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Who Stole Christmas?

Do you ever get that feeling that you missed something really important? Or think, “I must get that organised in time for Christmas…” only to realise it’s already happened?

I love living on the Costa del Sol but let’s face it, Christmas just isn’t the same. The anticipation and madness that precede the actual event are nothing like what you experience growing up in the UK. In Spain it’s more subtle, dare I say refined, reserved and, let’s face it – warm! Perhaps even the renowned detester of tinsel, etiquette expert William Hanson would even appreciate the Spanish way of celebrating the festive season.

The lights in each town are festively beautiful rather than gaudy. The new trend for light and sound shows as seen in Malaga and now San Pedro are stunning but not tacky! There are no houses bursting at the seams with multi-coloured lights, overgrown santas and singing reindeer to distract drivers as they pass by. There’s no hint of tinsel laden living rooms peeking out from between the curtains as soon as the flames from Bonfire Night are put out. And on Christmas Eve, the streets are quiet and free from drunken revellers and instead the Spanish enjoy each other’s company at an important family meal.

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Yet, while the Brits are racing to take down their decorations on Twelfth Night, the Spanish have really only just warmed up ready for the main event. Their children are awaiting the arrival of the Three Kings who parade through towns throwing down sweets on 5th January before delivering presents to well behaved children who are fast asleep during the dead of night. On 6th families once again get together to exchange presents and to eat and be merry finishing off with a Roscón de Reyes (with bean and toy hidden inside much like sixpence pieces in puddings before the Christmas “Elf and Safety” crew put a stop to it).

I’ve often pitied Spanish children who have to wait until a day or two before they go back to school to receive their long awaited Christmas presents. It always seemed like a waste of two weeks playing time. But in actual fact it all makes perfect sense now as the novelty of the new toys and gadgets lasts much longer as they have to fit recreation around being back at school.

For us, Christmas was pretty much a right off this year! The flu virus hit our household just in time for our youngest daughter’s second birthday on 22nd (didn’t happen) while a gastro bug floored our eldest on Christmas morning leading to a much muted Christmas stocking discovery session. Thank goodness for Three Kings granting us a second opportunity to get it right (and for our two year old not understanding enough of what was going on to forgive her mummy for not wrapping her presents or making her a birthday cake this time round!).

We joined our local village Three Kings procession, collected sweets in our carrier bags, cheered when our daughters’ names were called out to collect their presents from Balthazar and celebrated with a family meal the next day. There may have been more Christmas Pudding than Roscón de Reyes, and the children still received the bulk of their presents on 25th rather than 6th January but we feel for the first time ever that we paid homage to the country we now call home rather than sticking to the foreigner’s way.

Having said that, my Christmas decorations came down very swiftly on 6th – you can have too much of a good thing…

Welcome Back to Charlotte’s Web

Where have you been?

I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of years now thanks to two new arrivals in our life.

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For some reason the task of keeping up with the blog seems to have fallen down the pecking order behind nappies, feeding, nursery school runs, my real job, housework, husband and so on. I can’t imagine why.

What’s new?

For the moment, this is just for fun. A few sporadic posts commentating on our mostly fantabulous but somewhat chaotic lifestyle here in Spain interspersed with the occasional more ranty serious topic as required or desired. I’m also adding some of the most popular old posts for your enjoyment.

And a new look

I can’t decide if the new theme works or not so please feel free to comment, exclaim or abuse. It felt like the right time for something less professional and more frivolous.

Most importantly…

Enjoy.

CHARLOTTE X

Saturday Night’s Alright For Shopping

4th April 2011

Do you ever worry that your life is a bit dull, when you listen to your friends regaling each other about their fantastic Saturday nights out? Do you get jealous when they go on and on about romantic dinners in amazing restaurants and evenings spent strutting their stuff on the dance floor, in time to the latest tune playing in the flashest club.

Well don’t worry, they’re lying. Perhaps that’s not fair. I’m sure they’re not all lying. But after my Saturday night visit to IKEA at the weekend, I can confirm that most of them were, in fact, partaking in a bit of home styling retail therapy.

Never have I seen so many families, couples and groups of young men and woman rammed into one furniture store on a Saturday night. Some were hanging about in the sofa department, chatting and texting on mobile phones, no doubt to their friends admiring duvet covers in the bed section.

Those with small children were sharing a bargain meal in the cafeteria, filling up their children with fizzy drinks at the free refill station, before steering them around the room settings, letting them race off all the e-numbers by spinning in office chairs and bouncing on beanbags.

Couples were oohing and aahing over the kitchen settings, designing their own dream layout on the computers provided. And just about everyone else was in the marketplace, selecting bargain frying pans, crockery, cutlery, glasses and mugs, plant pots, lamps and rugs that they really didn’t need but at those prices, who can resist.

Next came the warehouse aisles from where you pick the large items that you saw on display in the main store. If you haven’t written down the correct location reference, be prepared for a long walk retracing your steps back to where you saw the ideal bookshelf for your room. Walking against the flow of pedestrian traffic makes for a much longer journey. And when your item is too heavy to lift on to your trolley? Just keep trying because there’s no one around to help unless a fellow shopper feels sorry for you.

The queues for the tills are a testing experience and the scene of some domestics breaking out between now fraught couples, regretting the whole e-number overload at the start of their shopping experience. But eventually you fight your way through, argue with the cashier who’s charged you for 400 coat hangers instead of 4, and head out into the darkness of what feels like the world’s largest car park when you can’t remember where you parked your car.

Never fear, there’s still more fun to come. If you’re not too exhausted when you get home, you get to assemble your flat pack furniture until the early hours, giving you the appearance on Sunday that you would have had if you’d spent all night out at the club. Job done.

If I sound scathing, ignore me. I had a fantastic time and was very proud of the bookshelf I built the next day. So much so, I’m going back for another next week. I’m a glutton for punishment!

Register for an IKEA family card here before you next visit the store to make sure you can take advantage of any discounts going. Oh, and free coffee too!

 

Google Yourself

28th March 2011

Have you ever googled yourself on the internet?

I don’t really mean in an egotistical way – although it will be for some people. I decided to search on my name when an old school friend got in touch with me by email after finding my name and business email address on the web. It was great to hear from her but it was unusual that she’d found me through that route, rather than via facebook or another social networking group.

So, I did a simple Google search on my name and found out all sorts of exciting things about myself by clicking on the links that appeared. Not only did it bring up the address and telephone number of where I lived in the UK over ten years ago but I also found someone with the same Christian name and surname as me, living in the town that I used to live in – on the same street. That was a bit freaky and I did wonder if my identity had been stolen at first. After a bit more research, I discovered that she was quite a lot younger than me, a lot more wealthy and highly successful in her chosen field of graphic design so I guess she’s not trying to steal my identity after all!

It would appear that I’m also a very talented musical comedian and ventriloquist in San Pedro – but that would be San Pedro in Belize rather than our local area here in Marbella.

I’m very fit as I have been the runner up in numerous North of England road races in the UK and I regularly compete in dressage on my horse, Big Risk when I’m in Australia.

According to LinkedIn I have fantastic red spiral curly hair (which I probably hate) although in some other photos I appear to resemble a pixie with a dark brown cropped do.

I have mixed fortunes for my dog has eaten my car keys according to the Evening Post in Yorkshire but I have been photographed with a man known as the Fashion Assassin in New Zealand. Do we think he’s a bit like Gok Wan? Who knows!

Although I’m very busy in my job as a litigation assistant somewhere in London, I have been tipped to take over an industrial services company in Rotterdam. They obviously haven’t heard that the court in North Carolina has charged me with securities fraud and seized my assets.

Oh well, I think I’ll just stick to being me. But I do recommend that you have a quick search on your own name – you won’t believe some of the things that you find out.

 

Simple Pleasures

13th March 2011

I recently read an article where female celebrities were interviewed about their simple pleasures – the little things that mean a lot.

Living in Spain, for me, is all about the simple pleasures. We moved here for the lifestyle choice. We weren’t running away from anything bad in the UK, we weren’t hoping to make our fortune – we just wanted a better lifestyle than we felt we could achieve in the UK.

The weather here on the Costa del Sol plays a very important role. We spend a lot of time on the beach, with and without our faithful four legged friend. While my Spanish colleagues are enjoying a quick siesta following their main meal of the day, I like to take my book down to the beach and boost my vitamin D levels in the sunshine. Or, if it’s not so warm, take a brisk walk along the shoreline with the dog paddling in the water beside me. And even when the heavens are grumbling and the waves crashing, the sea provides such an amazing landscape that I wrap myself up and head down there for a look. There’s always something to see. I have to confess that sometimes it’s a bit of a struggle to get back into the work mode afterwards!

Spending time together as a family must also count as one of my simple pleasures. I’m lucky enough to have my parents nearby, as well as my beloved. We all spend a lot of time together, ask my beloved and he may well say too much! When we lived in the UK, my family was four hours drive away so it was not often that we managed to meet up. Here in Spain we get together at least once a week, and my brothers and sisters often travel over with their families too.

It’s true to say that we haven’t made our fortune, so it’s a good job we weren’t desperate for that! But as I’ve said to a few friends recently, I’d rather be broke here than in England! One of the charms of living on the Costa del Sol as opposed to the UK is the potential to be a bit entrepreneurial. I don’t think I would ever have got round to attempting to forge a career in writing if I had stayed in safe old Shropshire. But here I am giving it a go! My beloved would be teaching instead of DJing and I’d have been in an office somewhere working all the hours god sent for little personal satisfaction.

It sounds clichéd but life really is too short and it’s important to make the most of what you’ve got. Simple pleasures can be anything from spending time in your favourite place to spending time with your favourite people. Whatever puts your life into perspective for you. We may have to do jobs that aren’t necessarily our dream vocation, but saving a bit of time and energy to put towards what you really want to do can make everything else seem worthwhile.

The Leaning Tower of Piña

21st February 2011

Seeing that I’ve lived in Spain for nearly eight years, you would expect me to have come to terms with supermarket shopping, the Spanish way. Not so.

There are many different supermarket chains with stores near where we live. One blatantly caters to holidaymakers, inflating its prices during peak season, while another uses its French roots and international appeal to draw in shoppers of all nationalities, all year round. It’s particularly good at encouraging you to buy three of something when you only need one – at the time, you think buying 12 cans of pineapple instead of the three you went for means that you’re picking up a real bargain. Usually you just end up with a bigger bill than you anticipated and, as has happened in our house, a leaning tower of piña filling up your cupboards.

One of the other popular supermarkets here requires you to remortgage your house prior to arriving at the checkout, and then there’s the one known to be the supermarket of choice for the average Spaniard – and, of course, it’s one of the cheapest.

I hate supermarket shopping and have always avoided the cheapest option simply because of the hordes of people that flock through its doors whenever I want to go there. And while it is great value, our local branch is impossible to navigate. I like straight aisles, where you can systematically venture up one side and then back down the other, passing everything and thereby forgetting nothing. Well at this particular store, you have to wiggle around corners, and at right angles – it’s organised chaos.

But I’m overjoyed to report that this chain has opened another branch near to where we live. And, touch wood, not too many people seem to have discovered it yet. The aisles have been built in perfect straight lines, the checkout staff are friendly, the carpark has girly wide spaces and you can buy individual pieces of fruit rather than super huge packs that go off as soon as you get them home.

One oddity though – last week I bought some broccoli. That evening, while my homemade fish pie was bubbling away, I unwrapped my broccoli and was gobsmacked to find instructions explaining that I should split said vegetable into florets and cook in boiling water. Now, I’m no domestic goddess, but even I don’t need instructions on how to cook broccoli. If you do, check out this helpful (if somewhat hairy) guy on You Tube:

How to cook perfect broccoli

Finally, a word of warning: Most of the supermarkets here in Spain now charge for plastic bags so don’t forget to take your old ones with you next time you shop. We may be saving the planet but goodness me, I’m going to have to start buying bin bags now! What is the world coming to?