It’s a wonderful life!

So, today has been a rather weird and, quite frankly, wonderful day.

I got up super early this morning (well, at 7.30, don’t judge me, this is Spain!) and left home at 8.00, a time of day I’ve only rarely seen since my CELTA days. Why did I do this? Well, because my TIE card was ready for collection and I wanted to beat the crowds.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay 

Perhaps I would have done a better job of beating them if I’d gone the right way. It’s not that I didn’t know where I was going or that I got lost, just that I was on autopilot and headed out by the same route I took last time. Only there were reasons I went that way last time – namely needing to call in at the station for photos and not knowing the best cycle route. But having scouted out the cycle route on the way home last time, I really should have taken it to get there this morning. I can only blame the fact that I didn’t on morning fogginess.

Anyway, so I got there at pretty much bang on 9.00 and joined the queue, which was longer than I might have liked, but also moved faster than it initially appeared to be. There was no special treatment for UK citizens this time, no special queue and no special room. But soon enough I was ushered in and this time I was attended to by a uniformed officer. He took my receipt, my passport and my green card. Then he took my fingerprints again to check it really was me and that was it. Passport back, card handed over. I was in and out in less than five minutes.

And so I’m now the proud owner of a Permiso de Residencia with rights to live and work in Spain. Yes, sure, the fact it confirms my status as a foreigner isn’t great, but at the end of the day, that’s what I am.

For now, it does at least confirm that – foreigner or not – I have a place here in Spain. It’s my home. It’s where I belong.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of belonging lately. Maybe I’m getting slightly ahead of myself, but I am starting to feel much more settled here and that I am, in my own small way, a cog in the wheel of the local community.

I mean, firstly there’s work. And boy, is there work! I’m now teaching 25 hours a week, which may not sound a lot but trust me, with prep, marking, set-up and cleaning time, it occupies a good 40 hours a week. But the thing is, I love it. Sure, there are things I don’t enjoy so much, like when a group of students absolutely refuses to speak to one another despite every trick I can possibly think of to make them do so. But there are so many things that I love, like the groups that you can barely stop speaking to each other (in English!). And yes, it really does help that the job pays the bills, but seeing my students progress is a huge reward in itself and it helps make me feel that I’m making a difference.

Secondly, I’ve finally finished studying Catalan on Duolingo. (Cue cursing from certain locals who will tell me I’ve learnt the wrong language. Fortunately, while there certainly are differences between Valencian and Catalan, they’re not so great that I’ve wasted my time. And indeed there are others who happily say they’re two branches of the same language. Either way, as long as I understand what’s going on around me, it doesn’t really matter.)

I say ‘finally’, but it’s only actually taken about a year, and less than eight months of studying every day. But despite me joking that finishing Duolingo makes me fluent, clearly I have a lot more to learn. Fortunately, I already have the resources to help me do that – plus access to a whole community of Valencian natives, thanks to the lovely young man who continues to brighten my life. And perhaps that’s what I mean more than anything about fitting in.

OK, so they’re not really my group of friends, they’re his. But they’ve pretty much accepted me hanging around and that makes me feel much more integrated too. As does the fact that communication between us is largely in Spanish. It’s not that I don’t like speaking English, or that I don’t love my British and international friends – I really do – but it is great to feel that I’m getting to know the locals too. And although some of his friends speak English, and some of them do speak to me in English, they speak to each other in Valencian and Spanish, and if I want to be part of those conversations, I have to damn well do my best to understand and be understood. And by and large, I do. I’m not confident enough to actually speak to them in Valencian yet, but that doesn’t matter. Maybe with time it’ll come.

Anyway, back to today. I was pretty tired by the time I got home (I’d only had about six hours’ sleep after all) but I decided to postpone falling back into bed to a more respectable siesta time and head to the supermarket. And while I was sitting making my shopping list (yes, I really do do that – although I subsequently forgot to take it with me!) the doorbell went – and it was the postwoman with the latest copy of my book. It looks pretty much good to go, so watch this space – it should soon be for sale in an online bookstore near you!

I did set aside an hour and twenty minutes for a siesta after I’d done my shopping, but with all the excitement of the day I didn’t manage to sleep at all. Oh well. At least it’s Friday and that means the weekend starts here. And as the clocks change on Saturday night, we get to spend an extra hour in bed… and what could be more wonderful than that?

Applying for the TIE

Today, I have been to apply for my new TIE identity card (tarjeta de identidad de extranjero). 

Strictly speaking, Brits in Spain who already hold the green “certificado de registro de ciudadano de la Unión” don’t need to exchange it for the TIE just yet. However, as I changed address at the end of last year, and for one reason and another (Spanish bureaucracy and COVID) have only just been able to update it on the official register, the next step was to update my residency document, which, given that we’re no longer EU citizens, meant applying for the TIE.

It also seemed like a good idea to do it sooner rather than later anyway, given the political situation – not that I think having or not having the card will make a blind bit of difference to my rights, but perhaps it was better to do it now while there is still some goodwill to be had.

Anyway, it was all pretty straightforward. I’d been worried that I needed to wait for my new work contract (which I do now have) but actually, as an existing resident, it was less of an application for residency and more of a bureaucratic exercise in exchanging one document for another. All I needed to show was proof it was me in the form of my passport, proof I was already resident in the form of the green card, and proof of my change of address in the form of the certificado de empadronamiento.

I made my appointment for 11.45 – I would have preferred a little earlier, but you take what you can get. Unfortunately, as we’re no longer EU citizens, we don’t get to go to the police station in the city centre any more, so I had to trek out to the one in Patraix, about an hour’s walk away from home.

So, off I set. I grabbed a Valenbisi as far as the station, where I got some more ID photos taken (long story, but basically if you’re applying in Valencia don’t worry about getting the 26 x 32mm size pictures you’ll see everyone banging on about – normal Spanish passport size photos are the order of the day!) and then walked the rest of the way.

I arrived at 11.20 and had to hang around for ten minutes before I was allowed to join the queue, although actually, as a UK citizen, I was given a special queue all of my own! They called a few people forward before me and I was starting to wonder why I’d been made to stand to one side, but then I was called in and sent in to an office all of my own. I guess the process is different for us Brits than for other non-EU applicants.

Image by ar130405 from Pixabay 

There was no chair (perhaps as a precaution due to COVID?) so I had to stand throughout, which struck me as a little odd, but no harm done. I handed over my application form, proof that I’d paid the fee, my passport, green card, Padrón certificate and photo and waited while the woman did her business. She asked me to take my mask off briefly so she could check my appearance against my passport – logical, but it felt weird to be taking it off in a police station of all places! – and then I had to have my fingerprints scanned into the system. All in all, it probably took 15 minutes, and I was out again, blinking in the sunshine.

I’ve been told to phone in 20 days’ time to find out which batch number they’re up to. If it’s mine or above, I can go in to collect my card – no appointment necessary.

And that’s that.

How do I feel? A bit sad that I had to do it, that I’ll be carrying the non-EU identity card instead of the EU one, even though as photo ID it is much more practical. Sad that it will say on it ‘extranjero’ rather than ‘ciudadano de la unión’ which sounds much friendlier and more inclusive. But also relieved that my application is in the system and once I get the card, it will be proof of my rights under the withdrawal agreement. And I am assured that whatever happens with the NI protocol, citizens rights are untouchable. 

So, life can go on. 

Two weeks of school… and a book

Well, we’re now almost two weeks into the new term. It’s taken a bit of adjusting, but so far, so good.

Not all of the students are yet attending. Some seem not to start back at the academy until they start back at school – and as I understand it, some kids only went back to school yesterday (even if their teachers have been there all week with different groups). Others seem to opt out of September completely and start in October. It doesn’t make my life particularly easy – I had a Movers class with one young student on his own on Wednesday and suspect I might have just one student in my Flyers class this afternoon – but in a way it has made for a more relaxed start to the year. 

We were advised to focus on games and fun activities for the first two weeks, rather than launching straight into the course books, so that’s just what I’ve done.

In week one I played variations of two games with most of my groups – Find Someone Who Bingo (using bingo cards from this fabulous website) – and Battleships. 

At first I was a bit dubious as to how Battleships could be used as an English language practice activity, but my friend Thom explained how he’d used it and then the more I thought about it, the more ideas I had.

For the youngest learners, I got them to hide vocab items in a grid. Their partner had to find the words (as per regular battleships) and then each time they found a word they were asked to spell it for an additional point.

I used Thom’s version with the pre-intermediate kids – they wrote subject pronouns / names along the top of the grid and verbs down the side, so instead of using grid references like A1 or C4, they made sentences, like ‘I ride an elephant’ or ‘my mum bakes chocolate cookies’. (Thanks Thom!)

As for the intermediate (B1) students, I asked them to hide (carefully chosen) verbs in their grids and when they found a verb, they had to give the past participle. With some groups, I got really ambitious and combined the game with Minesweeper – so if they gave the correct past participle, their opponent had to tell them how many other verbs were hidden in the surrounding cells. (This was a little harder for the learners to grasp at first but really sped things up!)

The only group that didn’t play either game was my B2 speaking group. They were my guinea pigs for an End of the World decision-making exercise (for which I have to thank my friend Jess). This went so well I’ve repeated it with all of my B1 groups this week!

This week’s activities have been a little more varied. In addition to the End of the World scenario, I’ve had my B1 students drawing pictures described to them by their partners and playing ‘Who’s Telling the Truth’ (essentially ‘Would I Lie to You’ but adapted according to the number of students), which has been quite revealing! And the younger kids have played games, sung songs and watched short video stories. There have been hiccups and technical blips, but all in all, it seems to have gone well.

Next week, it’s back to the book. Although the games etc. have been a lot of fun – and have hopefully helped to build rapport in the classes – I am looking forward to getting back to more ‘normal’ classes. That isn’t to say that I follow the book blindly, but it is useful to provide some structure. The good news is that I’ve taught two of my current five levels before, so I have a head-start on planning for them, and I’ve discovered some useful websites with resources for my speaking class. 

As for getting back to normal in terms of Covid, I don’t see that happening any time soon. It is weird teaching the whole time with a mask on, and weird having all of my students wear masks too. It is surprising how much harder it makes it for us to understand each other, but we do what we must.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay 

It’s also strange to have to clean all of the desks and chairs between lessons, but it doesn’t take long and if it helps protect me and my students, that has to be a good thing. What’s harder is ensuring that nothing gets passed between students without coming via me for disinfecting first. I complained that teaching online required you to be alert all the time – well, multiply that by ten!

The problem is that the youngest students just don’t have any concept of why they shouldn’t leave their seat to show their friend something or lend him a pencil or rubber. I’m sure the older students have a better understanding of what we’re asking of them and why, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re inclined to comply, or that they don’t just hand each other things without thinking. But we’ll get there.

In other news, I have (finally!) received the first proof copy of my book! It is very exciting and more than a little strange to have a copy of my book in my hand. It’s not quite the first time I’ve seen my writing in print because I have submitted work to anthologies previously, but this is the first time I’ve seen my name on the cover and the first time the whole book has been mine.

Coming soon!

There are a couple of minor changes to be made (if I weren’t such a perfectionist I’d almost be tempted to approve it as it is, but I’m resisting the temptation). I’m planning to submit the revised file and order a second proof this weekend. And then – hopefully – I just have to wait for that to arrive before approving its release. I’m still hoping to have it out for the end of September, but if it takes a week or two longer – or even a month – so be it.

It’s been a long road to get the book to this point. It’s hard to believe I’m so nearly there. And then I need to put it behind me and move on to the next. Hopefully it won’t take 8 years this time.

Back to school

So, it’s back to work on Monday after 9 weeks of holidays. I’m not quite sure where the summer has gone. We spent a lovely week away relaxing by the pool at the beginning of August but other than that I’ve been at home. The time has just flown.

I suppose I have spent quite a lot of time working on my collection of short stories, It’s Complicated and it was fantastic to finally see the finished e-book. I can’t wait to see the printed proof, currently on its way over to me from the US.

I’ve also enjoyed regular trips to the beach, done a lot of BeBalanced sessions, both in the Rio with Belinda and at home, and enjoyed lazy mornings and regular film nights in bed. I’ve baked a lot (despite the heat) and I’ve spent a lot of time on Duolingo. I’ve read books and I’ve listened to music. I’ve even been to karaoke a couple of times, although it’s sadly had to close again. But just like school, it’ll be back.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay 

Anyway, this morning I went in to the academy for a meeting and to find out how we’re going to approach teaching in the classroom in the face of coronavirus. The answer is this: with a great deal of forethought and planning!

I have to say that the owners have done a great job with the new protocol and it is good to know that they are taking things so seriously. Class sizes have been reduced to allow for desks to be spaced throughout classrooms, lesson times have been adjusted to allow time for students to arrive and leave safely, hand sanitisers are being provided, masks are to be worn by all staff and students, no sharing of materials is to be allowed, and so on. And if anyone gets ill, there are plans for dealing with that too.

The issue is that obviously this raises new challenges for us as teachers. No more ball games. No more games of ‘consequences’ or ‘whose story is it?’, which require papers to be passed between students. No more ‘mingle’ activities. Students are expected to arrive and sit in their seats for the duration of the lesson, except if they are invited up to write on the board (with board markers being cleaned as appropriate, naturally). After teaching online and the challenges that presented, this is going to provide us with a whole new set of challenges to be overcome.

So, how do I feel about the whole thing? Excited. Slightly trepidatious. But actually pretty calm. We adapted to online classes. We’ll adapt to this too. And it will be good to see my students again. When I was given the register today and saw their names again, it made me smile.

I know there will be challenges. I know that getting 8 year-olds to sit still for an hour and a half will be interesting. But I know that we’ll face these challenges together as a team. And I know that we’ll overcome them.

I’ve had a fantastic summer. I really have. I’ve loved every minute. But it’s time to go back to work now.

I’m looking forward to getting started.

Editing

Today, I have finished editing the stories for my collection.

I had planned on selecting and editing twenty stories. In the end, I’ve selected twenty-one. I’ve gone through them time and again, looking at characterisation, exposition, proportion, point of view and dialogue, and as I’ve finished with each one, I’ve marked it final and moved it into a ‘final versions’ folder.

Twenty-one final versions, all ready to be put into a book and published. There’s plenty of work still to do. I know that, but it already feels like a small win.

Image by Daniel Friesenecker from Pixabay 

This is the point at which I usually get cold feet and decide that all the work I’ve done is good for nothing. This is the point at which I usually lose confidence and grind to a halt.

Not this time.

This time I am determined to push on through.

The question is whether I should go with the momentum or allow myself to stop and celebrate this milestone.

I have just two weeks left of my summer holidays. I’d quite like to relax and enjoy the time I have left, but I desperately don’t want to lose focus, to lose momentum and let this drift. I want to feel that book in my hand.

Let’s be honest, even when I was on holiday, I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy time by the pool without balancing it out with some editing.

Perhaps it’s time to accept that I will never be someone who can completely switch off.

Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Summer starts here

So, almost two weeks of the summer holidays have gone by already (where does the time go?) and what have I done?

Actually, I’ve done quite a lot. I’ve edited five stories for my collection, although ‘edited’ might be a little generous. I’ve looked at them, made a few minor changes and basically decided that I did a good enough job the last time I edited them. If I gave them to my writing group to look at, they might have some ideas for further improvements, but then they all tend to have different ideas, and that doesn’t always make my job any easier! So I’ve declared them ready, labelled them final and moved them into my ‘completed’ folder. And that’s that. It feels good.

I’ve picked the easier ones to begin with, of course. There are a couple I’m still working on that need more work, but I’m so tied up in them that I need a bit of space to be able to figure out a way forward. And then there’s another that I’ve been working on and have nearly, nearly finished. So I’m making pretty good progress. I’m happy.

And I am happy, by the way. Sorry to keep going on about it but life is good right now. 

What else have I done? Well, Duolingo, of course. I was trying to demonstrate that you could skip sections by doing a checkpoint review and accidentally ended up getting my golden owl in Catalan, which is hilarious as there are whole tenses I haven’t studied yet, but it has also made me feel optimistic that if I keep it up, I could actually complete the whole Catalan course on Duolingo by the end of the year. (I could potentially do it sooner, but I don’t want to put additional pressure on myself.) Although of course, that wouldn’t be the end of my learning it by any stretch of the imagination! But still, it would be an achievement.

The daft thing is that now I’ve got the golden owl (which, in my opinion, Duolingo should not have awarded me), it assumes I know it all. If I try to do one of the XP multiplier challenges, it asks me all sorts of things in imperfect subjunctive, which I can just about understand but there’s no way I can type it without looking it up, so I’ve made a bit of a rod for my own back. There’s a lesson in there – don’t claim credit for things you can’t really do. 

The good thing is that, although there’s no way I’d feel confident having a ‘proper’ conversation in Catalan yet, I do understand a reasonable amount when I listen in on conversations in Valencian, which – without getting too many backs up, I hope – is very similar. (I’ve managed to upset a couple of people so far by saying it’s ‘basically the same’ so I won’t say that. But it’s close enough that I can pretty much understand the same amount of both.) It feels like something of a secret weapon – everyone (half-) expects foreign residents to understand conversations in (Castilian) Spanish, but not so for Catalan / Valencian!

What else? Well, I’ve also been to the beach several times – although only once here in the city. The beach here is nice and sandy and good for swimming (if a little dull as there’s absolutely nothing to see in the water) but the beaches outside the city are much quieter and it’s nice to get out and about, see the mountains and breathe some fresh air. And it feels great to put music on in the car, turn up the volume and let rip with the singing. We haven’t made it to karaoke yet, but for now, singing in the car will do.

Other than that, I’ve settled into a pretty relaxed way of life. My diary is still pretty much full (there are just so many things to do!) but there are plenty of leisure activities in there too, including picnics with friends and an upcoming trip to the Botanical Gardens. Lockdown feels like a lifetime ago. 

I’m trying not to read the news, and to take things on the Valencia Facebook groups with a pinch of salt. I may have quite enjoyed my time in lockdown but that was then. I really don’t want to think about having to do it all over again. 

All in all, so far, the summer is treating me well. It’s hot – oh, is it ever hot! – but that’s not such a bad thing, as long as we can get out and about and enjoy the breeze. 

So far, we can. Fingers crossed it remains that way.

Time to breathe

You’d think, with term ending tomorrow, and yesterday and today being holidays, that I’d be feeling quite chilled right now. The truth is that I’m not.

I mean, I feel really happy. There’s so much good stuff in my life right now. But maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still feel like I don’t deserve it, or maybe I’m just worried that I’m going to lose it.

For example, some of my friends are leaving Valencia. I have to keep reminding myself that doesn’t mean we have to stop being friends. And I’m also meeting new people all the time. Change doesn’t have to be bad. I know all this, but I still have to remind myself.

Time for a deep breath. 

Time to remind myself to hold things lightly.

Time to remember that everything is always working out for me. (I can see proof of that in my life here in Valencia. I could never have imagined the series of events that led to me being where I am now. But that didn’t stop them happening.)

This I can do.

The other thing is that for me, routine – or more than routine, timetables – help to make me feel secure. I put everything in my calendar: when I’m going to prepare my classes, when I’m going to do Duolingo, when I’m going to write, when I’m going to go to the supermarket, or clean the flat, or do exercise classes… I don’t always stick to it precisely, but the act of making a schedule helps things feel more manageable, helps reassure me that I know what the plan is, that there is, in fact, time and I don’t have to worry that I’ll forget to do something. Or perhaps it’s not as rational as that. But one way or another, it makes me feel secure.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay 

And now, suddenly, with the end of term looming, a big part of my timetable is being ripped out from under me. And I don’t quite know how to cope with that.

People say to me, ‘But surely you don’t schedule your time during your holidays?’ Well actually, yes, yes, sometimes I do. I’ve been known to take a week off work and then schedule in time for everything from cleaning to writing to reading to watching television. (Yes, really.) 

It’s weird. It’s not like I want to plan every moment. I like the thought of being flexible, of being responsive, of meeting up with friends and going to the beach or the park, but I also find it quite unsettling to have absolutely no timetable to adhere to – or perhaps to break.

I’ve also put myself under pressure by giving myself the challenge of editing my short story collection this summer (and by telling everyone I’m planning to do it). It should be manageable in the 9 weeks available, it really should. But I’ve been going at it on and off since before I came to Valencia and now that I’ve been studying editing techniques in my writing workshops, I feel that some of the pieces might need bigger rewrites than I’d previously thought. Or maybe not.

Perhaps the key really is to stop taking everything so seriously – to stop taking myself so seriously. Perhaps I have to accept that the editing thing is an aspiration, not a deadline. And perhaps I have to put together some sort of skeleton timetable, just to quiet that part of my brain that demands the security of dates and times, knowing full well that I’ll break it. Perhaps I even have to relish the breaking of it, to enjoy sticking two fingers up at the control freak inside of me.

And if that’s weird, so be it. I’m not perfect. 

I don’t need to be.

Exams

Well, the last few weeks have been a bit of a blur to be honest.

Online exams always sounded like they would be challenging and so it proved, although perhaps in a different way than I’d expected.

The academy decided (quite rightly in my opinion) not to go ahead with formal practice exams for the young learners, so we teachers were asked to come up with our own assessments using the materials already available to us. After an initial flap, we asked for and were provided with some clarification as to what was actually being asked of us and I discovered that it wasn’t so bad. We basically had to choose materials to use for the assessments for each level, write ‘can do’ statements relating to the skills covered by each assessment piece and then decide how we would get the learners to submit their answers to us.

And indeed, getting learners to submit their answers turned out to be the most challenging part. Perhaps I should have been clearer with them that they were being assessed, but having been told that we should avoid stressing them by using differentiated assessment tasks, I thought perhaps it was best not to stress them out by telling them it was an exam. But maybe I was wrong.

For some of the tasks I’d decided that the best thing to do was to ask the learners to send their answers to me via chat. Now, that might sound challenging for a 7 year-old but believe me, they know how to use the chat box when they want to. They also know that if they refuse to use it, there’s nothing I can do about it.

For other tasks, I’d decided it would be better to put them into breakout rooms and go and speak to them individually or in pairs. Some of the learners were very obliging and chatted away with me quite happily. Others claimed not to be able to see the big ‘join breakout room’ button that appeared in the middle of the screen and refused to press it. And yet others joined the breakout room and then said very little. I did what I could. I marked them on the skills they had demonstrated. I left blanks where I was unable to make an assessment. It was the best I could do.

All in all, the young learner assessments were challenging and took quite a lot of time, but at least we marked them pretty much in the moment. The teen exams were another matter altogether.

It started off OK. The first exams were listening and reading – both multiple choice, both quick and easy to mark (assuming the answer papers reached me, which is another long and rather dull story). Speaking was done in class and I managed to mark almost all of them in the moment this time, which felt like a victory. But then there was the writing exam.

I remember in December I spent about 18 hour marking writing exams. I’d told myself I wouldn’t do the same again, that I would be faster. I’d only spend 4 minutes per question, I told myself. 4 minutes x 2 questions x 60 students = 8 hours.

So, did I manage it? Er, no. Actually, I ended up printing off all the writing answers, as marking them on screen felt like hard work (and didn’t allow me to use my coloured pen technique!). Just printing them must have taken a couple of hours. And then I probably averaged 8 minutes per question – although I definitely got faster towards the end, with my cheerleader keeping me on track and bringing me cups of tea. So, all in all, I probably ended up taking about 18 hours again.

But it’s over now. I don’t have to mark any more writing exams until December. I can’t say I’m upset about that!

We have a week left to work – we finish on Friday 26th but 24th and 25th are days off. 

I’ve really enjoyed teaching my students this year and am looking forward to continuing to work with them next year, but I have to say I feel ready for a break. It’s been a long hard slog through since Christmas.

I don’t yet know whether I’ll be able to get any work over the summer. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of teaching work going this year, for obvious reasons, and of course, there are lots of temporarily unemployed teachers looking to pick up a few hours. If I can, I will. But I’ve plenty of other things to keep me busy – not least pulling together the collection of short stories I’ve been threatening to produce for the last few years.

And then in September we’ll – probably – be back in the academy. That’ll bring its own challenges (socially distanced group activities, anyone?) but I’m sure we’ll adapt, just as we did to the online teaching environment.

And in the meantime, I get to enjoy two months of Valencian sunshine. I can’t wait.

Phase 1: out for drinks

So, tonight, for the first time since 13th March, we were allowed out for drinks. Having been quite nervous at the start of the quarantine period, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be up for drinks on the very first occasion we were allowed out, but after more than two months inside, it felt like such an occasion that it really had to be celebrated. So I arranged to meet up with my friend Jessica near her house in Ruzafa.

Now, the problem with Ruzafa is that it’s one of the places to be in Valencia, particularly for the hip international brigade. And the problem with Jess and I arranging to meet up there is that we both worked until 8.30, so by the time we’d finished, quickly got ready and (in my case) walked there, it was almost 9.00, by which time all the terraces (with their reduced capacity) were full. We wandered around for a bit, slightly surprised at how many bars hadn’t opened at all, and then decided there was nothing for it. We’d have to go elsewhere.

Elsewhere was a toss up between Monteolivete, where I live and El Carmen. We decided on El Carmen, partly because there’s more life there and partly because we knew a friend was already there and we hoped he might have a table we could join. The first of these premises turned out to be entirely false – almost every bar was closed – but fortunately the second paid off. Mariano came to find us in the Plaza de la Virgen and led us back to a bar I’d never been to before, where we managed to get seats and drinks. What more could we ask for?

What more we were given was a very drunk Mancunian who declared that True Colours was his favourite song ever when for some inexplicable reason I showed him a video of me playing it on the ukulele. Mind you, he also declared that his father was Jimi Hendrix, so that probably tells you all you need to know.

It felt a little strange to be sitting outside again sipping a glass of wine in a (somewhat divey, if I’m honest) back street, but it was also good to be with friends and to feel normality starting to return (although only being allowed into the bar one at a time to order didn’t feel quite so normal).

And then we walked home through the oh-so-quiet streets and things didn’t feel so normal after all. But it was good to get out, good to see parts of Valencia I hadn’t visited in two months, and good to drink in company with friends.

And if you were hoping for an update on the Pedro situation, I’m sorry. All I will say is that yes, I have seen him. And yes, he is great. And yes, I am feeling very happy right now. But that’s all.

One way or another, life has changed. I have changed. Jessica said this evening that she saw a side of me she hadn’t seen before. I’m going to take that as a good thing. 

How things will shake out in the longer term remains to be seen. There are lots of questions still unanswered, about work, about life, about home, although the home questions are starting to come together, and all being well I’ll have a new roommate in just a few months’ time. But isn’t that the fun of life? If we knew everything that was going to happen, it would be boring.

Life here is never boring. Long may it be so.

Running

This morning, for the first time in ages, I went for a run. Now, the first thing you need to understand about my lack of running recently is that it is not entirely (or even mainly) down to the lockdown. I was determined to keep running after the half marathon, just as I always am, but I only managed a few runs before going into a winter shutdown, just as I always do. So, lockdown has really been a convenient excuse not to restart in March as I usually would.

Now, I can’t say I particularly wanted to go for a run this morning. As I keep telling people (although nobody seems to believe me) I don’t actually enjoy running. I’m not sure I’ve ever really enjoyed the running part of running. I enjoy the challenge of completing races. I enjoy chatting with friends. I even enjoy the challenge of setting myself a target and hitting it. But the actual running part? Not so much.

Despite that, a number of people had expressed surprise that I hadn’t been for a run yet, and I suppose it felt like time that I got out there and did it. I wasn’t that worried about it – Belinda’s workout sessions have kept me pretty active and thanks to her focus on abs, I even managed to complete a 90 second plank the other day in response to a challenge from a friend. That may not sound like an achievement but is for me. When I was training for the marathon I had to start at 20 seconds and that nearly killed me! I may be the only person coming out of lockdown in better physical shape than I went into it.

So, after two days of short walks and a day off yesterday, I dusted my trainers off and set off for a run. I walked down as far as the riverbed to loosen up, and noticed on the way that my ankles were a bit sore. Strange. But when I started running, they stopped hurting. Even stranger. I guess running uses different muscles.

I told myself I’d run for 10 minutes in one direction then turn round and run back again. 20 minutes should be enough to do an easy 3km. And so it was – 3.25km in fact. And I actually found myself smiling to myself as I was running. What the heck?

I still won’t say I enjoyed it, but I did enjoy the fact that I had closed both my move and exercise rings before breakfast. And now I don’t have to run again for at least two days, and I like the sound of that too.