Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is personal view of Spain and Spanish life as seen by a Briton living in a small village in Alicante province.
The other tabs link to similar blogs when I have lived in other places. The TIM magazine is an English language magazine I write articles for.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A spaceman went visiting

I think it started with the chappie on passport control at Stansted. The notices around him requested that we please do this or that. No use of the imperative. No demands. He said hello. I greeted him back. The rest of the exchange was equally pleasant. Maggie and I were in England for a few days over Christmas and the welcome at the border was a change from my last couple of experiences and a good start to our trip.

I don't go to the UK that often and when I do I find myself noticing it much more than I did when I lived there. For instance, when we were staying with Maggie's family in Bedford I went for a stroll around the area they live. Lots of well established family homes, normal, average sort of homes built anytime between maybe the 1930s and the present. I took snaps; I found them intriguing. I'm sure the people who saw me wondered what I was doing and why. One chap even asked me. He'd been in his home since 1955 when it was a new build. 

In England people were generally very nice to me. A lot of my conversation with strangers has been in commercial premises. I thought I noticed a very direct approach. It struck me as an egalitarian approach; an exchange between equals  Sometimes in a queue or at a bar I also appreciated the very clear instructions or requests that preceded those exchanges. Some of it may well have been scripted by the HR department but I have no complaints about their work. Good English and a good approach I thought.

I really do notice the language. I often turn as I hear someone speaking English. I listen for new phrases, new idioms. I felt to do OK in the few conversations I had. I'm always slightly concerned when I go back that I'll sound like some Dickensian character speaking an archaic form of English mired in the past. There were a few minor blips but I thought everything was fine.

It was cold. It didn't look cold from behind the double or triple glazing in the kitchen with the central heating doing its stuff. The robins, magpies, tits, finches, spuggies and other birds that I recognised on the bird feeders which festooned the gardens of both houses we stayed in looked warm enough. In fact wearing a couple of layers of coats, gloves, a scarf and thick socks it didn't even feel cold outdoors for the first ten minutes but then the heat would seep through those socks and out of my feet. After twenty minutes my ears had crisped up and my runny nose was red. I could feel the blood vessels in my cheeks bursting. England is decidedly cooler than Spain.

It's a different colour too. At least where we've been in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire it's a sort of muddy brown with green splodges and a leaden grey sky. To be fair though on Christmas Day and part of Christmas Eve it was cold, crisp and clear till it got dark - dark at four for pity's sake!. That lack of light was so depressing. There was a mournful sound that seemed to go with the flat even lighting. I'd never really thought of it before but it's a sound instantly associated with so many British winters. It's the call that crows make from the sharp edged, leafless winter trees.

The last time I was in the UK for Christmas was about ten years ago. If my memory serves there are now fewer Christmas trees in windows than there were then. The lights on houses were lovely though with the LEDs sparkling away outside countless houses. Light fighting back against the darkness as it were - very poetic. Spain would be better with more private lights in my opinion.

We got vegan food in one of the three houses we visited. Vegan is hardly traditional fare but, even then, surrounded by Christmas crackers and Santa shaped salt shakers the meal ws not only tasty but it felt traditional enough. Food in the other two houses followed well trodden paths - mulled wine, turkey, sprouts, mince pies Christmas cake or Marks and Sparks nibbles. Brilliant - comfortable, time honoured food. Nonetheless I noticed the variations in the food cupboard as I searched for Branston to put on my wholemeal breakfast toast. Decaff tea seemed so common as to be normal. If the food wasn't reduced fat or reduced sugar then it was enriched in fibre. The idea of a healthier lifestyle seemed to be everywhere and it extended to the different coloured recycling bins parked outside the houses and to the solar panels on rooftops. We have all those things in Spain too but they are all, in my petrified English terms, a bit "Good Life" or brogues and good thick cardigans with cod liver oil at breakfast rather than the norm.

I started this piece before leaving the UK but the phrasing was so bad (I blame having to type on the tiny Android keyboards) that it had to have a serious rewrite. I'm home now trying to keep comfortably warm inside the house in Culebrón. It was great to be with family and their families. We ate, talked and drank to excess. They gave us sumptuous gifts and we replied with bath salts and woolly gloves but it was lovely to relive one of those Christmases which eventually slows to a crawl as everyone dozes in front of the totally ignored telly in an alcoholic haze or turkey coma. Of course it wasn't even real gogglebox as it came from Netflix but the continuity was there.

I have to be honest though. Great place to visit but I'm glad to be home.

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