23.01.21 — Journal

Storm Filomena

We’re now three weeks into 2021, and the year has already begun with all guns blazing, from drama in the US, a polar storm hitting Madrid for the first time since the 60s, and the sad passing of my Grandma. I’ve been back here in Spain for about three weeks now, and quite a lot has happened in such a short time!

At work, the year’s begun on a rather busy note, with plenty of projects and new challenges to get our teeth stuck into. Erretres have given us plenty of flexibility to come into the office or work from home as and when, which has been absolutely great, but I’ve actually gone with the former option of commuting to and from the office every day. As I mentioned back when lockdown first begun, the mental separation of my workspace and a relaxing space is very important to me, and it’s allowed my flat to become a cozy space for kicking back once again…

Evenings of relaxation must be lit by a bubblegum colour palette.

The big news over the past couple of weeks, however, has to have been the blizzard that passed through Madrid, and which has been causing absolute and unfettered bedlam ever since. I was shocked to learn that said storm had been named Borrasca Filomena, “Storm Philomena” – the name of my grandma who passed away over New Year. I knew she wouldn’t go out without causing a bit of chaos!

And, well, chaos she did cause. I began the weekend completely clueless as to the fact that Madrid was bracing for such a cold front, and so casually headed down to IKEA in the south of the city to hunt for a new table after I sat on my old one and broke it. It was snowing when I left the house, but I just assumed that Madrid would receive a meager few flakes which would linger around for all of five minutes…

Well, I arrived at the Metro stop in the south to find that this snowfall did, in fact, seem to be sticking around, and had to half-battle my way through an increasingly forceful bluster which was ensuring that every surface was dusted with a decent sprinkling of snow. I then arrived in the shopping centre to find a distinct lack of people and most of the shops either closed or frantically shuttering their entrances, which seemed odd for 7pm on a Friday evening.

Some shoppers panicked, some cooly ordered a cone of freshly fried churros.

I continued through the shopping centre and on to the IKEA at the other end, where things also seemed strangely quiet. At first, it was quite the enjoyable experience: with hardly anyone around, I could try out all the sofas and tables that I liked without having to look over my shoulder every two minutes to check I was properly socially distancing – just like the good old days!

Then, around the kitchen section, things started to feel off. I was wandering round a pretty empty showroom – even the staff seemed to have disappeared. Soon came the inevitable announcement: they were closing the shop early due to the inclement weather. Having been reminded of such announcements in the theme parks in Florida, I headed towards the exit, abandoning the table and picking up some easier-to-transport plants instead.

It was then, when I stepped outside, that the gravity of what was going on suddenly hit home. I’d been isolated inside IKEA’s steel box for a mere hour or so, but the conditions outside had worsened dramatically. A good couple of inches of snow now covered everything, and there was no sign that the blizzard-like conditions were going to let up. The car park was all but empty, with the few cars that did remain slipping and sliding their ways to the exits. I made off to the Metro station with haste, hoping that it’s subterranean nature would mean that it wasn’t affected by the weather, but even getting there was a struggle as I battled against strong winds and horizontal snowfall which seemed intent on hitting me square in the face.

I battled against strong winds and horizontal snowfall which seemed intent on hitting me square in the face.

Thankfully I managed to get back to my local Metro station, Delicias, but I was met with quite the shock as I resurfaced. Up until arriving back in the centre, I had been wondering if the area around IKEA was just being disproportionally affected by the snow due to its southern location and more rural setting. This theory was disproven, as I say, when I was met by a street which mirrored the scenes of the IKEA car park. I cautiously made my way to my flat, stopping only to grab a chicken wrap from a local Lebanese bar. Once inside, I buttoned down the hatches, turned the heating up, and headed off to bed wondering what the next day would bring.

As my flat isn’t exterior-facing, I awoke with very few clues as to what the situation looked like out on the streets. The only clue I had was the drifts of snow which had built up over my neighbors’ windowsills overnight. After some mooching around (it was a Saturday morning after all), I decided to head out and see what the deal was with this much-talked-about snowfall.

As you can see, the scenes I was greeted with were positively apocalyptic. Huge branches had snapped off with the weight of the snow and were now lying on cars and across roads, whilst snow drifts had half buried pretty much everything else. Some families had headed out to build snowmen or hold a snowball fight, but most of the people out on the streets were like me: wandering around in circles taking in these rare scenes.

The cold soon got a bit too much for me, however, and the last straw came when I accidentally put my foot through half a meter of snow that had built up over the hole in the pavement where they plant the trees. This left my boot soggy and me in a bad mood, so I headed home to dry off before heading back out to the supermarket. This turned out to be another pointless loop around the neighborhood, as the Mercadona had closed early due to the weather, so I headed back home and made do with some tinned soup.

Being cold and wet is nothing that some nice lighting and candles can’t fix.

Once the winter weekend was over, I thought that the heavy snowfall would soon melt and that the chaos would fade from memory, but I was rather mistaken. Monday’s trip to the office was an exercise in trying to not fall flat on my face whilst navigating a downhill-sloping ice rink, and the conditions only seemed to worsen as the week went on, with bags of rubbish and ice piling up in the streets and perilous chunks of snow and ice crashing to the ground from the rooftops.

Then, and with another working week wrapped up, it was time to kick back for a chill weekend. I kicked things off on Friday, where I headed out for a lovely Catalan tapas-style meal with my colleague Jesús. The next day, I headed down to ex-colleague Luis’ new flat, where he was moving his plants in ahead of his big move to my neighborhood the week after.

After a glass of wine and some cured meats in a lovely local wine bar, I left Luis to visit Napo at Five Guys, where we’d arranged to have a burger and catch up after the last time we saw each other just before I headed off to England for Christmas. The Sunday evening then saw me head out for more food, this time with Sara. We spent an evening atop El Corte Inglés in Callao, snacking on various pinchos, before heading into the centre for a few drinks on a terrace in one of the city’s many plazas.

This lovely weekend then led me into a week which has been quite the adventure, but which I’ll have to now leave until the next blog post. All I’ve to say is that I’m back in England whilst I write this blog post to give you a good idea of how disrupted it’s been! Until then…

12.01.21 — Journal

A Sombre New Year

My previous blog post, as I mentioned at its conclusion, was the first of a two-part installation on my trip back home for Christmas and New Year. We left things off during an action-packed Christmas Day, but after this date, our activities were decidedly more sedate for the second week of my time back in the UK due to some news we received on Boxing Day.

On the 26th, we were contacted with the news that my grandma had contracted COVID-19. My parents went to visit her, but me and my sister were unable to due to the poor state of the coronavirus situation in the UK. The next few days were then understandably muted as my parents continued to visit her, with only the occasional walk around our local area as a family to keep our minds occupied.

Although the mood was understandably sombre, I have to say that I’ve never seen such beautiful scenes around the village I grew up in, Worsthorne. We were treated to a few days of snow and some absolutely glorious winter sunsets, which combined to create some stunning views as we meandered through the countryside.

As these days running up to the New Year were otherwise spent together as a family, and because I’ve so many photos of these outdoor moments to share, I’ll share the majority of these photos in an uninterrupted stream before talking about the New Year towards the end of the post.

As you can see, we really were treated to some breathtaking sights in these last few days running up to the New Year! Any plans we may have had for the evening had to be put aside, however, when we were told that my Grandma’s condition had worsened. With my parents once again visiting my Grandma, I welcomed in the New Year by watching the fireworks on the BBC before heading off to bed.

The next day, the first of the New Year, I awoke to the news that my grandma had sadly passed away.

Rather than speak of the next few days I spent in England, I’d like to take a moment to say a few words about my Grandma Mena. Many of you will have never had the luck of meeting her, and those who did will have many a great memory and funny story, so I’ll try to keep it brief here.

Grandma Mena was probably one of the most influential people in my life. From a love of lightbulbs to a hatred of bananas, she had a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today – I feel like I spent so much of my time as a child with her that it was impossible for her not to!

Whilst I was just a baby, she’d often turn the lights in a room on and off, chanting “light, light!” as she did so. The first word I ever uttered was then some simple version of “light” rather than the usual “mama” or “papa”, something I’m sure my parents weren’t best pleased about! From these silly beginnings, I developed an appreciation of and love for all things related to lights – something I still hold to this day. It’s the reason I use a lightbulb as my logo – a logo which now has minimal presence on my website, but which I will be using to sign off this blog post.

I should also probably explain the banana anecdote. If not by my grandma’s seeming desire to blow every lightbulb in our house, my mum was certainly driven up the wall by my grandma’s insistence on feeding me bananas every five minutes. My mum would leave me with Grandma Mena for five minutes, and she’d return to find me with mushy banana slopped all down my bib. When my mum would challenge her about this and ask if she’d fed me yet another banana, she’d respond with an incredulous “no!”

These are two little anecdotes which I think perfectly illustrate the two things I’d like to tell the world about my grandma: her big influence on me in all the best ways, and her warm, caring, and often cheeky personality.

Everybody knew her as a strong-willed Irishwoman who’d just as soon give you a bite of whatever she was eating as she’d stop for a chat with every other person in the street. She certainly faced hardships in her life, from immigrating as a young girl to losing her husband young, and then later the failing of her eyesight and eventually her memory.

Despite all this, however, her mischievous sense of humor and love for everyone around persevered until the very end, and will be forever present in fond memories and hilarious catchphrases that she gifted us over the years! I’m not a religious person, and so I believe that my grandma is now gone from this world, but I take great comfort in the knowledge that her legacy will be passed down through the generations. As I said at the beginning – and whether it’s a love of lights or a distaste for bananas – her impact will live on through me, and I’m sure through many others.

I conclude this brief celebration of her life in the way she signed off everything she ever wrote to me:

God bless.

05.01.21 — Journal

A Covid-Proof Christmas

In my last blog post before setting off for my Christmas holidays in England, I said that I’d be headed off to a Tier 3 lockdown back in my hometown. Well, how wrong was I!

As I prepared to leave for my Christmas holidays, I could never have imagined the chaos that was about to kick off, with the grim news of the new strain of the virus being discovered in London and the subsequent introduction of a stricter new Tier 4. The day I flew, I tried to read as little of the news as possible, as the list of countries who were banning travel from the UK seemed to be growing by the minute as I approached the airport. I knew I’d get over to England, but the question was whether I was going to be able to return to Spain…

I must leave you all with that little cliffhanger for now, for I’ve gotten ahead of myself: we must first talk about the last-minute festivities which I enjoyed in Madrid just before I left!

My final week at work rolled around, and with it a surprise Christmas hamper full of delicious treats which Erretres gifted us all. This happy little surprise kicked off a few days spent dining and drinking with friends, starting with some beers with Bogar and Hugo at a little local spot in Malasaña.

The evening continued with a pizza reunion with ex-colleague Helena, which suffered a last-minute change when the pizzeria we’d selected was at its coronavirus capacity. This took us for some beers at an old bar, where a crazy stroke of luck meant I bumped into Sofía, another ex-colleague who was visiting from the north of Spain for just a few days!

Nothing like a good beer after my last day of work.

The next day rolled around and there was no letting up, as I’d planned to have a buffet-style evening meal with Sara and Jhosef. I threw together a classic British-party-style platter of different sandwiches as well as some crisps, sweets, and balls of chocolate turrón. With a couple of vermouths in hand, the three of us then chatted the evening away, stopping later on for a bite of roscón (a traditional yuletide food in Spain) and some hot chocolate.

A rather early alarm jolted me from my slumber on the Sunday after, as I’d to be ready to receive a FaceTime call from my sister in order to virtually attend my mum’s retirement surprise! Once I’d finished watching her come out to discover an array of balloons and gifts, I had to shift myself from my bed stat, for I’d a lot to squeeze in to that so-called day of rest…

After a morning spent washing clothes, drying sheets, packing my bags, and cleaning my entire flat from top to bottom, I’d certainly deserved a nice lunch out. That’s just what I then proceeded to do, meeting Napo at NAP Pizza in Lavapiés, where a wait to be seated turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Once seated, the two of us tucked into some of Madrid’s best and most authentic Italian pizza, catching up on the past few weeks of each other’s dramas a mere few hours before I was due to fly. I had my favorite white pizza (a pizza with no tomato base), the house special, and then headed out nervously back home to finish the last bits of packing and leave for the airport.

A pizza with Napo was a great way to end the last weekend of 2020.

As I mentioned earlier, there was never going to be any issue in getting to England, it was the trip back that I was concerned about. This meant that the flight home was as normal as it could be given the current state of affairs, and after taking some flights this summer, I was pretty unfazed by the new normality in the airport and on the plane.

I landed back in the UK just after midnight, where I was met by the entire Briggs household: my mum, dad, and sister. Needless to say we didn’t stay up long, heading off to bed for a decent night’s kip before the festive preparations began!

My first bit of Christmas cheer came in the form of a very socially-distanced gift swap with Abi and Danni, which took place in the windy heights of Hurstwood. This marked the first of a series of walks that took me “over the tops” as we say, and I took an interesting photo of one of the reservoirs on that cloudy afternoon…

Our next family outing took place on Christmas Eve, where we once again stomped our way up a tiny dirt-track road over the moors. Although I moaned a lot about not being accustomed to so much walking, my little village and the sweeping expanses of fields through which we passed did look quite resplendent in the low winter sun.

Worsthorne Church is always a friendly sight when I arrive home.

We were ready for a big mug of tea and some cake after our walk, and thankfully we were able to indulge in just that, as my mum had ordered a set of festive cupcakes from the wonderful Bella’s Bakes. The sweet treats were absolutely delicious, and we certainly needed the energy, for next up in our Christmas plans we had a socially-distanced carol concert to attend in the village square!

Naturally we arrived late to said carol concert, so by the time we got there it was time for Saint Nick to pass through on his sleigh (which looked suspiciously like a trailer, but he does work in mysterious ways!). We managed to sing along to one of the last little songs, but the main joy of the evening was just being able to see people coming together – albeit maintaining social distancing – to celebrate Christmas.

Upon arriving home we were then in for yet another Christmas Eve treat, in the form of my mum’s new Briggs family tradition of opening a few small presents on Christmas Eve. This year she’d outdone herself, with lovely paper bags full of all sorts of goodies set atop the red paper tabletop – a necessity when taking into account the other Briggs family tradition on Christmas Eve: a curry for tea!

My table decorations and mum’s bags made for a very festive scene.

After opening our gifts and wolfing down a delicious curry, it was time to head off to bed and hope that Santa would bring us some goodies the day after! This he did indeed, and we spent a good hour or so unwrapping and consuming some of the edible presents that we’d all received for our traditional breakfast of selection box chocolates on Christmas Day.

For lunch there was another staple of a Briggs Christmas: a delicious cream of cauliflower soup. This staple of our festive menu is usually prepared by a friend of the family, but this year she was under the weather, and so my mum had to step in and whip up the recipe herself. It was a great success, but left us all rather bloated, and so we headed off for something which I’d have previously objected to most strongly: a Christmas Day walk.

This turned out to be not so much a walk as a photo shoot, as the sunset that evening over the reservoir turned out to be a corker. I spent a good thirty minutes at the water’s edge taking photos of the colours that formed in the afternoon sky, which was enough time for my mum and sister to walk the entire perimeter of the reservoir.

I’m used to beautiful colours in the sky, but never in such an open and photogenic spot.

Once back indoors, it was time for our delicious Christmas Dinner in the evening, consisting of turkey and all the trimmings. This was all topped off with one of the best looking (and tasting) trifles that my mum’s ever put together: we even managed to throw enough sherry in it such that it could actually be tasted!

All of this brings us to the end of Christmas Day and the end of part one of my reporting from my two weeks in the UK. There’s plenty more photos to share from the snowy scenes which came after the 25th, but those will have to wait for next time…

30.12.20 — Journal

Blooper Reel: 2020

After the 2018 and 2019 installments of my blooper reel blog posts, where I post some of the photos that didn’t make the cut from the previous year, I return with my latest and greatest version! In a year which feels like one big mistake, I’ve still managed to dredge up some silly photos from the past twelve months, even though there’s been minimum travel and a good two months spent in lockdown.

After that first paragraph of much ado about nothing, let’s get stuck straight in with the first month…


January

Pirate Briggs

Long before we were all protecting our mouths and noses, I was gifted an eyepatch whilst we were still in our previous office…

Boozy Bingo

Whilst down in Murcia, I posted a couple of photos from a bingo game that I thoroughly enjoyed in the local town hall. What I didn’t mention was the snack break, where I very much enjoyed a little glass of fortified wine…

Open Wide

Now that I’m in Spain and I’ve had to change to a private dentist, I’ve never had such thorough work done on my teeth. This involves a fantastical contraption that I’ve never had put in before, so I naturally had to grab a selfie…


February

Meme Queen

During the talk I gave at Prisma Design Fest, I naturally talked about my hometown (Burnley) and showed off some of Erretres’ latest work, but I also made space for a few cheeky memes…

Yin Yang

One day in the office, my colleague María and I noticed that we’d come dressed as the opposite of each other….

Amsterdam Excitement

In my blog post from my trip to Amsterdam with my colleague Zoe, I didn’t appear in a single photo. This usually happens in these kinds of post as I’m often the one taking the snaps, but Zoe passed me a few she’d taken of me. I didn’t post a single one, however, as I look rather miffed off in all of them…


March

The Crazy Ladies

One of the last trips out before Coronavirus came and ruined everything involved a trip to the theatre to see La jaula de las locas with Bogar and Hugo. Here’s a selfie from that mask-free time that didn’t make the cut…

Gammy Feet

Just before we were locked up in our flat by the pandemic, I snuck one last night out with Luis and friends for his birthday celebrations. One of his mates had included a fake foot in a box of new shoes, which of course wound up accompanying us for the rest of the evening…

Don’t Leave

Once I’d locked myself in my flat with some supplies on that fateful Thursday evening, I thought it best to pop a chair up against the door and write a note to myself that I wasn’t to leave. This little post-it reading “no salga” means just that: “don’t leave”.


April

Lockdown Life

April, the month of my birthday, was also the month that we found ourselves completely stuck inside. This saw us move online for work, which meant that many online meetings were spent secretly snacking…

Smooth Screenshotting

As well as work, we’d also to move all of our social lives online, which involved FaceTime/Zoom/Skype/Hangout meetings aplenty. We took a few screenshots over the months, but some were much more flattering than others…


May

It’s Carole Baskin

One of the highlights of the lockdown must have been the fancy dress quiz that Danni, Abi, and I organized. I dressed up as the infamous Carole Baskin, which I published, but I never published a work-in-progress shot from the extensive makeup session…

Seems Legit

We all remember the global toilet roll rush and the stockpiling chaos that surrounded it, but nobody wants to talk about my local supermarket’s apparent lack of disposable gloves. They tried to trick us with this pathetic excuse of a replacement, but I wasn’t having it…

We’re Free

In May, we were finally allowed to step onto the street, and to celebrate the occasion, the Madrid government pedestrianised quite a few of the streets in the centre. They soon turned into rivers of people wandering around wand socially distancing as much as possible…

The Photo Shoot

Soon thereafter, we were allowed to visit select groups of friends, and so Jhosef came over to record some videos for his final project at university…


June

My Pro Setup

As part of one of my projects at work, I’d to prepare a document in a program which wasn’t available on MacOS, and so I was promptly shipped an ancient Windows PC to complete the task…

Ominous Messages

I really have to translate this sign that I found outside Retiro, Madrid’s main park, it makes for quite ominous reading… “We communicate to visitors that, although no adverse weather conditions are predicted, they are entering a historic park with mature trees, with the inevitable associated risk that this brings.” I read this immediately as a rather passive-aggressive way of saying that I’m about to get crushed by a tree.

The Party Car

Once lockdown was over, we had a socially-distanced “party” at work, which involved four of us bundling into a car like the good old days of our lifts to work…


July

Exploring Madrid

July saw a return to some kind of normality, where Jhosef and I explored some spots in Madrid that he was a fan of. This took us to the Debod Temple, where we made the most of the lack of people to host a little photo shoot…

Scrapped Selfies

We also made a point to eat out as much as possible just in case we were put back into lockdown, which led to some rather unflattering selfies along the way. I’m not sure what’s going on here…

Street Rat

Jhosef also found some excellent new street furniture along the way, and insisted I take some photos, so I guess he wanted them posted here…


August

Surprise Bags

August was the month that saw me lucky enough to visit both Murcia and Tenerife, where I spotted these suspicious “bags of surprises” at a car boot sale. I did consider that, for an authentic surprise, I should buy one and take it through airport security without opening it beforehand…

The Best Model

As my trip to Tenerife ended, I tried to take some selfies by a red way-finding light atop a rocky outcrop, but I do feel that Cami’s dog Luke stole the show…

A New Do?

The salty sea air also wreaked havoc on my hair, but I did consider that these new wavy locks could become a new look for me…

My New Crew

After Tenerife I wound up in Murcia, where I spent over a week with my auntie and uncle. I did, however, enjoy spending lots of time with all of their friends there, and so snapped this pool selfie of the lot of us…


September

Hon Hon Hon

I was very excited to visit my colleague María again after many months of remote working, but I was also overjoyed to meet her little kitten Kiwi. During a lovely evening of burgers, cider, and petting the cat, María snapped this little selfie of the two of us…

Spa Evenings

I I couldn’t get to a spa, I’d have to bring the spa to me, and so many a night during lockdown was spent with my hair tied up and my face covered in Lush face masks…


October

Day Tripping

Me and Jhosef kept up the day trips during October, when I decided that I wanted to see how the autumnal wind had left the usually green Retiro Park. Here’s the two of us by the very beautiful but also very closed Crystal Palace…

I Put A Spell On You

I’m not a huge fan of Halloween, but I will absolutely milk any excuse to spend money on novelty containers full of sweets…


November

More María, Less Hair

María has once again snuck into this blooper reel, with a selfie taken with her fabulous new hair at the great burger joint that is El Toril

An Autumnal Frolic

Once Autumn really hit and I had a new phone to take out for a spin, me and Jhosef held a photo shoot in a leafy part of the park by the river. This involved some of the typical burst shots of the two of us throwing leaves, which seemed a bit cliché, but I’ll throw one in here…

Paint Me Like One Of Your French Girls

I also bagged myself this shot of Jhosef, who’d thrown himself on the ground next to the bikes we’d rented…


December

Karen Wine Evening

Just before a lovely meal with Sara, the two of us spent a good while downing some wine and chatting at home, where she insisted on taking a photo of me looking like a middle-aged woman…

High Wire Act

I live on a third floor, so you can imagine the shock when a man with a paintbrush suddenly descended past my window one day as I was lying in bed. It turns out that they were using ropes and pulleys to paint the building, which I found quite amazing…

Pre-Christmas Drinks

Just before flying back to England, I met up with some friends for some last minute drinks. One evening saw lots of beers with lots of people, and after bumping into an old colleague I hadn’t seen for ages, things got quite blurry as I toasted another round with another old colleague, Helena…


So concludes this quick look over the outtakes from a year which most of us which had never happened in the first place. It’s been a challenge, for sure, but taking a look back over my photo library has made me realise that there were a good few highs between those difficult moments.

I hope you’ve all had as good a Christmas as possible – given the circumstances – and let’s all work together to ensure that this new year is as good and virus-free as it possibly can be. Although I’m not a fan of odd numbers, and very aware that global pandemics don’t care much for the Gregorian calendar, let’s make this 2021 a better year than this one!

15.12.20 — Journal

December Bridge

I wrapped up my last post saying that I hoped to bring a new blog post to you all before I leave Spain for Christmas, and so here I am a mere five days before I jet off back to Blighty for a while. Naturally this last month of 2020 has been spent winding down, enjoying the Madrid festivities (prepare for many photos of Madrid’s iconic LED Christmas trees), and preparing to bid farewell to this year – a year that we can all agree hasn’t been the best!

I kicked off the month as many others did: with a spot of Christmas shopping. A few trips into the city centre and some long queues at the local Correos (Post Office) and I was pretty much done, so it was time to enjoy the Christmas lights that have been draped all over Madrid.

One weekend, me and Napo made a date to catch up, and seeing that we hadn’t seen each other for a good while, we thought that we had best make an occasion of it. We met up in the centre for a wander, then headed to a reservation at Goiko Grill, one of my favorite burger joints. Here I finally tried their biggest and best offering: a burger with a tonne of rib meat thrown in!

The burger was delicious, and the two of us had a lovely evening, which I ended with a bike ride back down to my flat – a decision which, in retrospect, may have been an error. I was so full after the huge burger and a very sweet dessert that I had to take a moment halfway through the trip for a moment to rest and digest!

Speaking of resting, Jhosef and I headed for a relaxing spa afternoon at Hammam Al Ándalus the day after. The last time I visited was with Bogar the weekend before Madrid was plunged into lockdown, so I was excited to be back for an hour or so of chilled-out bathing and a relaxing massage.

After two hours of complete zen, the two of us were keen to carry on our day of total relaxation, and so stopped for a bite to eat in Plaza Mayor in the centre of Madrid. After a couple of bocadillos de calamares (Madrid’s classic snack: squid ring sandwiches) and morcilla (a kind of black pudding or blood sausage), it was time to start the working week.

Between my typical work in the office, I’d also to run a few work-related and personal errands around the city centre, which led me to traverse a few streets that I wouldn’t normally potter down. One of these was the newly renovated area just east of the Puerta del Sol, the center of the city, which has been beautifully decorated and pedestrianized for the Christmas shopping season.

I also took a wander down Gran Vía, the main artery of the city, where I turned down a few side streets that I’d never noticed before. This led me to find a few old gems of shops, which cheered me up so much that I decided to carry on wandering around the city and check out the decorations in some of the main squares.

Madrid still sometimes throws up the odd little surprise.

There’s a differently coloured conical tree around every corner.

That evening, me and Sara headed out to a place that I’d had on my radar for a while, an Asturian restaurant just a ten minute walk from my house. We had a delicious and rather fancy meal of cachopo (a delicious beef, cheese, and cured ham filled concoction that I have enjoyed many times in Asturias) and chopitos (fried squid) – all washed down, naturally, by a few bottles of natural cider.

This kicked off the early December puente – Spain’s version of a bank holiday. We were blessed with a whole two extra days off, due to All Saint’s Day and a day celebrating of the country’s constitution, and we all made the most of it. Me and Jhosef, after a lovely film evening, visited another restaurant in my neighborhood that seemed interesting, a modern-looking Italian spot.

There, we had an absolutely lovely meal, including a fried starter followed by pizza and pasta, all of which was recommended to us by our lovely Italian waitress who talked us through most of the menu! Our eyes were definitely bigger than our bellies, however, and so I took half of my pizza home to finish at work the next day.

Last weekend saw me out again with Sara, who took me out for some drinks and a bite to eat in Lavapiés, a great area of the city to head out in. There, things got a little out of hand, with the waiter serving me some of the strongest gin and tonics that I’ve ever had. We ran into Jhosef, his sister, and her boyfriend, who stopped by for a quick chat, and then me and Sara headed out to a terrace to polish off another drink before heading back home.

After sleeping off a little hangover the day after, I headed down to the shopping area by the river to pick up the last couple of gifts. It was a nippy but pretty day, so I stopped to take a few photos and test out the lenses of my new phone.

Despite having to take some funny detours in order to avoid the pungent smells emanating from a cheese stall within the shopping centre, I managed to pick up the last few bits that I needed. This then take us into this, my final week at work before Christmas, which is as exciting as it is busy: the end is in sight, but there’s plenty to wrap up before we do!

I end this post with a couple of little anecdotes: the first being that, after around three and a half years living here in Spain on and off, I have finally managed to get hold of a proper residency permit in the form of a shiny new plastic card! I headed off there just this morning to pick up said card, and celebrated straight after with a very Spanish breakfast of a toasted baguette with grated tomato, olive oil, and cured ham.

The second little anecdote is to clarify something that may have had you confused since the start of this post: its title, “December Bridge”. This is a joke which I find hilarious but which you will probably groan at, and continues a trend that me and Luis begun at work years ago: directly translating Spanish sayings into English and laughing at home stupid they sound. The bank holiday we’ve just had in Spanish is called “puente de diciembre”, with “puente” meaning “bridge”. The idea of bridge comes from the fact that these holidays usually fall on a Tuesday, creating a “bridge” of days off with a working Monday in the middle. So the name of the holidays we have just enjoyed literally means “December Bridge”.

So yeah, maybe not all that funny, but you have to chuckle at your own terrible jokes every now and then!

Anyway, I bid you happy holidays until the time I post here, which will now probably be from the Tier 3 lockdown in England. Until then: happy December bridge!

26.11.20 — Journal

Christmas Around the Corner

We’re now a mere few days from December, and I’ve begun to make plans for my Christmas trip home back to England, trying to keep an illusion of normality and repeat last year’s festive holiday. We’re definitely in the latter, wetter stages of autumn here, with grey skies and miserable showers marking a stark contrast from the stuffy heights of the Madrid summer.

Christmas, however, has come slightly early for me, as I treated myself to a new phone which arrived a couple of weeks ago. I splashed out in order to get myself one with a great camera, and so this post will be punctuated with many photos that I’ve been taking along the way! Let’s see if this new camera marks a noticeable change like my iPhone X did three years ago…

In between my days at work, taking photos out of the windows, Jhosef came over to have a snoop at my new toy and urge me to finally move all my data over to it. After an evening of drinking tea, holding a spa evening at home, and a quick trip to the office to pick something up, I finally made the switch to the new device, and off I headed for the rest of my weekend’s activities with its three new cameras in tow.

The proceeding week was as busy as usual, with plenty of working hard and playing hard. With the arrival of another member to the Erretres team, we took the opportunity to head out for a team meal, and I made plenty of time to relax back at home after long days in the office. This relaxation is made even more zen by the coloured lights, which I have added to even further, with a new lot installed under the desk of my home office.

There’s nothing like a relaxing evening in with some chill music.

These evenings in the office do have their perks, though, as the new space receives some lovely evening light and offers great birds-eye views over the boulevard below. The new location is especially great for spontaneous evening plans after work, which came in useful when me and Jhosef arranged to meet up one Friday for an end-of-week lunch.

Autumn has to be the best time to be starting out with a new camera.

After work that day, I haded down to the rental bike station which sits just on the eastern edge of the Parque del Oeste, which was looking resplendent in the afternoon sun as you can see above. Instead of grabbing a bike and heading straight home, I called Jhosef to see if he wanted to nip up to a rooftop terrace for a beer and a bite to eat, and so the plan was made.

We had lunch framed by this amazing view down Gran Vía, Madrid’s main artery, and then headed out on to the outdoor section of the terrace to take some photos as we watched the sun set over the west of the city. From here, I talked Jhosef into taking a bike with me back home, and so we flew down the steep slopes of the south of the city at full pelt as day turned to night.

I began that weekend with a spot of decorating my flat ready for Christmas. In keeping with my minimalist take on everything, I opted to try to kit my place out with the bare minimum, decorating my existing plants with lights and tinsel that I had spare from the year before. It’s a stark contrast from my university room, where more certainly was more, and I went so far as to build a winter wonderland atop my coffee table!

I am rather happy with my little Christmas trees, even if they’re not the right kind of tree.

Making the most of my cozy new setup, I invited Sara and Jhosef over for the evening, and we took the opportunity to ring Kevin for a catch up. Sara, Kevin, and I met up often in my final year at Leeds University, where the two of them were studying their Erasmus, and since then I’ve spent many a drunken evening with the two of them up in the north of Spain before Kevin sadly had to leave us to the US.

The day after, and capitalising on Jhosef’s new found taste for cycling, I insisted that we take a ride down the river, an activity which kept me as sane as possible once the lockdown restrictions began being lifted. Once we’d managed to find two working bikes which didn’t make funny noises or start jittering as soon as we picked up any kind of speed, we spent the afternoon making our way northwards along the river, ending our journey with a delicious roast chicken lunch at a Peruvian spot that we both always enjoy.

Once we’d devoured half a chicken and a whole lot of chips between us, we sauntered up Gran Vía in order to catch another bike back home. There I grabbed my laptop and set to work on a few things that I’d neglected to do during the rest of the weekend – drinks with Sara and outings with Jhosef had kept me rather distracted – before heading off to bed early to ready myself for the coming week.

I’m now currently enjoying a couple of days off work which I’ve taken in order to make myself a much-needed long weekend, but the three days I have worked have been as action-packed as ever. This was broken up lovelily by an evening spent at Hugo’s, where he whipped up a batch of delicious enchiladas for me and a few other friends, all washed down with a very strong Russian drink that his boyfriend had brought along!

So concludes my little overview of the past few weeks of outings around Madrid. As I say, I’m hoping to spend Christmas and New Year back in England, but we’ll have to take things as they come in these uncertain times. Either way, I do hope to be back with another post before then, so I shall be back very soon…

09.11.20 — Journal

Evening Walks & Indulgent Spreads

Another fortnight has passed and a lot has happened, both in my own life and in the world. From the move to the new office to the long awaited end of the Trump era, it’s been a busy couple of weeks which have flown by once again, so it’s time for me to bring a quick update on what I’ve been up to in between times!

As I say, the move into November has marked the first few days in Erretres’ new office space, which has been a healthy mix of socially-distanced work sprints, video calls from every corner of every meeting room, and plenty of time spent trying to work out where the big plates are stored in the new kitchen. With a couple of new members joining the team, it’s also been a great chance to socialise, with various lunches held both in the office and in its surrounding restaurants.

As well as the restaurants, the new location also offers quite a few other perks, one of my personal favourites being the ability to grab a bike home from the nearby BiciMad (Madrid’s city bike network) station. The two-minute wander to the station takes me to the edge of the Parque del Oeste, with its spectacular view over the west of the city – hence its name, which means “Western Park”. It’s a spot that I frequented a lot with Ellie and Johann when they visited a couple of years back, as there’s always a good sunset to be enjoyed if you catch it just at the right time.

Last weekend was a lovely three-day break thanks to Spain’s celebration of All Saints’ Day, which was – of course – preceded by Halloween. To celebrate Halloween this year, we’d to get a little creative, and so Danni, Abi, and I borrowed an idea from earlier in lockdown: a virtual fancy dress quiz! Once again we’d hold an online quiz with the three of us connecting in full costume, and the results were as hilarious as last time!

After a miserable performance in the Halloween-themed quiz, I spent the Sunday after cycling around the city once more. My little route took me up to the north of the city and to the British shop to stock up on Vimto as I’d nearly run out – disaster averted!

As I said, I then had the Monday off too in order to relax, but Sara was having none of it, and dragged me out of the house and up to the north-west of the city for some lunch. After meeting up outside the rather impressive headquarters of the Spanish Air Force, we wandered around some of the streets of a neighbourhood I’d never properly explored, and wound up sitting down for a delicious lunch of spring rolls and huevos rotos (chips with fried eggs on top, but in an odd twist, these ones came with chicken and caramelised onion instead of the usual cured ham).

I would have gotten closer for a better photo but I didn’t dare approach the gate.

After some cheeky lunchtime vermouths with Sara, which then naturally turned into a full afternoon’s worth of drinks and nibbles, the working week begun. It was a busy week for my team, but it made Friday all that more rewarding and led us beautifully into another long weekend!

I kicked off the bank holiday break with a meal with Jhosef, his sister, and her boyfriend on Friday night. The four of us wound up in a lovely restaurant in Chueca that I’d visited with Jhosef a few months back, where we tucked into a garlic-prawn-filled tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) and a plate full of morcilla (blood sausage), fried peppers, and quail’s eggs.

It was nice to see the old Schewppes neon lit back up.

This was proceeded by a rather calm Saturday, which involved me heading out for the weekly shop and proceeding to deep-clean the flat – a couple of rather mundane things that I actually quite enjoy. A trip to my local supermarket, Mercadona, is always good fun, and I don’t mind scrubbing my shower if I can listen to Lorde on full blast whilst I do so!

Sunday was much more animated, however, as I’d arranged to host brunch at my flat. Initially I’d just invited Sara, who agreed to bring along a bottle of vermouth to share, but upon realising the sheer quantity of food that I’d prepared, I thought it best to invite Jhosef along too!

The issue of excess food didn’t really get resolved in the end, however, as Jhosef also brought along an absolutely delicious lasagne which we all shared alongside the vast spread that you can see above. After sitting around and chatting whilst we did our best to finish the feast, the vermouth soon kicked in, and before long we were all singing along to a playlist of some of the most iconic Spanish classics.

After Jhosef had to head off, me and Sara popped the coloured lights on and danced some of our energy off to the timeless tunes of the Vengaboys, reminding us of the many nights we spent drunkenly dancing to cheesy 90s and 00s hits in Leeds together with Kevin. After exhausting my playlist of songs from my very British childhood, the two of us crashed out on the sofa, grazing on the leftovers from brunch whilst we watched a couple of episodes of Derry Girls and brought our most excellent Sunday to an end.

I was then supposed to spend this Monday off advancing the design of my new website and writing (and translating) this blog post, but in the end I found myself dragged to IKEA by the need for a desk lamp and the thought of more gratuitous spending in order to further fill my flat with plants. Said mischief was managed, and so my desk setup is now complete and I have welcomed a whole eight new additions to my plant family!

I thus once more bring together another update looking at the past fortnight of shenanigans, of which I’m sure there will be many more as I inch slowly but surely towards Christmas. I’m still hoping to head back to England to spend a week or so with my family, but with England’s descend into a second lockdown, we’re all just having to take things one day at a time.

Missing bonfire night this year has also been a bit of a sad one, as I always remember the many nights spent at bonfires all over the place with my family, and then in Leeds in later years with friends. I also feel like it’s the only annual event that we celebrate in England which is 100% British without being related to any key dates of the current monarchy. But hey ho, and to quote my dad: never mind, we’ll just have to make the bonfires twice as big next year!

To conclude: Halloween is over, Bonfire Night has come and gone, and with it so has Trump. With him on his way out and only Christmas left on the 2020 calendar, things are looking up. Although I do have to recognise that I’ve been very lucky compared to many, I think we’re all ready for this year to come to a swift end!

25.10.20 — Journal

Autumn in Madrid

I point-blank refuse to believe that it’s just been two weeks since I last posted on here, as it seems like I’ve crammed enough errands and outings into the past fortnight to bring me up to the end of the year! Be it a quick visit to the Erretres office or a leisurely stroll around the city centre, I’ve been making the most of the last days of mild weather before winter hits, so let’s get stuck right in…

An event dominating my escapades recently has been Erretres’ move to our new office space! After hauling my iMac down the road as an intern four years ago and then playing around on the dry pool bed of our last office, this marks the third change of office that I’ve been part of. This move sees us head back into the city centre, and a space near Argüelles in the north of the city.

To prepare for the move, I made one last visit to our old office in order to pack up my desk and other belongings, and also bring my iMac back to my flat. This was because I wanted to buy myself a monitor, and didn’t know what size to go for, and so off I popped with my 27″ iMac in an IKEA bag that I’d found in a cupboard in order to make a comparison at home. It must have looked odd, as I bundled the huge computer – wrapped in a towel and shoved into a plastic bag – into the back of a taxi after having waltzed out of a huge house in the outskirts of Madrid.

After having decided on the screen that I wanted and placed the order, it was time to celebrate Jhosef starting his new job. This was marked with a shopping trip to pick him up a new suit, and then a huge plate of tacos to share!

My next trip out was with Sara, who took me to a fabulous Italian restaurant near her house – which is also handily in Argüelles – where we tucked into some delicious stone-fired pizza. We headed back to her place after our meal, where I met her housemates and polished off a decent part a bottle of vermouth, before heading home and spending the morning after with a bit of a heavy head…

Said heavy head wasn’t about to hold me back, however, as I had dessert to prepare. Me and a couple of colleagues had arranged to meet for lunch in one of their houses, where she’d prepared a huge helping of cocido madrileño, a traditional Madrid chickpea-based strew. I’d been left in charge of dessert, for which I prepared a huge batch of torrijas, a cinnamon-flavoured sweet which I first made as an intern at Erretres after having first tried one back in 2016, and which always go down a treat!

Once I had my torrijas made, I headed off and enjoyed a lovely meal, all washed down with a lovely few glasses of red wine. We spent a good while chatting away into the evening, helped on our way by a selection of cheeses and a glass of gin and tonic.

One back in my flat, and with my new screen unboxed, I headed into the next working week with my new desk all set up and in place. It’s certainly given my poor old neck some relief and made my working days a lot easier, even as we prepare to begin working in the new office.

After a lazy Saturday messing around on my new setup, I decided to get out of my flat and wander around the city to see what I could see before the cold winter begins to bite. This little walk took me to the Barrio de las Letras, Madrid’s literary quarter, where I stopped for some coffee and cake before mooching around some of the independent shops which line it’s pretty little side streets.

After my solitary wander, I headed back to the city centre and up to the Chueca district, where I met Hugo and Sergei for a drink and some snacks. Whilst on a quest to find some old lightbulbs to start a collection here at home (an old obsession of mine), I found a few little interior design shops that I’d never seen before, and managed to hunt down some old coloured incandescents.

A wander around the north of Chueca led me to find some quirky little shops.

That weekend ended with a lovely Sunday evening spent in Retiro, Madrid’s main park, with Jhosef. The two of us headed up to the idyllic spot on a bus, before wandering around the artificial lake, stopping by the Crystal Palace, and taking a leisurely stroll around the outside of the park. As darkness fell on Madrid, we left the park for home, stopping off at a churrería (churro stand) for some freshly-fried churros and a thick chocolate dip – bliss!

It’s churro time.

The next week began and saw me headed off to Argüelles for my first two days working from the new office. The new space is absolutely lovely, with balconies over the street below and a plethora of spacious rooms to work in. Although I was working alone in a room due to the limited capacity, it was nice to be in a different environment, and heading out for lunch with my colleagues was a lovely return to some kind of normality.

This, however, doesn’t constitute a full return to the office, and so I’ll still be working from home frequently for a good while yet. To keep up the good feeling of being out of the house, I’ve been heading out in mornings and evenings around my local area, snapping the odd photo of the dawn or evening light.

This weekend has kicked off with quite a busy Saturday, as I heeded up to the Chamberí Market with Jhosef, Sara, and my colleague Blanca. There, we met with another colleague, Jesús, who owns a burger restaurant on the market. Both me and Sara had heard talk about the place, El Toril Gourmet, and we certainly weren’t disappointed – we had some of the best tequeños (Venezuelan cheese sticks) and burgers (ranging from pulled pork to ribs) in Madrid!

After this, Sara, Jhosef, and I wandered back through the streets of Madrid, stopping off at a terrace in Cheuca for another drink. I then dragged the two of them into a shop to buy myself a dressing gown, before the three of us headed off for a quiet Saturday evening at home.

Now at home and lovely and cosy in my big fluffy bata (dressing gown), it’s time to bring this blog post to an end. I hope to have some new news over these coming weeks, as we’ve got two much needed three-day weekends in November!

10.10.20 — Journal

The Second Lockdown Hits

With my last post focussing firmly on the inside of my flat, this post looks to my time out in the streets and hidden corners of Madrid. This is something that I’ve had to make the most of seeing as the looming prospect of a second lockdown has since become a reality. This new lockdown is – mercifully – less restrictive than the last, as it mainly concerns travel in and out of Madrid, and doesn’t leave us cooped up in our houses.

Without further ado, however, let’s delve into the past week’s worth of antics, which began with a bike ride which took me from the northernmost point of my local metro line, all the way down the eastern corridor of the city, and then back home. Starting in Moncloa, I sped off downhill through the Parque del Oeste, taking a little diversion which led me to discover a lovely bike trail along a less developed section of the Manzanares River.

I never knew about this hidden little cycling path and lovely patch of greenery.

From there I had to double back on myself before I ended up out too far away from home, and then proceeded to cycle my usual route along the river, past the Matadero, and back up the hill to my apartment. I was a little dubious as to whether I should have been following some of that paths that I did, as I did wonder if they encroached on some of the neighbourhoods of Madrid that have been in selective lockdown for a week or so now, but nobody stopped me so off I went!

Another evening was spent at a colleague’s house, when I headed up to her lovely flat in the centre to pick up some packaging samples for a new project at work. Upon arrival I was delighted to be invited to stay for tea (dinner, in standard English), and soon found myself plied with tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette), jamón (cured ham), and a delicious homemade cream of pumpkin and carrot soup, amongst other goodies.

After chatting the evening away with her family, I returned home full of food and tipsy on cider – as every evening should end!

The next evening I headed out with Jhosef to celebrate his job offer at a company here in Madrid, where we headed up to a rooftop terrace for some drinks and pinchos, small dishes of food from the Basque Country. The evening was short but enjoyable, but I didn’t have long to wait for my next reunion, however, as I’d arranged to meet up with Sara who has moved to Madrid from Gijón in my beloved northern region of Asturias!

I last saw Sara two over two years ago now when I was last up in Oviedo just before Kevin left for the US, and so you can imagine my excitement when she messaged me to let me know she was now in Madrid! The two of us arranged to meet bang in the centre of Madrid, at the Puerta del Sol, below the iconic statue of Madrid’s infamous symbol: el oso y el madroño, “the bear and the strawberry tree”.

From there, we walked and chatted away non-stop for a good few hours, passing by the city’s cathedral, which looked absolutely resplendent in the evening sunlight. Along the way, we stopped for a caña (small beer) and some tapas atop an upturned barrel in the street along the way, where we caught up on each other’s news and gossip from the past couple of years.

The area around the palace and cathedral always looks dreamy at this time of day.

I’ve always been a fan of the pink sunsets that Madrid enjoys.

From the centre, we descended through Lavapiés and down to my neighbourhood, where we gorged on two of my favourite plates from my favourite local bar: chopitos (fried squids) and huevos rotos (chips with fried eggs and cured ham). We then stopped off at my flat, where we enjoyed a vermouth to end the night whilst messing around with the coloured lights.

A few days later, I took myself out for a trip through the city, which involved cycling up to the Chueca neighbourhood (the gay centre of the city, where I stayed the very first time I visited this city) and then passing through Malasaña. After passing through the streets of this kooky neighbourhood for a while, I stopped off for a fully loaded pitta at a lovely little spot my friend had recommended.

After this delicious lunch – which reminded me of the many evenings spent in Belgrave Music Hall in Leeds, where we’d often hang out and eat delicious food and sip on ciders as students – I went in search of some of Madrid’s most delicious vegan donuts. I was saddened to learn upon arrival at the shop that they’d all sold out, but I wasn’t particularly mad, as I’d enjoyed a lovely saunter around a neighbourhood of the city that’s not a typical haunt of mine.

To end a busy week of work and escapades in the city centre, I paid a visit to the British shop to pick up some Vimto, which I’ve since got Jhosef hooked on to also. I enjoy these little evenings out to the north of the city, where I take the opportunity to do a spot of reading on the bus, before cycling back through the city centre and back home.

This brings to a close my updates from the last couple of weeks here in Madrid, where we’re back on alert as we’ve been put back into an estado de alarma (state of alarm) due to the rising coronavirus cases. I’ll be heading out to visit some friends over this long weekend, but we’ll be wearing masks and socially distancing and keeping the numbers of people down to a bare minimum – we’ve all to do our bit!

Until the next update, ¡chau!

04.10.20 — Journal

An Exercise in Flat Lighting

This year, most of us have spent a lot of time at home. With the strict lockdown which came into force in Madrid earlier this year, I have seen much more of my inside of my flat than ever before, and so have strived to make the place as welcoming and comfortable as possible.

If you’ve followed my blog in the past, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of lights – be it to illuminate a castle created by my dad, holding a karaoke disco in our car, or to decorate my university room with LED strips aplenty. Whenever I move into a space, I always adjust the lighting somewhat, as I find that I can’t relax without having the space properly lit.

This led me to install my current system of home lighting. For a while now, most of the lamps and other light fittings – oven hood included – have been connected to my phone via a combination of an IKEA Hub and Apple’s HomeKit, meaning I can adjust the brightness of most of the lights in my home at will, setting different “scenes” depending on the time of day and my mood.

Naturally, though, I couldn’t stop there, and so bought myself some coloured LED strips from IKEA to accompany a few that I brought over from England and which had once been installed in my university room. During quarantine, I set about designing and installing a comprehensive setup with these lights, such that the entire colour of my house can be changed with just a tap on my phone.

An important aspect of said setup, however, was that they should be completely invisible when not activated. I love the idea of being able to activate a host of coloured lighting to create different moods in my flat, but I didn’t want the inclusion of such a system to in any way compromise the clean and minimal look I have strived to create.

I thus designed a system which is completely inconspicuous when not activated, with the series of hidden LED strips providing full coverage throughout my house. Whether installed behind furniture, mounted along crevices in the architecture, or even inserted to blend in with the stalks of a plant, the activation of the coloured lights is as shockingly unexpected as it is aesthetically pleasing.

This all leads me to the series of photos below, which document some of my favourite corners of the flat as they are bathed in shades of red, pink, purple, and blue. Of course the colours can be changed, and I’ll definitely take more photos at some point exploring this, but for now do enjoy some snaps of this palette that I’ve been using so often as of recent…

Now it’s time to see if I add any more, as I’m currently setting up a new desk and computer setup in my living room now that remote working is becoming a bit part of the new normal. For that, and to see the place lit up in various other colours, be sure to stay tuned!