Free Opponent with Every Strong View!!!

Phil_3I’ve been reflecting on this binary thing I wrote about last time… the world is suddenly different now, and most of the voices I have heard trying to explain why seem somewhat hysterical, apart from a couple (read on… no… please do… 🙂 ).

I had a ‘moment’ this week. I stomped away from a local argument before saying anything else that I’d later regret. For the record, my own view on that issue is unchanged, but on reflection, I over-reacted and trampled on the free expression of others’ views. It was another scorching hot day, a cold-and-dead issue (as I thought) and I was feeling a little ganged-up-on… anyway… I over-reacted… and it kick-started this train of thought…

Ploughing through the trash on Facebook this week, I read endless items about Donald Trump, including a fascinating commentary on what has made him so popular with his supporters. This was after watching a brilliant Vlog by Melody Fletcher which resonated hugely for me, too.

These two articles work to address why the world seems to be making some curious choices which fly in the face of the accumulated wisdom of decent liberal people. I’m sharing my reflections (for what they’re worth) because, like many I guess, I’m trying to find some understanding, and maybe you are too… I hope this offers an additional perspective.

In my own life journey, decent liberalism probably knocked on the door of my awareness in the then fresh form of political correctness. I was a 23 year-old fresher at the University of Warwick when the knock came. For the first time in my life my contemporaries began to view gender, and ethnicity issues in a new, enlightened way. In those heady early ’80’s days, it was a very exciting and liberating thing to feel informed, and develop awareness of serious issues disadvantaging large sections of my world.

Inevitably, I got into trouble and made loads of mistakes, like routinely holding open a door for a woman, who informed me angrily that she was, “perfectly capable of opening a door for myself, THANK-you!” I still make that mistake (yeah, it wasn’t a single occurrence  😀 ) because I was brought up to hold a door open for people of whatever gender, age, or ethnicity… even though I have been told since it is wrong.

One of my most memorable mistakes in this new world was a conversation with a senior member of the feminist society at Warwick. It went something like this…

Me: So, when do you all meet?
Her: Every Thursday in the Student’s Union.
Me: Can I come?
Her: Absolutely not, it’s women only.
Me: But, if I came, I’m sure I’d understand more about why all men are b*stards
Her: It’s women only.
Me: How can us men learn what we’re doing wrong, if you won’t share that with us?
Her: It’s women ONLY.
Me: Ok.

Apologies if I misremembered the meeting night.

I have to say this baffled me at the time, young innocent that I was. Happily, I had some women friends who were willing to educate me, and I have tried over the years to be more aware, because, frankly, I don’t want to be a bullying male, and prefer to live harmoniously with the other half of the human race…

So… as politically correct hot potatoes have come and gone, I have alternately consumed some for their correctness and wisdom, and rejected others for their downright (in my opinion) sheer weirdness/silliness… At the risk of alienating you, I am going to share a rejection with you, because it’s kinda my overall point in this blog…

About twelve years (OMG – THAT long!!!) ago, I found myself working alone with a female colleague in a small meeting room. We were working on a ‘stuck’ project, and had been tasked with unsticking it, and moving it on.

Having been unsuccessful in improving the process we already had, I proposed a brainstorming session to try and spark something useful that we could use. The meeting closed shortly after my colleague tore several strips off me for my use of the word brainstorm, which, she informed me, was highly offensive to sufferers of epilepsy. She insisted that I revert to the term thought-shower, and I refused, because I felt that I was being stupidly bullied. (Note – Subsequent conversations with epilepsy sufferers have expressed the view that they find it is as ridiculous as I did. One person shared my view that this was another example of someone looking for something to be offended about, by creating an unnecessary word to spare the feelings of the uninjured! I haven’t heard alternative views form epilepsy sufferers on this, but I do acknowledge they are likely out there.)

I have to be honest here, and admit to having had a real desire to behave badly and p*ss off the ‘thought-shower-police’ at all costs. I suspect that this is much of what informs the behaviours of people like Jeremy Clarkson, too! Yes, I am “morally-challenged” (is that the correct term??? Actually… I don’t really care about the correct term, sorry…).

I’m beginning to empathise more with what is happening out there… I feel. A final extreme (and half-remembered) example for you…

Many years ago, I read in The Sunday Times a review of an art exhibition in New York. The white male correspondent, confronted with a box of badges in the reception area, saying “Thank God I’m not White and Male” told the seller he thought the badges were hilarious, and asked for one of the “Thank God I’m not Black and Female” badges. He was escorted from the building.

What is my point? It is simply this: strong views meant to liberate excluded groups are often set in stone as the only correct, or exclusive, view. In my (undoubtedly contentious) view, brilliant initiatives that were designed to encourage equality, were often hi-jacked by elitists who then worked overtime to create additional moral sticks to beat the unenlightened with. Oddly enough, this created another minority, those with alternate views to those who were ‘right’. What about their rights? Don’t they have any? Who’s looking after them whilst they are foraging for comfort in the moral low-ground? Is it a toupee-d American Presidential Candidate??? Will they support him? What do you think?

Here is what I think is happening

I think there are a great many people in the world right now who have spent years being told they are wrong, and that their views are unacceptable. I suspect, they have become tired of being wrong, and being continually bullied for views which don’t agree with those of the liberally enlightened. I believe they might be looking for a spokesperson. Before you tell me I’m wrong on this, consider why Donald Trump is attracting such huge support. Years of hearing the strong views that Britain is better off in the EU are bound to have provided loads of free opposition from those whose alternate views were ignored back in the 70’s (and yes, I do recognise that the issues with Brexit are more complex than this).

I was very struck by Melody Fletcher’s view, which, as I interpreted (and borrowed!) some of it, proposed that listening to opposing views, and having a dialogue about them, can diffuse much of the anger in a situation, and hopefully inform both parties moving forward. After all, if you are being ignored, or having your beliefs constantly criticised, my guess would be that your frustration will build to a critical point, and you’ll look for more and more extreme ways of ensuring you are heard. Yes?

I share that view, usually, although failed epically to live up to it recently on a very hot day… So, I guess we’re all human, huh?

Encebras – July 2016

PS – If it is important for you to know where I personally stand after the above (and assuming you haven’t already left me in disgust!) I find Donald Trump, and what the media tells me he stands for terrifying. Brexit… hmmm… can’t separate my views about what is best for the UK from my own very personal interest in the future of my family as recent UK immigrants in Spain, so I don’t have a definitive response… yet…

And, yes, I like to think of myself as one of those decent liberals 🙂


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“Yes, or no… which is it?”

Phil_3It’s been a while since a theme has pestered me to sit down and write about it. This one has been doing that for the last couple of weeks, possibly because of my growing disquiet about what is happening in America (especially in Orlando, and terrifyingly for Donald Trump) as well as the forthcoming referendum in my native land. I am also on the eve of new dentition, and yes, this could also be a contributor 😀

I hear the phrase, “yes, or no… which IS it?” with a portentous pause after the ‘no’, followed by a heavily emphasised ‘IS’. I think of this question as signalling the end of free-choice and ambiguity. It’s a phrase from my childhood, and I guess from many parenthoods, too! Don’t worry, I’m not about to exhume painful childhood recollections for your analysis, or press my views on ‘Brexit’ on you 😀 No… instead, I’m inviting you to join me in mulling over the power of this little phrase. It has so much impact, as well as offering the questioner an opportunity to pin their respondee helplessly to the board of unambiguous black and white responses.

I was the kind of child who always tried, “well, I did it because…”. And as an adult, the reason is still important to me. I probably still over-justify my actions, offering additional explanations utterly irrelevant to my increasingly scarlet-faced interrogator. The world we live in makes very little time for the explanation of why we do things… we only have time to be concerned with whether or not they were done, and by whom; especially where there is an opportunity to attach blame! I’ve always felt this, and whilst I doubt I have anything new to say here, I still feel pressed to write this.

Some years ago, I was happily engrossed in postgraduate study. I was fascinated by chaos and complexity theory, and was looking at how these disciplines could inform the nature of communication between doctors and patients in a medical communication skills context. Along the way I happened upon a book chapter that discussed apple colouring (stay with me here :-D) and was powerfully struck by it’s argument that the majority of apples (yes, I know this depends on variety) are neither entirely green, nor completely red. The point being that the majority of apples will be some mix of those two colours, whilst only a rare few will be solely red, or green. Given my points above, I’m sure you will understand the impact of this on me. (Note – I think the book was by a man called Bart Kosko, and was called Fuzzy Logic, but sadly I can neither remember, or find the book to check)

As I mulled over this idea, I found that it reflected my growing view of the world as a rich place full of ambiguity. Unsurprisingly, this presented some challenges for a postgraduate study in a scientific discipline reliant on data statistically verified to the fiftieth decimal point. In addition, it tested my other work in learning and development, where one of the most common questions was some form of, “what exactly do I have to say/do if someone does a (or b)?” because finding the perfect response to a difficult client, which will automatically calm them, as well as win their business/approval is, understandably, something of a Holy Grail. My view, freely expressed (albeit occasionally warily, depending on who my client was!) is that there is no ‘magic bullet’ guaranteed to resolve a major issue. The simple truth is there is no right answer, whilst there are lots of wrong ones!

So… back to “yes, or no???”

I am certain that anyone reading this will, at some point, have felt the injustice of having been urgently pressed for an answer that doesn’t fully reflect their beliefs, or the complexity of the issue. I know I have, and I also know that, to use a corporate term, it results in a ‘win-lose’ outcome, that satisfies only one party, usually the interrogator. “Is it a green apple, or a red one… YES, or NO?” The truth, I guess, is that an apple which is 70%(-ish) green suggests that ‘green’ is probably the only acceptable answer, whilst ‘red’ would plainly feel wrong. We live in a world where we are frequently required, for expediency, to provide compromise answers like this and, when it comes to apples… probably it isn’t that important… but, on the bigger issues…???

Is Donald Trump right about building a wall between the US and Mexico to keep the Mexicans out? Yes, or no? Should the UK exit the EU? Yes, or no? Should the US review the 2nd amendment about the right to bear arms following the recent mass-killing in Orlando? Yes, or no? Will my new dentures resolve years of dental issues and discomfort? Yes, or no? Well… hopefully! 😉

The above key questions (apart from the last one, obviously, which happily I’ll know more about at around 7:00pm tomorrow evening) will finally be answered following binary choices made between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The big complicated issues will be simply labelled ‘green’ or ‘red‘. Of course there will be those rare 100% green, or red, apples that will find the binary option perfectly adequate, but the majority will be sitting in the middle somewhere, looking for the best compromise that they can live with later. There will never be a perfect outcome for the majority, and I encourage anyone who doubts me on this to reflect on what happened just over a year ago in Scotland, to friends and family with dissimilar viewpoints.

So… why this blog?

In a world dominated by pressing binary choices, compassion for those compromising in the middle ground is vital. We, apparently, have to ‘move things forward’, and our only way of doing this appears to be reliant on a binary system that compromises the majority, and their beliefs. So whatever you are voting for, and whenever, let’s accept that there are only percentage shades of right and wrong, and the strength of your perception, and capacity for compromise, are your only guides. Perception is personal, and if a decision goes against us, let’s accept that ours was not the only view. When it goes for us, let’s celebrate our good fortune and offer our support to those needing compassion in the middle ground.

Love, light and laughter from,
EncebrasMidsummer’s Day 2016

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¿Habla Parafina?

Phil_3Literally translated, the title of this blog is, “Do you speak Paraffin?” I asked a garage attendant this question a couple of years back. He really wanted to help, but somehow, his lack of fluent Paraffin became a real problem.

Of course, if I had asked him, “¿Tiene Parafina?”, which literally translates as “Do you have any Paraffin?” I suspect our brief conversation may have been a little longer, and more fruitful 😀

It was a cold Winter evening just after our arrival. We wanted Paraffin so that we could heat our uninsulated, non-double-glazed icebox of a front room. I had a few words of Spanish, and often confused them with similar-sounding English words. I said, ‘habla’, hearing the wrong English equivalent, ‘have’. I’d love to say I don’t do that now, but…

A near cousin to this is confusing two Spanish words that have similar sounds. L spent our first few months here offering to pay for goods with her rear (trasera), rather than our shiny new debit card (tarjeta). I’ll leave you to imagine how this offer went down with the local traders 😀

We have friends who have variously described having dogs that have bred many mushrooms (champiñónes, not campeónes), as well as cars that are many arseholes (anos, not años) old. One told us they had confused French and Spanish, offering visitors a cat (gato) with their coffee, rather than a nice slice of cake (gateaux) <LOL>…

On the bright side the Spanish are, generally, very tolerant of us clumsily lurching through their language (unlike the French in my experience… I once asked for “deux croissants, s’il vous plait” in passable schoolboy French, and was met with a stare that really would have felled an Ox, maybe even two, at 200 paces). They are endlessly patient whilst I grope around for the right phrase, plodding through the mental gymnastics necessary to it’s translation into something approximating comprehensible Spanish. When I do make a mistake, they are generally polite, forgiving and simply correct me without fuss, or complaint; and in our experience, Spaniards generally light up when they hear a Brit making an effort to communicate in Spanish.

Most of the Brits we know here are, like us, learning Spanish. Some of those who have been here for a few years sound fluent and are very impressive. They are an inspiration when our learning is faltering and it all seems impossible.

There are some, though, who are less able/willing to learn the language, and one early experience here underlined this in a most unpleasant way. A Brit in the queue at our local supermarket was asked with a warm smile by the lovely checkout girl, “¿Bolsa?”, which translates as “Carrier bag?” The Brit was mysteriously offended by this, and replied, “No, I don’t want a f***ing bolsa, I want a carrier bag!!!” This is a one-off example of that kind of nastiness, but kind of raises the question… Why would you go to someone else’s country and be so damned unpleasant to them when they are being so friendly and helpful? I’ll come back to this later…

I think this kind of behaviour makes the local Spanish, unsurprisingly, a little cautious around new Brits, until you become a familiar face. When they realise that mostly we just want to be friends, and enjoy their beautiful country, they relax. The Spanish are some of the warmest people I have ever met.

Learning the language, though, does present a few challenges… and sometimes surrounding oneself with fellow ex-Pats, provides an all too easy excuse not to. In this area, I was told that there are over 7,000 Brits, so finding people who speak a familiar language offers much-needed relief when the difference between ser and estar is simply too much to grasp. [As a sidenote… the Spanish have two verbs for our single ‘to be’, and they are ser and estar. At the risk of outraging the fluent who might be reading this, basically it amounts to this: I am British (ser, because it is a permanent characteristic) and, I am in Alicante (estar, because it represents a transient state, although sometimes it doesn’t feel that way 😉 ]. So…

… imagine your first Spanish lesson. It is a beautiful, warm day, and you are feeling excited about learning Spanish, and becoming able to communicate freely in your new home. Your teacher (ours is the very lovely Laura, who is FAB!) explains that Spanish comes in different flavours (locally, Castilian – or ‘standard’ – Spanish, and Valencian, which are different languages, are both spoken) and is generally spoken very rapidly, often without word-endings (which are crucial to meaning!) depending on the local accent… Suddenly, you might find your initial enthusiasm wanes somewhat, and it can take some deep commitment to keep taking lessons (even with the lovely Laura), routinely expose your ignorance, and find excuses for your incomplete homework 😀

L’s Spanish has come on at a much faster pace than mine has, although, happily I am mostly understood, and can follow heaps more than I could two years ago. As much as it hurts to admit it, she’s younger and faster than I am, and I’m often finding (at nearly 60) that remembering why I walked into another room, let alone learning how to express myself in the past tense, is challenging enough. Luckily, I enjoy the language and the way it sounds and feels on my tongue. I also know that I am now far enough down this road, to not give up, and anyway… L wouldn’t let me 🙂

When I reflect on my last two years as an alien, it is my inability to communicate fully and effectively (and as a ‘communication skills’ specialist by profession, this is especially frustrating) that is the most scary thing about having moved here. The humiliation of being unable to formulate the simplest request, or understand a friendly question, sometimes is utterly exasperating. Returning to my ‘bolsa’ guy above, whilst I can never see myself behaving like that, I can perhaps understand a little of why. Sometimes, it can feel like being an infant at a grown-ups party, and being unable to join in the fun. Maybe that’s where the childlike behaviour comes from? I don’t know…

There is a scene towards the end of the excellent film Love Actually, where Colin Firth publicly attempts to say something important (trying to avoid a spoiler here!) to his Portuguese girlfriend, in her own language. Maximum comic effect is achieved by subtitles, in English, showing what he is actually saying, rather than what he thinks/hopes he is saying. It occurred to me as I watched this sequence (and I shared, red-faced, this thought with L, too), that there are Spaniards all over our local area, who experience my language skills in a very similar way, almost on a daily basis. This thought kept me housebound for almost two days!!! 😀

But on a good day, when I am being understood, oh, man… it feels SO good! A simple conversation with my barber, Alfredo, about Spanish versus English weather, accompanied by some very innocent and mild banter, can leave me feeling elated… for days!!! The simple things, huh? 🙂

So, where do things stand now with the language learning?

Whilst L was working full-time in Elche, I was mostly a house-husband in Encebras. I shopped, daily, and have built some friendly relationships (in very basic Spanish) with some of the local shopkeepers. I now have enough confidence to walk into anywhere locally and ask for what I need, generally with some success. I had become increasingly relaxed about this until my severe limitations were highlighted recently in an unexpected way…

L’s car needed wheel-balancing. A local Spanish workshop was recommended, and I happily set off to get the job done. As I stood at the reception desk, in front of a friendly young girl asking me to tell her what I wanted, I realised how totally out of my depth I was. I had enough Spanish to arrange an appointment, but had absolutely no clue how to ask for wheel-balancing all round! Much waving of hands (and pointing!) later, we agreed, using ’Spanglish’, that I would bring the car back at 4:00pm. The Receptionist couldn’t have been more helpful, and as so often happens here, apologised (to my shame) at least three times for not speaking better English!

I learned a thing that day. I learned that we learn to speak in a context. I am just about ok in a cafe, bar, restaurant, or a supermarket… but in a car workshop I was hopeless. Next time, I’ll look it up online on the brilliant SpanishDict before I embarrass myself, and amuse everyone else, trying to mime ‘wheel balancing’. Yeah, go on… try miming it… …  see what I mean??? 😀

This brings me to my final thought… as I was contemplating writing this blog (just after midnight, quietly sneaking back into the living room with a pad and a pen) I remembered having read somewhere that it is possible to get by here knowing only 1600 words. Samuel Goldwyn’s famous line about only 50% of his marketing budget being effective came to mind, and his wish to know which 50%, and it made me grin. I made a promise in those early hours… that when I find out which 1600 words will do the trick, I’ll write them down here and pass them on!!!

Abrazos a todos de Encebras.

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Heartbroken today

Phil_3I am a grown-up. I am fifty-seven and three-quarters years old. Today I sobbed my heart out like a young child. What makes this even worse is that I did it for a local feral cat. Locally known as Stumpi, he was black (where he didn’t have abscesses) and had the small stump of a tail that gave him his name, and indicated he was inbred.

At just after three this afternoon, I was checking emails, and I heard L call me quietly from the living room, “Phil, have you got a moment?

Yes, of course”, I replied, as I skimmed the final lines of an email before going straight through to where she was standing, with a subdued expression.

She led me to Stumpi’s cave bedroom, and asked me if I would check on whether he was dead, or not. He lay there very still, with his arms outstretched, his eyes closed and his mouth slightly open. I reached, hesitantly, out to touch him (usually enough, in itself, to bring him to cautious attention) and he was cold and solid and no longer Stumpi.

We’d prepared a lovely rice and curry meal, which neither of us could do justice to. We sat and discussed what to do, and where to bury him. We decided that he would like to be on the terraces where he wouldn’t be disturbed by ploughing, and would have a lovely view of the valley. L’s suggestion that he would be in the same place where my parents’ memory was scattered, was a lovely thought, and this was what we decided to do.

Heading on down to the terraces with a heavy heart, and digging tools, I dug his final resting place. L found a wrap for him, an old towel, and some lovely little flowers and a candle. He was sent off with a sweet scent, and a light to guide him.

Inevitably, the digging was awkward and I fought my way through lots of heavy stones (which became a cairn for him) as well as soft soil, but finally we managed to lay him to rest. We covered his resting place as best we could to protect him from digging animals, and then simply fell apart with grief.

A while ago, I was a company director, and our company sponsored a dog. A dog that had a less fortunate life than some, being blind, deaf and disabled. Riffing on an old joke I used to call him “Lucky”, and even now, despite numerous reminders, I simply can’t remember his real name. Well… Stumpi might also have been called Lucky for similar reasons… he often limped, he was generally covered in sores, he had a stump for a  tail and his left ear was always horizontal to the ground, whilst his right was upright. He was a survivor, a battler, and loped around the place like he knew he wasn’t welcome, but was going to go there anyway… I think he had mapped all of the suckers in our village who would be most likely to overfeed their own cats so that there was a ’little bit’ left for him… Or maybe that was just us?… I strongly suspect not 😀

This time last year he looked particularly sad. He was really badly abscessed, and I remember L and I looking at him and wondering how long he had left. We resolved then and there to get him to our brilliant local vet Cristina. We would get him whatever treatment he needed to ensure that he would get better and make it through what was an especially cold winter. Friends helped us to decide on the best course of action, which was to inject him with a knock-out drug (as sweet natured as he was, he was still a feral cat), and then box him and take him in for care.

Stumps, I think, saw this a little differently. A lovely guy called Steve, who had offered to help administer the injection, rolled up on the coldest day of the winter so far (it actually snowed briefly!) and patiently waited for Stumpi to arrive for his breakfast. As Stumpi began to munch his way through the ’little bit’ that was left for him, Steve deftly jabbed him. We waited for him to keel over, but he found an extra bit of something from somewhere, and managed to run under the car, and then out the other side. As we walked around to where we figured Stumpi would be keeled over, Steve explained that, given his awful condition, the likelihood was that Cristina would recommend we put him out of his misery. I suddenly realised that the course of action we had decided on could have an entirely opposite outcome to the one we’d intended, and I sort of froze briefly…

Stumpi, however, was made of much sterner stuff. Our knackered, and diseased old breakfast, lunch and dinner guest wasn’t collapsed on the other side of the car after all… He was some hundred and fifty metres away hiding in some long grass on one of our terraces. He led us a chilly dance through the village before finally finding refuge in a fenced garden, where we couldn’t reach him. Me… I was inwardly cheering him on, whilst outwardly cursing him for not falling over drugged so that he could be treated to his final injection. Masking my relief at his escape was one of the hardest acting jobs I have ever done.

We agreed, Steve and I, that he had had a nasty shock, and the chances were that he would no longer trust us, and we probably wouldn’t see him again for months. Steve, with my huge thanks, got back into his car, and left promising to help us out again if I gave him a call on Stumpi’s eventual return. I was genuinely grateful. It was BLOODY cold that day, and he had walked all over Encebras with me trying to find a cat that really wasn’t likely to have much of a future.

I boiled a kettle, made a coffee and took it outside whilst I decided what to do next. The crunching of cat biscuits alerted me to the return of… Stumpi, who was determined to finish what he had started only a couple of hours before. He was back 🙂 I was overjoyed to see him.

Over the last twelve months he had been a frequent visitor. Sometimes we’d missed him for a little while, but he always turned up, lugubrious and hungry 🙂 He slept in one of the caves in the colder weather, and on a dining chair in the front room when it was warmer. He had an easy-going nature. He charmed us, and as L wrote earlier, he had a little piece of our hearts. Maybe slightly more 🙂

My heartbreak at his passing is baffling, given that he was a local feral cat, not a family pet who’d lived with us since kittenhood. But, maybe sometimes it isn’t about whether he is family or not, maybe it is simply about respect for a battleworn feral black cat who always seemed pleased to see us, and would even allow us to stroke the top of his dirty, matted head on a good day. Maybe that’s it…

12716253_10156647366805691_5450320155485588906_o-2RIP Stumpi x


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Two years (and a bit) later…

Phil_3… we’ve just taken the second step of our massive two-step life change. We’ve birthed selfconnecting limited and are now ready to welcome people to our Cave of Dreams, so that they (and you, too!) can enjoy this most magical place.

Our journey began three years ago next weekend, when we made our first exploratory trip to Spain to see whether we wanted to make our future here. In February 2013 we travelled here for the first time and fell totally in love with … well… everything about this beautiful, and tranquil place.

Eight months later, in October 2013, we did it. We packed the world’s two most beautiful pussycats, and ourselves, into our ageing Land Rover Freelander and made the 1300km journey here. We’ve already blogged all about this, so I won’t repeat it here. Instead, I want to share a little of our last two years, explaining the large gap we’ve left in this blog, as we ploughed through a task list the size of a London telephone directory (do they still have those?)…

On the whole, present and immediate future concerns tend to fill my days (including those at 3:00am, when I wonder how on earth things will turn out), but when I do think back over the last two years, I find myself startled by what we have achieved in such a small space of time.

Step one was boarding the Freelander. As I reflect on that now, whilst writing this blog, it feels like one of the simplest things we’ve done 😀 Maybe that’s always the way after a major achievement, it quickly passes into the stuff of legend, and after-dinner conversation.

The second step, setting up the business we came here to develop, has been a much slower and more complex process even than moving here.

When we bought our Cave of Dreams we knew there was a lot to do before it would be ready to welcome guests who can dream in it too. We didn’t even underestimate the challenges that presented… we knew there would be a lengthy timeframe around earning/securing the necessary funds, and then translating them into wood, stone and marble improvements (see the changes we made to the pool area below – for a more complete picture of all the changes we’ve made, visit us on You Tube). We were right, it took us two years (and a bit) 🙂

pool now and then

The pool area – then and now

I guess one challenge that hadn’t occurred to us was the extent to which we needed the familiar to give us comfort. We hadn’t realised how seductive old habits are. The ones we were intending to leave behind. For instance, placing ourselves professionally where we feel safest, and most secure, especially when living with a foreign language, culture and administration.

It went like this… L brilliantly found part-time teaching work within weeks of our arrival here, whilst I continued with the work I did in the UK. L’s capacity to teach here in Spain has been, and continues to be a life-saver. My career in the UK has been fading for some time, as I age, and my overseas location makes me increasingly less visible to my contractors.

These professional factors have had interesting, and polar, implications for us. For L (and vicariously for me too!) her swift and continuing successes as a teacher, here in Spain, have been a wonder to behold, implying a highly successful future doing more of the same should she choose. The implications of my waning career are very different, and have led me to some significant self-reflection and … well … 3:17am meditations on ageing, and how to turn this oil tanker round???

So, back to comfort 🙂 It has been a real comfort, as well as financially imperative, to continue our previous lives here in Spain. L, albeit with significant professional challenges (she will happily tell you all about them, if you ask her, after a small vino tinto!) settled very quickly into the routine of travelling 130kms every 11-hour day of a working week at an English-speaking school in Alicante; whilst I know the route to Alicante airport, and can find my way around a number of British (and a couple of European) airports like the back of my hand.

Helpfully, UK Airports provide signage in a familiar language, to direct me to the inevitable queues (Gatwick, and Manchester, you know I mean you!!!). Through the queues, and I head off to work with my highly-skilled colleagues in an environment that I have called home for 23 years now. It slips on like a cosy old blue Dunelm Mill bathrobe…

This ‘comfort-zone’, even with the inevitable challenges any working life provides, is seductive and sustainable and could surely roll on for a few more years yet… But, what then of selfconnecting?

We rely heavily on Facebook out here (it is an invaluable source of information and communication between us aliens!) and every day I see endless memes featuring, ‘live your dream now, for tomorrow you will be dead’ kinds of messages typed in a friendly font over a picture of a slim silhouetted figure gazing towards a beautiful sepia-tinted sunset. I totally buy the message, and nod sagely because I’m doing it (apart from the slim bit!) … or, am I?

Last summer, whilst trying to resolve my tax position here in Spain, and consequently thoroughly reviewing my declining professional activities, it finally struck me that, once again, I was being given the very powerful message that it is time to move on. Some of the challenges that L was facing at that point in time were pointing in exactly the same direction… But, you know what? That comfy old bathrobe… oh boy, it takes some taking off when you are feeling a little, erm, exposed… 😀

Unless, of course, you can replace it with a new pair of jeans, t-shirt (with a picture of your favourite guitar on it :-)), brand new boots and the belief that you have the capacity to offer something really special to those who you are about to meet…

… and I have! “Welcome 🙂 Tea? Coffee? Fermented grape extract? Stunning scenery? Peace and quiet? Swim? You-time?

See you very soon 🙂



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A Winter Meditation

Phil_3I have just had the most wonderful experience.

I am sitting on our sofa, dressed warmly in my fleecy jacket and jeans. It is just becoming light outside, and the daylight from the open-shuttered front-door window is just about overtaking the warm, orange light from the blazing estufa.

L left for work around half an hour ago, driving through the 80km gusts of wind (we have severe weather warnings for heavy winds!) that are battering our mountain and everything else in this part of Spain. Instead of pulling the duvet up to my chin, and following my usual habit, before beginning my day, of meditating in a nice warm bed this morning I dressed and blearily walked my coffee (or was that the other way round?) through to the living room.

Unusually, this morning, L had found a few embers left in the estufa, and had kindly piled more kindling on to it, along with some of our dodgy firewood. After eight hours, or so, of hot cast iron, our huge living room was actually warmer than our small bedroom, and the wind rushing down the chimney fanned the flames nicely.

There was something magical about this for me. As L fought her way through the winds to her car, I re-kindled some childhood memories…

I’ll try to describe how it was.

I turned off the lights, so it was pitch black apart from the gentle orange glow of the rekindled estufa. I was a young boy again, sitting in the dark, by a fireplace, waiting in near silence on a Christmas morning. The wind rushed around the house, spinning the new cowls attached to our chimneys. The estufa was imitating a car engine following a long journey, with it’s click, click, click of hot metal. There was no TV, or radio to distract me. The house was blissfully peaceful.

As I prepared to meditate, with Andy Puddicombe’s voice gently coming from my freezing cold iPad, I allowed my gaze to focus, softly, on the flames in the estufa. As I started to meditate, I became aware of the sound of my own breathing and how it was in tune with the wind. When I closed my eyes, I could see/sense the flickering of orange flames on my eyelids. Then, the clicking of the estufa was joined by the distant crunching of cat biscuits as Bubs had a second go at finishing her breakfast. I could feel the room around me almost breathing out, as I settled into my meditation, checking my physical sensations one-by-one.

I have always hugely valued ‘me time’ and have many more opportunities for it at present than for many years. Typically, I find distractions to my ‘me time’ meditation annoying, or at best irritating. So when, about three, or four, minutes into my meditation I heard a perky “puuurrrrup!” and felt four cold paws landing heavily on my thighs, it ought to have been really annoying, but… it wasn’t. It was pure joy 🙂

Bubs was cold, and wanted a cuddle with daddy.

Eyes still closed, I gently changed position, so that she wouldn’t either slide off, or through my legs. She curled up. I loved the additional warmth on my lap from an overfed, beautiful, black and tan mog. We meditated together. She stretched out her arms, and settled her chin on them, and began to breathe deeply… like daddy.

We sat together in silence, with our eyes gently closed, listening to the wind whilst we breathed softly through Andy’s 20 minute meditation. The estufa continued to flicker, and the Bubs grew warmer and heavier.

When it was over, on his outro, Andy talked about allowing things to happen, and accepting that it is ok not to be in control of everything. Not fighting for control, and accepting things, can help us with managing anger, irritation, fear, stress and a whole range of emotions associated with managing ourselves in a complex world. It makes sense to me 🙂 Not sure Bubs agreed, as she chose this moment to leave in search of her personal fur cushion cover, where she continued her relaxation process with some low-level grooming (see below).

However, this blog isn’t so much about what I learnt (because I know what is written above is a fundamental truth/challenge for me) it is more about some magical moments on a winter’s morning at the end of January 2015 in a cold and blustery S E Spain. It was a very special half-hour, and I simply wanted to share it with you.

Have a wonderful day, yourself, ok?

Buenos Dias… Thanks for reading. Warm and fuzzy 🙂


Bubs completing her winter meditation routine...

Bubs completing her winter meditation routine

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Rabbit in Headlights

StratCan you visualise something for me?

You are a rabbit. You left your burrow to explore the world. You have seen lots of amazing things. You have a renewed excitement for life, and are feeling on top of the world.

Your journey has brought you to a lovely grassy area, and you are frolicking. As night falls you set off across the turf looking for food, and find you’re stood on tarmac. You see a blaze of lights heading straight for you and hear the roar of jet engines. You’re not sure what to do… but you know for sure you need to do something… You find yourself frozen there for some six months deafened by the roar and blinded by the light…

Then… a wonderful memory… Headspace can gently walk you to a quieter and calmer place, so you fumble around for your bunny iPad (like a human iPad, only smaller, cuter, and, naturally… thumper-friendly) log on to the airport’s free Wi-Fi, and feel the light and noise gently recede into the peace of meditation.

Ok, you can stop visualising being a bunny now… unless, of course, you are enjoying it? In which case, feel free 🙂

Well… the last six months has been a little like that for me. After that initial, amazing move, and the wonder of frolicking with gallon water containers and newly-planted olive trees… the dazzling brilliance of what we had achieved (as well as the Spanish sunshine!) and the deafening silence of our beautiful valley, froze me for a while. A long while… almost an aeon in fact (sorry, am a little prone to exaggeration as my father told me just over a million times).

This is why I haven’t written anything here. I simply couldn’t. I almost did, after a mind-expanding journey with Paulo Coelho’s Valkyries. That piece was to be called ‘Making a Pact with Failure’. I remember being excited about identifying/discovering my own pact with failure, so that I could tear the damn thing up. A couple of days ago I found my notes for it, and the first one was something my parents had drilled into me from a young age, “No matter how well you do, you can always do better”. Happily, this truism has served me very well in some areas of my life, and driven me to succeed.

However, the downside of this self-drive towards excellence (which can never be fully achieved you understand) is that it has a steroidal impact on my self-criticism muscle. Looking at others, like you, whose beautifully defined muscles are better oiled and tanned (which is my usual experience) leaves me feeling hopelessly out of condition. Fixing this state of affairs, for me, can sometimes consume an enormous amount of lethargy before the energy kicks in… Kind of… what’s the point? I’ll never be that slim/good-looking/fluent in Spanish/fit/Eric Clapton/and… etc. (delete as appropriate) so I’d better just have another glass of this gorgeous Spanish red, and tackle it all tomorrow. Then, finally, something kicks in and energy replaces lethargy, Churchill’s black dog scampers over to the other side of the road and looks back fondly at me as he goes off in search of someone else to play with.

When I reflect on the last six months, they are a little murky to be honest. Along with the wonderful stuff associated with our move here, and all of the brilliant new experiences with new friends, wine, music, and fiestas; atypically, I have been oddly susceptible to injuries, and there has always seemed to be some bit of me somewhere hurting. I have faced some professional challenges that have tested my self-belief beyond breaking point, as well as watching my employment high-tide ebb. Long-term plans for our security have been challenged, and I lacked the power to protect them. So, six months go by… and no blog!

In the meantime, L’s amazing achievements working in a Spanish school, and embracing the language, whilst completing a hugely challenging unbroken 16-week term working full-time with 4-5 year-olds working in their second language (English) have left me filled with awe and admiration. She is doing brilliantly.

So my current role is to support L as she works herself half to death. I cook (averagely), clean (poorly), manage the day-to-day household affairs (effectively – I hope!) and try to figure out what I am, now that I am no longer what I was.

A few days ago, I started to meditate again, after a long break, and the smoke started to clear. I remembered why we came here in the first place. Selfconnecting. It’s time to leave the runway, and frolic in the grass again.

Reconnected… Thanks for reading. Buenos Dias 🙂

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