany) by the Three Kings. I’d thus arranged to celebrate “Los Reyes Magos” in Gijón with Cami, Hessel, Bogar, Javier, and – as a special Christmas treat – Kevin!

Kevin had made the trip from the US in order to spend time with his family. I’d seen him just a few months before when he made the trip over to Vermont to meet up with me and Megan, but I was pumped to be able to spend some time with him on his home turf of Asturias, the northern region of Spain that I’m so very fond of.

Anyway, back to Santander. After picking me up from the airport, Cami, Hessel, and I had some pizza together in a restaurant in Santander before hitting the road and making the two hour trip west to Gijón. The next day we got up, dressed, and made our way to one of our favourite restaurants in the city where we’d arranged to meet Kevin for some lunch.

As usual, we all had a lot of laughs and ate some fabulous food. We then spent the rest of the day showing Hessel the city, from the windy heights of Cimadevilla to the bars and streets of the old centre. I felt like I was back up with my parents again after I’d shown them the city and Asturias in general when they visited last summer.

Who’d have thought, a photo of the three of us together!

After relaxing for a bit back at Cami’s flat, her and Hessel left for a spot of ice skating, something Kevin and I opted out of in favour of spending the evening at home eating roscón (a sweet bread typical of the Epiphany in Spain) dunked in thick hot chocolate. It was bliss!

The next day I’d to work from home, but it was all made much better by the presence of Luke, Cami’s dog who sat around watching me work all day. Another highlight was also lunch, for which Cami whipped up a Chilean dish called pastel de papas. This reminded me of a more exciting cottage pie, filled with mince, egg, and chicken and topped with a deliciously sticky potato creme.

Once I’d signed off work, I packed my bags and hopped in a taxi down to my next temporary home, Bogar and Javier’s apartment. There, I dropped my stuff and then headed back out into the evening, as Kevin had come back over to Gijón for the evening and so we’d arranged to meet up once more.

My walk into the centre of Gijón took me down the seafront. Well, that’s a lie: I thought it could as I wanted to see the sea, but it turns out that this was in fact a huge detour which left me up in Cimadevilla rather than in the centre where I wanted to be. Oops!

The extra walking was worth it though, as Kevin arrived a tad late and the winter evening light was creating some interesting shades of pink and purple in the sky. We eventually met up in a pretty like area outside the Jovellanos Theatre, where we stumbled across a Christmas market. Hungry, I grabbed us some freshly baked biscuits and then some freshly fried churros: nothing goes better with carbs than more carbs!

Once we’d finished off our churros, Kevin and I headed off for a drink on a lovely little street full of bars and restaurants. Whilst scouting out a spot, we noticed that one place specialised in vermouth and was serving bollos preñaos (bread stuffed with chorizo) as tapas with each drink. Say no more, we said, and headed in.

There we wound up trying some of the house speciality drinks and ordering some tortilla de patatas. It was a lovely moment as we enjoyed some local food and drinks whilst chatting about all sorts as only Kevin and I know how.

We then moved closer to the seafront and found a cozy little bar with a sofa to sit on. We plonked ourselves down in there and proceeded to carry on our evening of drinking and chatting, eventually being joined by Cami and Hessel later in the night. I was wrapped up in my coat by this point, as despite my trip back to England, I was still avoiding the cold!

I look like a bit of a grandma but that’s okay because I felt like a bit of a grandma.

Alas, I still had one day of work to do and was feeling pretty tired after a busy few days, so I bade everyone farewell and headed back to Bogar and Javi’s place to turn in for the night.

The next day I worked from their lovely new place, but as the afternoon came around I was starting to feel a bit iffy. A quick nap to sleep it off turned into a full sleep after which I awoke with a fever: I had managed to get the flu.

This meant that I had to sit out the evening’s activities of going to the cabalgata, a parade in which the Three Kings (or Three Wise Men) grace the streets and throw sweets out to an expectant crowd. I’d never been to a cabalgata and I still haven’t: one for next year!

I did feel a bit better in the evening, though, so Bogar, Javi, and I got comfy on their sofa and watched a film to mark my last evening in Gijón. The next day I’d to pump myself full of energy drinks, paracetamol, and cough medicine as I’d a train to catch to take me down to Madrid and thus back home. I masked up for the journey, but soon discovered that everyone from the taxi driver to the ticket inspector was also coughing and spluttering. There’s a lot of flu going round this year here!

It was lovely to end my rather drawn-out festive activities with a few days in Gijón, even if the last two of them were spent mooching around feeling somewhat sorry for myself. It was great to catch up with everyone who’s based there, but it was a special treat to catch Kevin on one of his few visits back to the motherland from stateside.

I’d like to end by saying many thanks to Cami for picking me up from Santander and having me over, and of course many thanks to Bogar and Javi for not only putting me up for a couple of nights but also for putting up with me as I moped around their flat moaning woe is me…


Christmas With the Family

After a lovely end to 2023 in Madrid it was time for my annual pilgrimage back to England, which meant I was off to catch a flight to Manchester Airport… or so I thought!

My travel woes began on the train to the airport here in Spain, where my journey was interrupted by an announcement that we’d be stopping a few stations short of the airport. As usual, I’d left some leeway in my timings for little hiccups like this, but as I stood on the platform getting cold and thinking about how busy the airport would surely be, I decided to call a taxi and make my way to terminal 1 in style. A shout out here to my taxi driver, José, who was an absolute legend.

Once though the substantial queues in the airport, I was on my flight and on my way to Manchester. As we began our descent, I caught a glimpse of a beautiful sunset just above the clouds. The sky was punctuated by some rainbow clouds, a rare phenomenon which unfortunately didn’t seem to want to show up properly in the photos I took.

After a few minutes spent gawking at the sunset, the plane began to turn and so the colourful scene moved out of my view. I settled back into my seat until the sunset came back around again, whereupon I took a few more photos as the sky had now begun to turn a striking pink, all before we turned a bit more and it disappeared from view once more.

The third time that the sunset moved back into view was when it hit me that we were flying in circles. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed this, but nobody seemed particularly interested. It was then that I remembered a throwaway comment that my mum had made to me that very morning: that it was very windy in Manchester.

With my penchant for flight documentaries, I put two and two together and deduced that we must be being held in a holding pattern whilst the winds on the ground subdued. This was then confirmed by the captain, who told us that we were going to try to land in Manchester but that we may have to make for another nearby airport if conditions didn’t improve

Eventually we finally began descending from our holding altitude just above the blanket of clouds. It was then that we were all given the surprise news: we’d been diverted to Birmingham, halfway down the country.

What a liberty! When they mentioned nearby airports I was thinking of Leeds or Liverpool, but Birmingham? How was I supposed to get home from there? Something was mentioned about coaches but I knew that the national chaos caused by this freak wind would mean lots of delays before we’d get back up to Manchester.

My gut feeling was right, as upon landing in Birmingham we were cooped up in the plane waiting for busses to the terminal for almost two hours. More than 40 flights had been diverted there that night which meant that the infrastructure of the small airport was struggling to cope.

I’d promised myself I’d never step foot in Birmingham, but here I was against my will.

Thankfully my mother is rather astute and had been tracking my flight, so she knew what was going on. My parents graciously made their way all the way down to Birmingham to pick me up, in doing so saving me from the awful prospect of having to wait for a load of coaches which were probably as delayed as the terminal busses.

Dramas over, I was back home and ready for my last day of remote work before my Christmas holidays began. After disconnecting, I spent my first night having a meal and a catch up with Amber in a lovely Italian in the centre of Burnley. Poor Bam had lost her voice, so we agreed to try and meet up another day to have a proper chat and hopefully go and catch a theatre piece: we did meet whilst both working at Burnley Youth Theatre back in the day!

The next day saw me meet up with Danni and Abi for our customary annual gift exchange. We met up in a crepe restaurant and wound up wheezing as we unwrapped the silly presents that we’d all bought each other, a hysteria fuelled in no small part by the excess of sugar in our crepes and hot chocolates!

Some of the uglier spots in Burnley I find to be quite charming.

We then went off for a bit of last minute Christmas shopping and then I bade the the two of them farewell in the bus station before heading off to a spot where my dad would pick me up. In a stroke of festive luck it began to rain the very moment that I stepped out into the evening. This combined with the wind to create some rather unenviable conditions, ones which probably led to me developing a dodgy cough…

The next day was then Christmas Eve and time for Christmas traditions both old and new. In a novel twist, my mum booked for the four of us to enjoy a lovely Christmas Eve meal up at a local pub. We had some good food and a good laugh in the warm and cozy surroundings, all before heading off to our second destination, which was also a pub.

Every year on the 24th of December we try to get down to my village’s pub in order to meet up with all our childhood friends and old neighbours. This year was no different and we had a lovely time chatting to everyone whose gardens I used to play in and who I would try and rope into my various projects such as homemade rollercoasters or backyard shows…

We arrived back home just before midnight, meaning we could all wish each other a merry Christmas before we went to bed.

About ten hours later we were reconvened in our living room ready for the traditional unwrapping of all the presents. My auntie and uncle then arrived with the cream of cauliflower soup, something which we eat every year but which this year would be different as they were joining us for our Christmas meal after years of spending winter in Spain.

Then came the big event. After dabbling in some cooking when I was over in November, my mum had assigned me with the task of making the Christmas dinner for the first time ever. After lunch and whilst everyone else sat down in the living room, I took out my meticulously detailed plan and began the odyssey of preparing all the components of a traditional British Christmas dinner: the turkey, the sprouts, the parsnips, the carrots, the roast potatoes, the gravy, the bread sauce, the pigs in blankets…

After a short delay as I grappled with my first ever attempt at making gravy from scratch, I called everyone to the table and the meal wend down a treat. I think I did a decent job, but I was very proud of my gravy, which I made from the juice of the turkey and the vegetables, some flour, and a dash of sherry. It was divine!

Here we all are, crackers and silly paper hats included.

With a lovely Christmas Day had by all, Boxing Day then came around and with it one of the few times I braved the cold and stepped out of the house. My sister wanted to go for a jog, so me and my dad gave her a lift down to the canal, where the two of us opted for a much calmer walk around the water’s edge.

The afternoon saw us head out for another little excursion, this time for a family walk around the grounds of Towneley Hall, a grand old manor house set in 440 acres of parkland. Upon catching sight of an ice cream truck, me and Ellie immediately decided that we had to have one, forking out an eye-watering £4.75 per ice cream…

Over the next few days I got up to all sorts of other mischief. Whilst at home, I set up my aging collection of disco and show lighting for what must have been the first time in years. I was surprised to find that nearly everything was still working, with only a fuse and a couple of lightbulbs needing replacing after so much time sat in a dusty loft.

I’ve always loved the combination of coloured l light and smoke to visualise the beams.

Another night I met up with Amber in Rawtenstall to head into Manchester. She’d finally got her voice back but I was struggling with a persistent cough: how the tables had turned! Despite my throat we had a lovely evening, including a meal at a Greek restaurant and a beautiful show at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Ellie’s last day at home saw her, my dad, and I nip out of the house to visit a place that I hadn’t been to for years: the bowling alley. When she piped up with the idea of going bowling I was immediately on board, as I’d recently watched a video on how the pin reset machines work and it had left me with a burning desire to have a shot at the sport once again.

As expected, it was a great laugh. Once I’d found a ball which wasn’t too heavy and been convinced that more force wasn’t always the best technique, I got into my stride!

An action shot of me gearing up to completely miss the two remaining pins.

It was then time to see in the new year, and for that I’d made plans to meet up with Abi and Danni once again. The three of us convened at Abi’s house, where we had some pizza and drinks whilst partaking in a geeky rollercoaster quiz that we’d found on YouTube.

From there we nipped over to Abi’s neighbours’ house for some party games. We had a good laugh trying to get pegs into bottles, match rude words on cards, and eventually dashing around the house in a fun game called shopping list. This had us searching for items on lists hidden around the place, the total value of which we’d then to tot up at the end in order to secure our place on the leaderboard. It was exhausting, both physically and then mentally!

I almost begun 2024 tearing around a strangers house trying to figure our how much some fictitious washing powder would cost.

The three of us then saw in the new year in the tranquility of Abi’s living room, where I swapped the traditional 12 grapes eaten in Spain for 12 Cadbury’s chocolate buttons. We watched the London fireworks, wished each other a happy new year, and then headed off to bed where I proceeded to snore Danni out of our shared room thanks to my dodgy cough. Sorry!

I then spent the last day in the UK over in Leeds with Emily and Lincoln. Em gave birth to their first child, Charlie, back in October, so I was desperate to go and meet him before heading back to Spain. It was so lovely to see the two of them and get to spend time with little Charlie, although I am worried that meeting such a beautiful and peaceful little baby might make me a little bit broody!

I didn’t have too much time to ponder over all this, however, as the very next day I was out the door before noon and on my way to Manchester Airport using the north of England’s rather questionable railway network. All went to plan, I arrived with plenty of time to spare, and I was soon in terminal 3 looking for a flight not to Madrid, but rather to Santander…

Many thanks to my sister, Eleanor, for letting me use some of the excellent photos from her film camera.

07.01.24 — Journal

Christmas Lights Aplenty

Once I’d landed back in Madrid from an extended week in the UK, I had only one day to work before being launched into a bank holiday weekend full of plans. I began by spending my Friday off with Félix, a day which started with lunch at a lovely local spot that I’d never been to before.

Our brunch was as tasty as it was aesthetically pleasing.

After some salmon and a fresh fruit smoothie, we hopped on a bus to Retiro, Madrid’s main park. Our walk around the park led us past a cute little book swap spot that I’d never seen before. It was called the “People’s Library” and by the looks of it, it’s been part of Retiro for a good few years. What I thought was a modern concept has clearly been going on for quite a while!

At the book exchange I ran into some maths textbooks which took me right back to my childhood, being the exact same ones that we used when we were studying for our SATs. They were even in English, which was quite a coincidence!

Our walk also took us past the Palacio de Velázquez, an installation space owned by the Reina Sofía, one of Madrid’s main three art museums. In all my time in Madrid I’d never stepped foot in the place, so we headed in to see what was on show.

The exhibition seemed to explore space, colour, and materials with an interesting array of coloured materials draped from the high ceilings. The explanation of the concept behind it all read as a lot of fluff to me, but it was visually intriguing and it’s always nice to explore a new place.

A white ball on a yellow background.

Once out of the park, we headed for the Palacio de Cibeles, a landmark of the city that I’d first seen when I visited in 2015 but which I’d never set foot inside. I’d got wind of a free exhibition there that seemed right up my street, as it brought together two of my passions: lighting and typography.

Titled “No va a quedar nada de todo esto” (“None of all this will be left remaining”), the exhibition presented a series of old shop signage and paraphernalia, with a focus on the old illuminated and neon signs of yesteryear. It was a fabulous experience put together by Paco Graco, a collective dedicated to conserving the graphic heritage of Madrid.

It turns out that Cibeles is as lovely inside as it is out.

As fabulous as the exhibition was, I really didn’t need to go very far at all for a light show, albeit on a much smaller scale. With Christmas and the Spanish celebration of the Three Kings just around the corner, I’d spent a weekend filling up my flat with tinsel, baubles, and plenty of fairy lights. This way I could enjoy sitting in my living room despite the bitter cold that descends on Madrid during these winter months.

It was a bit much, but Christmas is the time for excess.

With my house all set up, two weekends of catching up with friends then followed. I had some lovely breakfasts and walks with Pedro, a delicious burger lunch with Hugo and Sergejs, and then a fun night at a Chinese hotpot with Sara, Rocío, and Irene. It was a lovely way to end the year here in the capital.

With Christmas now just around the corner, I’ll let you know all about that in my next post!

29.12.23 — Writing

An Appeal for a Better Spelling of T-Shirt

This morning I walked into my kitchen to find that my mother had put sticky notes on the two towels that were laid over the handle of the oven door. One read “hand towel” and the other “t‑towel”, as though the world would to come to an end should I dry my clean hands on the towel I had also dried a pot with.

I’m not here to moan about my poor mum’s towel obsession, or even the fact that it’s technically called a “tea towel”, however. The word “t‑towel” got me thinking about another word whose spelling has always got on my nerves: that of the humble t-shirt.

As I often do, I began wondering about the origins of the word “t‑shirt”, or it’s etymology if we’re being fancy. As I made myself a slice of toast, I pondered whether the name came from golf, as I’ve also seen these garments described as “tee shirts” or simply a “tee”. My theory was that the polos used by golfers were the ancestors of the modern “shirts for teeing”, hence “tee shirts”.

I was very wrong. It turns out that the origin of the word is much more simplistic: they’re “t‑shirts” because they are shaped like a capital letter “T”.

Realistically, I should have expected such bare-bones simplicity from a language with germanic roots. We British often like to laugh at the Americans for referring to autumn as “fall” (because leaf fall down), or their hyper-specificity in words like “eyeglasses”, but really English can be pretty simplistic when it comes to describing things.

Why use fancy words from Latin like “feline” when we can just say “like a cat” with “catlike”? Why say “assist” when you can use the more descriptive “give a hand”? Why say “noon” when we can explicitly express the concept of “middle of the day” with “midday”?

Anyway, back to t-shirts. My irk with this word comes from the combination of two features: the use of a hyphen (that dash “-” in the middle) with the use of a single letter (“t”).

The use of hyphens in English is pretty common. I write things like “know‑how” and “mind‑blowing” all the time and with great gusto. I’ve no problem with these examples because in my brain they make sense as they are balanced, both when written and spoken. The word “t‑shirt” feels very lopsided though: all the weight is in “shirt”. The poor “t” looks like it’s tagged on as an afterthought.

The use of a single letter is also nothing new to English: we have “a” and “I”, although the latter could spear a whole other rant about why we still insist on capitalising “I” despite the interesting history of why we do so in the first place – but I’ll leave that one for another time. For those interested, my second language of Spanish is also no stranger to single-letter words. The following five are all valid Spanish words: a, e, y, o, and u. They’ve essentially given all the vowels their own word, with “y” standing in for “i”.

This combination of this hyphen with a single letter also leads to my main gripe with this damn word: how the hell are we supposed to capitalise it? Is it “T‑Shirt” or “T‑shirt”? Or are we going with outright anarchy and capitalising it as “t‑Shirt”? We do capitalise iPhone like that, after all.

Technically, the word should always be spelled as “T‑shirt”, a nod to its origin. But I don’t like that as it seemingly puts the word on the same superior level as other proper nouns, or words that we spell with a capital letter: people, places, and gods. I mean, come on, it’s just a piece of clothing.

It’s therefore not surprising that the most common way of writing the word is now “t‑shirt”, devoid of any capitalisation. This is fine, until I have to write it a title.

I am equally completely confused by ‘title case’ as I am a fierce fan of it. For those not accustomed to the term, it’s like a third case after uppercase and lowercase, and it refers to the use of capital letters on most words within titles or headlines. For example, to title a song “Smells like teen spirit” just looks wrong, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is much better.

So what do we do when we’ve a hyphenated word in a title? Do I go with “Mind‑blowing” or “Mind‑Blowing”? As with title case in general, there’s no clear consensus, with many different style guides indicating one way or the other. I don’t think I’ve even decided: the titles of my over 600 blog posts are probably a haphazard mishmash of different capitalisation styles.

With our pesky “t-shirt”, this mess is even worse. Again, it should be “T‑shirt”, but that makes the word feel unbalanced in a whole other way than it normally does. Thus, after much agonising, I went with “T‑Shirt” for the title of this blog post. It’s my blog, so I’ll do what I want.

A flurry of linguistic ramblings aside, let’s get back to just that: the title of this blog post. “An appeal for a better spelling of t‑shirt” is just that, an appeal. I don’t have a proposal for how we could fix this mess, and I’m not even sure that the solution lies in changing its spelling. I only suggest a change of spelling because I believe that changing the word itself would be an easier feat than getting dozens of English-speaking communities and authorities to agree on a set of standard rules for its capitalisation.

Also, the word is just fucking ugly.

Obviously, I’m not holding out hope for a change in spelling of the word “t‑shirt”, even if English seems to change at breakneck speed. I’ll just engage in my usual habit of avoiding using the word whenever I can, and then begrudgingly spelling it as-is whenever I have to be specific.

As an interesting aside, Spanish uses the word “camiseta” to refer to a t-shirt, a word whose originals literally mean “small shirt”. English also has, as noted, the simple word “tee”. I don’t see this as a solution, though, as it has to share its meaning with the golf term when written and in speech could easily be confused with “tea”. Imagine saying “go and put a tee on”, the poor person wouldn’t know whether to change their clothes or start making a hot drink.

If you liked this rant of a blog post, be sure to let me know.