The third week of the Living Record Festival has come and gone, with nearly 10 tickets sold so far, and some kind words from Sally Proctor, the Community Director at Slung Low. I hope to see some more colourful pictures in the final week. Please listen to ‘Circles’ and send me your designs via @carminamasoliver on Instagram.
Last week was also my grandad’s funeral; it was and is surreal and sad, but the sun shined that day. I’ve been watching films like ‘Saint Frances’ and ‘The Book of Life’, and have felt exhausted and overwhelmed, trying to be kind to myself, but still not fully giving myself what I needed. I listened a lot to podcasts like ‘The Good Grief Podcast’ with Alex Di Cuffa, and Griefcast with Cariad Lloyd.
On Friday, I tried to be kind to myself, knowing I had She Grrrowls on Instagram Live in the evening. I took myself off for a walk to my local park to make the most of the sunny weather, and as my grandad also had a sweet tooth, having eaten some lemon curd biscuits in his honour on the day of the funeral, before She Grrrowls, I made myself a hot drink to have with some shortbread biscuits and a blackcurrant and apple pie.
I was glad I didn’t cancel She Grrrowls, as with nine acts on the open mic, it was a full house. I read a poem about Yorkshire that my grandad had written, and a poem I’d written for him as part of his eulogy. In speaking of death and grief, I’ve also shared one of my favourite books on sadness: Sad Book by Michael Rosen.
As I write now, there is a flurry of snow outside my windows, and I’m safely inside after a long walk to Greenwich yesterday, covering 19km. Any sun soon turned to cloud and then rain. Exhausted, I had an array of Korean dishes for dinner, and played the ‘7 Wonders’ board game a couple of times. It is the unbelievableness of the situation that allows me to enjoy these moments, but at other times I lean into the grief, allow myself to feel the shock and sadness of such unexpected loss.
When I first moved here, I walked around the streets in disbelief that I had the fortune to spend a year in such a beautiful city. Being surrounded by beauty has a way that lifts the spirits. Sure, it was bathed in summer sunlight then, but even in winter, it often is still and the fresh chill in the air doesn’t make the streets any less beautiful. I love the traditional cobbled streets, white and yellow houses with balconies, and the statues that are still popping up around the city. I was also lucky enough to bag my own apartment in the centre, which is equally as pretty inside.
2. It’s chilled.
The general vibe of the city is pretty chilled out. People are friendly, and forgiving for those like me who struggle to speak Spanish. This means I can enjoy my job relatively stress-free, and day-to-day life is easy-going. Whatever reason for the happy-vibes here, it has had an enormous impact on my wellbeing and mental health. I used to find it hard to relax, but now whenever I get a voice that says what I “should” be doing, I am able to justify my decisions, whether that’s going for a long lunch at De Tapas instead of staying in and being “productive”, or whether it’s taking time out of Spanish classes (which had been stressing me out) and going swimming instead, or even just making more time to indulge in reading. I write poetry regularly and naturally, and whenever I sit down with the intention to write a short story or article, it feels unpressured and enjoyable.
3. It’s sunny.
Okay, I’m not going to lie, the weather was one of the main motivations for moving here. My first focus was that I wanted to learn Spanish, but I didn’t even look at places in the north like San Sebastian. Long days, that are often sunny and often without rain, are naturally going to make you feel good. With bright blue skies, you can’t complain.
4. It’s small.
Along with the sunny weather, something that is paramount for my mental health is not having to travel on tubes and trains everywhere. Growing up in London, you get so used to its chaos. I’m a highly sensitive person, and I’ve been reminded of certain aspects of this recently – parts of myself that I hadn’t truly taken note of, having not realised the emotion impact. It is absolute bliss to be able to walk everywhere. It’s under five minutes to walk to work, under two to the gym, and the friend that lives furthest from me is only a twenty-minute walk. I’m surrounded by restaurants and shops. Everything I could want is practically on my doorstep. Sadly, it’s impossible to find this situation in London – either too expensive or too difficult to live near work. I know I want to come back to the UK, but moving back in with my parents is a massive compromise on the happiness and independence that I have here.
5. It’s clean.
This point doesn’t need much explaining. It goes along with the beauty, that it needs to be maintained. During the night, the streets are washed down, made fresh and sparkly clean for the morning.
6. It’s cheap.
Again, the fact that I can afford an apartment on my own, with a fairly modest wage, right in the centre of the city, is incredible when compared with the UK. I can eat well for less, and eating and drinking out is cheap to, having already mention De Tapas, where you can get a caña for 60 cents, and a small dish for 90 cents. It’s 2.50 for churros con chocolate at Marta’s, and you can get an ice-cream for between 1-3 euros, depending on size. Perfeco!
7. The food.
So, speaking of food. I had to change this from 5 to 8 things, because I couldn’t leave out the food. I love the typically Spanish dishes such as tortilla and paella, but one of the reasons I love going to De Tapas is that I am surprised by so many new dishes. It’s also very unlike me to enjoy something like that, as I usually order the same things if given a choice, and I don’t tend to fare well with the unexpected. But I like how it forces me to relax and be in a state where I am not in control. It’s also all so delicious.
8. The culture.
It’s a strange thing to feel connected to Spanish culture, but also that it is still something from which I am an outsider. I love walking through the streets to hear the music play, and recently got to see the most amazing flamenco show. The passion of their voices, the skill in the movement, the rhythm of the music. I want to write more about this, but I almost find it hard to describe. I just know that each day I am making memories, and I will look back on this year as a highlight of my life.