I was recently in Girona on my way from Murcia towards Berlin.
Girona is a really pretty city, at least what I saw in the 17 or so hours I was there. Much friendlier than Barcelona and much less scary to walk around at night.
I wandered between the old old houses and shops, admiring the art nouveau balconies and door handles, stopping ever few hundred metres to take photos of things people probably mostly ignore. Missing bricks, the compass worked into the street, the street signs and the people on the traffic lights.
I visited the ancient Arabic baths and tried to visit the cathedral (but decided the entrance fee was unjustified). I was on my way to the remains of the tall wall that originally enclosed the city when I met Amanda.
I didn’t know she was called Amanda and I wasn’t out to meet anyone. Especially someone as glamorous as Amanda. I wanted to know how to get onto the wall and she was the only person around to ask. If there’d been anyone else I would have asked them instead.
“I think there’s a staircase along here next to the tower, let’s go and find out.”
She set off and I followed at a distance, leaving her some space – space it turned out she wasn’t really all that interested in.
“Do you think you could take a picture of me?”
She’d been fighting her phone for a while, trying to find a way to fit herself, the wall and the cathedral onto one photo.
“Yeah, sure, if you show me how your phone works..”
She handed it over (“Just press here”) and started posing, adjusting her hair and sunglasses, shuffling her position, arranging and rearranging herself, letting the sun dance on her face and make her earrings sparkle – obviously this is something she’s used to doing.
“Hey, give me your bag and your water bottle – they don’t need to be in the picture, and I’ll move my bag out of the way too. There.”
Click click click.
“The wind keeps messing my hair up..”
“I think if you turn just a bit more to the left.. Perfect.. Hold that…”
Click. Click. Click click click.
“Here, have a look to see if you’re happy with them. I can take more if you don’t like them.” I hand her phone back.
“Wow! You took loads! Thank you! I love this one, and this one. And this one’s good with the cathedral – you’re a really good photographer. Thank you so much!” She smiled as she flicked through the pictures. “Can you take another one of me in close up? From over there..”
Click. Click click. Shuffle. Rearrange. Click.
“There you go.”
“Thanks ever so much. That’s brilliant. Thank you!” she gushes. “Most people just take one and don’t check if you have your eyes shut or if you’re smiling. They don’t even make sure that the scenery fits on the photo. You’re lucky if they don’t cut part of your head off..” She paused. “Do you want me to take some of you?”
*panic* “Uh…” My mind races. Me? No way. Why not? I can’t. Just because you don’t usually. You can’t always hide behind the camera.. Ugh. “Ok. Go ahead. Please.”
My phone beeps as I hand it over – less than 10% battery life left. I hope it lasts until I’ve found my way back to the station. I hope there are plugs on the train. I hope I’m there in time to catch the train. I hope..
I stop thinking about the rest of the journey for a minute and try and act a fraction as cool as Amanda while she takes pictures. I think I need more practice at this posing lark.
Then it’s over (“Is that ok? Want any more?” “No, that’s more than enough, I have to get back to the station..”). I jump down off the wall, get my phone back, pick up my bags, start to leave.
Halfway down the steps I remember the other lady who’d been sitting by herself and who’d watched us taking pictures of each other for a few seconds before turning back to stare across the city. I go back up to the platform and ask her if she wants her photo taken too. She looks up, shy, and tells me she was going to take a selfie, but if I’m offering.. She stops mid-sentence, reminding me more of myself than of Amanda. I put down my bags and take her phone. She looks like she feels even more awkward than me as she balances on the wall, hugging her knees. I take a couple of pictures and ask her if she wants to move along the wall a bit – the sun’s behind her and I can only take pictures of her silhouette. She laughs, moves, resettles. “Better?” “Much.”
Click click. Click. Click click click.
I move too, trying to get her and the cathedral and the wall and the clouds onto a picture without anything getting in the way of anything else.
“This is like a proper photo shoot!”
I doubt it but we laugh anyway. She’s finally relaxed enough to sit naturally.
Beep! My phone is still in the process of dying, reminding me that I have a train to catch. I hand her phone back and say I have to go. She thanks me and goes back to her original position, looks across the city, looks at the pictures I’ve taken. Smiles.
I catch up with Amanda at the bottom of the tower, she’s been waiting for me. She wants me to take more photos of her along the next section of the wall.
We align clouds, walls, towers, roofs, trees as we make our way towards the end of the wall, sharing fragments of our lives – and the current moment – with each other. It appears we’re not so different after all, our reasons for being in Girona, our opinion of Barcelona, our travel plans for the next few days. Not identical, but similar enough to feel more than coincidental. The realisation that there’s a person under all that make-up is a surprise. Especially a person I can relate to. I am always surprised by this; in my mind at least, I still associate heavily made up people with the “cool” girls in my class at school. The ones who would rather do anything than talk to me and risk losing their coolness. The ones I had less than nothing in common with. The ones I still ‘see’ despite the years and miles between us.
At the end of the wall she thanks me again, profusely, for all the photos I took along the way, telling me again that I’m a great photographer. She ignore my protests that I just take lots of pictures and occasionally some work well, and instead wishes me a good time travelling. She insists we take a selfie together. One each. To remember.
Together. Me and Amanda. The laid back, perfectly made up, glamorous Amanda from Brazil, with her pearl earrings and flowing hair, who wouldn’t look out of place in a magazine or on one of those huge roadside posters advertising sunglasses or perfume, and me. In one picture. On purpose. Despite my messy bun and crumpled skirt and bag lady luggage. My word.
One day, I decide, I will lose some of my shallowness. Some of my prejudice. And maybe, maybe also some of my reluctance to talk to [makeup wearing] strangers.
This is me, sitting at the top of a tower on Girona’s city wall in November, taken by Amanda from Brazil:
I wear odd socks. Odd, as in not matching, rather than intrinsically odd.
Sometimes they’re brightly coloured, sometimes dark, sometimes stripy, sometimes spotty, sometimes plain, sometimes patterned, sometimes with pictures. Sometimes they’re thick, sometimes thin, sometimes long sometimes short, sometimes in-between. Sometimes they’re boring socks, sometimes they’re just socks, not in need of a description.
Sometimes someone mentions them, mostly they don’t. If they do, they mostly only notice that they don’t match.
I notice other people’s socks occasionally, mostly if they aren’t wearing shoes. Sometimes I comment on them.
“Hey! [Those are] cool socks!” Smile. End of conversation.
What I have never done, is ask if I can wear them.
No one’s ever asked if they could wear mine either. If they had, I would have thought they were very very strange.
I have to admit that I’ve also never offered..
If someone told me I have nice socks, I would say thanks and probably move on to something more exciting. If I thought they were really interested I might say something like: “Yeah, I thought they were pretty cool too, I found them in a market in….blahblahblah..”
“Those are nice socks!”
“Thanks! Want to try them on?”
is not a conversation I’ve ever thought about having. Not in a million years.
Yesterday, while waiting at the airport, I flicked through a magazine.
Apparently, according to the magazine,
“Hey! You’re wearing nice socks, can I try them on?”
made it onto the list of top 3 chat up lines for the next season.
Apparently that’s a thing.
I don’t claim to be an expert on chat up lines, I didn’t even know there was a list, but even assuming one exists, asking to wear someone else’s socks would never have occurred to me as a candidate, never mind one of the winners.
I have no idea how they choose what lands on it. Have they been compiled, thought up, tested? Do people write in with what worked for them?? Are there contests?
Several hours later I still can’t imagine a situation where that would be a good thing to say.
It’s entirely possible I’m missing the innuendo or a reference to something else because I miss a lot of references.
But I’m curious:
Is it me, or is the whole idea really really weird?
Do people really want to wear other people’s socks? Especially when the other person’s been wearing them..
(from late October – needed very little doing to it..not sure why I didn’t post it back then)
They say you can’t cure stupid.
You can’t really cure muscle ache either, but you can live with it. Usually.
I’m learning, slowly, how to move without yelping.
I’m also learning to live with stupid.
I spent Saturday reorganising my furniture and planting my balcony boxes. That involved, respectively, tugging and pushing and heaving sacks of compost in and out of the car and up the stairs to my flat.
I spent Sunday cleaning and reorganising xDB’s aquarium*. That involved stretching and pulling and scrubbing and heaving waterlogged wood.
I am incredibly unfit.
I don’t remember ever being as unfit as I am at the moment, unless you count 6 months ago, where I was almost exactly as unfit, but a few kilos heavier.
The weekend of “strenuous exercise” meant that this morning I crawled out of bed and hobbled down the stairs where I fell onto a chair and refused to move.
Eventually I had to. Needs must, work called and all that..
I hobbled out to the car and drove an hour and a half across Berlin to my flat. I needed to feed my fish (I hadn’t planned to stay the night so I hadn’t arranged for anyone to feed them). I also needed to change out of my aquarium washing clothes and into something work-worthy. And I needed to do it fast. I was already late for work when I pulled into the yard.
5 minutes later I was back out in the hall, ready to head to the workshop.
Was there ever a more ominous noise than the door shutting at the exact same moment as you realise you don’t have your key?
Then I brightened up. All was not lost. I have a spare door key in my car.
My car key was on the wrong side of the door, but since moving out of Berlin I hardly ever lock my car if I’m not going to be away from it long, like the minute and a half it takes to carry shopping upstairs and come down for the next lot. I live in a fairly rural place, compared to say, central Berlin, or even where xDB lives, and I have a parking space behind my house (off the road). There’s never much worth stealing in it, and it’s old enough not to be worth anything in its own right so I kind of assume it’ll still be there after 5 minutes.
This morning I’d locked it. I must have still been in Berlin-mode.
My bike, luckily, was still outside from my last trip.
My landlord had a spare key for my flat from when he was doing some renovation work. Not that I could phone to ask him to bring it over because my phone had died.
I went to his office instead. He was out somewhere, but his secretary was in. She unfortunately couldn’t find the key, but she did lend me her coat which was kind of her 🙂 I’d left mine in the car. She couldn’t do much more than that. Unfortunately she’s at least a size smaller than me, so I couldn’t do it up or stretch my shoulders, but it was at least warmer than nothing ;).
She also asked one of the other employees if he had any gloves.
“Do you have any gloves?”
“Umm… Only filthy, sweaty and gross work ones.. What do you want them for?”
“Jesska’s locked herself out..”
He was completely bewildered and it was difficult to explain the connection without making everything more complicated, and I didn’t really fancy wearing his gloves anyway if they were as gross as he said they were.
I cycled to work and back in the drizzle.
I don’t like drizzle, although it was probably better than a downpour or a blizzard. I am most definitely a fairweather cyclist. Besides, I could only just about walk, and all movement hurt. Cycling wouldn’t have been on my list of ways to spend my morning. But I didn’t have a lot of choice.
I’d only cycled to work once before. It had been sunny and I’d cycled slowly, along the river and along a main road into town. I’d had my phone to guide me. This time I had no helmet and no gloves and no battery life left on my phone. I’d decided last time that I needed to find a new route because the main road was scary but I hadn’t really thought about it since and certainly hadn’t cycled it. I didn’t want to use the same route as before because cycling through Berlin on the road with no helmet felt recklessly irresponsible.
I set off along the river, with a plan to choose smaller roads parallel to the main road I’d ridden along previously. This proved to be a better idea in theory than in practice.
Yes. I got lost.
After cycling round in circles for a while I found myself on the road I usually drive down.
There’s no official cycle path for most of it, at least in one direction, so I rode a lot of the way on the pavement. Illegally because I’d rather be illegal than dead.
My landlord was still at work when I got home, so I parked my bike and went for a walk round the fields behind my house. That was the perfect setting for an “important phone call” involving long convoluted histories of he said she saids. A walk is the best background occupation for such conversation.
… 2 ½ hours later …
Once I finally got back and picked the key up from my landlord, he suggested he come back to the flat with me to fit the smoke alarms he’d been meaning to put up since I moved in….. Eeek! <Insert slight panic> Luckily he decided against it, in favour of coming an hour later. That gave me an hour to make the place presentable. Which I did. Instead of collapsing into a small heap.
And that was the end of a very busy day…
* It still has some of my fish in it..
Wrote most some of this during the breaks in Friday’s adventure. I originally wanted to write about each step of the journey as it happened, but sometimes it was more important to participate than observe so I missed some lots of bits out, or wrote fragments instead of sentences. I thought about posting as was, but I had some time to kill on the flight and wanted to make it more readable so I’ve chopped and changed and added as necessary..
13:00 – motorway services carpark (where I bought my coffee)
S and I arranged to meet at the rental office at 8. I missed the train I wanted to catch so by the time I arrived she’d already sorted everything out and was raring to go – the helpers were booked to arrive soon and she had a couple of things she wanted to sort out before they turned up. All I had to do was hand over my driving licence (they gave it back afterwards)) and pick up the keys and then we could go.
The van is huuuuuge!! And has the turning circle of a block of flats. (Or at least a middle sized house). The place we borrowed it from has a lamppost directly next to the exit. Guess who dented the van before they’d even driven 200m….
Ho hum. We luckily have a good insurance policy.
Then we got a tiny bit lost on the way to S’s house so the helpers had to wait for us and S had to work round them.
They worked quickly and we were on the road half an hour earlier than we’d planned despite everything.
And now we’re on the first loobreak.
It’s windy and there are roadworks and it’s looking like rain, but there are no traffic jams (yet).
15:00 ish – Supermarket logistics centre carpark.
We’ve stopped because we have no brakes. Or at least dodgy brakes. Or not enough brakes. Or something.
We were driving along a motorway, minding our own business when the dashboard suddenly lit up like a rather monotonous Christmas tree (or a traffic light party).
I had no idea what some of the symbols and abbreviations meant, but some of them were red and I know red lights mean you should stop. The display screen told us to consult the handbook, but I didn’t fancy reading while driving and I’m against my dashboard telling me anything while I’m on the motorway, so we took the next exit and stopped in a logistics centre carpark.
According to the display and the guide to dashboard lights, we have no ESP, no ABS, no ASR, no hill holder…. Nuffink.
We consulted the handbook.
The handbook was almost entirely useless – it basically told us that a) it was something to do with the brakes and b) we should consult someone knowledgeable.
That we had no brakes can’t be quite true because I did bring it to a halt.
S is on the phone to the rental company to find out what to do next.
I used the time to smuggle my way into the logistics centre to use their loo. (If you don’t close the main door properly behind you, there will be someone who uses opportunity to follow you into the building..).
Life is never boring…
(Also, it didn’t just rain after we set off again earlier, it feels more accurate to say the sky fell down).
16:15 ish – still in the logistics carpark
A repair man is apparently on his way.. he is supposed to be here by 5… We originally wanted to be at the new house by then. That was honestly unlikely to happen, but we could have probably made it for just after 6. No chance of that now.
16:50 – still not going anywhere
I wrote: “New loo – lorry driver shed – renovation and lots of dust”
This was good. I walked up to the gatemen at the edge of the lorry park and asked if I could use the loo. They said they didn’t have one and they couldn’t let me onto the grounds to get to the main building. I asked where I should go instead, and they pointed me in the general direction of a garage. When I asked how far away that was and said I was on foot because my car had broken down, they admitted that they did indeed have a working toilet but that it was very dirty due to the renovation work going on. I was welcome to use it if I didn’t mind the rubble.
It was very rubbley, but still a lot better than a lot of motorway loos 😉
19:00 ish – van repair workshop
The repair man arrived (at the carpark) at 17:something-late.. He’d got caught in a motorway closure and resulting traffic jams, and a journey that should have taken just under half an hour took him almost two.
He was friendly and helpful and thorough and unplugged things and tested things and checked things with a computer.
It turned out that something to do with the ABS/rear brakes was broken. I could either sign something to say that I was personally responsible for any accident that occurred on the rest of the journey, or we could get it repaired before continuing Essenwards. We were already so late that the unpacking helpers would be gone when we arrived, and I really didn’t want to be responsible for any more accidents, so we decided to get it repaired.
He couldn’t repair anything in the carpark in the dark, so we followed him back to the workshop.. slowly and carefully.
We now have a drinks machine with free cocoa/coffee/water and a couple of sofas to play with 🙂
I’m going to sleep for a bit while they work on the van.
Midnight – at S’s parents’ house.
We got in, alive and well at 23:15 ish.
The last entry was as I was trying to sleep at the workshop…
No such luck. Or more luck, depending on how you look at it. Just as I was getting close to sleeping, they came back and said we could go – everything was mended :).
We drove the last 270something km in approximately 4 hours (including refuelling and getting lost in a car park). That’s incredibly slow for German motorways, but I’m a wimp and it was windy and I didn’t want to overtake all the lorries. I’m not good at overtaking on a good day in my car. On a crazy day like today in a 20something foot van, with less than enough sleep, I was even more reluctant than usual.. It’s amazing how much wind you don’t notice in a car..
S’s parents waited up for us, and we had soup as a kind of midnight snack while we recounted the days events.
I think, on balance, we did really well, considering, even if we could theoretically have done better..
I don’t often drink coffee, but for long distance driving I find it good to have a cup or two with me, just in case. In my shopping spree, I bought 3 pots of iced coffee and put them in the fridge to keep cold.
In the rush to get out of the house I left my coffee behind. (Out of sight and all that)
What costs 50ct in a supermarket costs 3€ at a motorway service station.. (!!!)
I figured getting there in one piece was worth it… Just about! 😉
[Mostly written on] Friday morning, 7:00 ish – on a train.
I’m driving a friend across Germany today. (Friday). She’s moving house and I offered to drive the moving van for her.
I’m setting out from Berlin (North East Germany). Her new house is near Essen (West Germany), I am going to a party (the late-night/early-morning kind) in Stuttgart (South Germany) on Saturday evening and I need to be in England on Monday evening. There’s no realistically viable way to go from Stuttgart to Berlin before I fly towards England, so I’m flying directly from Stuttgart. That means packing everything for all 3 trips into one small suitcase. The kind you can take on a plane as handluggage. The kind that takes more thought to pack than the kind you put in the hold.
I have been known to enter my house, pack a suitcase and leave within half an hour. That was a long time ago and I am quite out of practice. I am also exhausted from everything else going on. I decided last week (/whenever I got back and booked the new flights, I have no track of time at the moment) I needed to leave myself longer than usual to pack and get myself ready and to sleep. The sleep part was especially important because I’ve never driven a removal van before.
That was the plan. The reality was a little bit different.
Yesterday evening (Thursday) I worked later than planned because I got in to work later than planned. I got there so late because I woke up so late, and I woke up so late because I was up so late the night before (Wednesday), working on a present for one of the people I’m going to see in Stuttgart. I didn’t get it finished because I ran out of time and so won’t be able to give it to her this visit. That means the evening wasn’t used effectively. Or at least not in the most effective way.
Back to yesterday evening.
I worked until I’d clocked up the minimum hours needed to count as a day.
Just as I wanted to go home I remembered that I hadn’t printed my boarding card(s) yet so I stopped to do that.
Just as I was finally locking up the workshop, my friend (the one who’s moving) phoned to ask if I could make her some lunch for the journey because she’d left later than planned and wasn’t going to get to a shop before they all shut.
Ok. No problem – I was going to make myself lunch anyway. She doesn’t eat what I’d been thinking of taking, so I went shopping on the way home.
Once I got home (several € later – shopping hungry is never really recommended..) I did the following:
Washing – all the things from my last trip which I needed for the next one (had to run the machine twice because I forgot the washing powder the first time). Hung it all out, rethought and draped some of the thicker clothing on the radiators to dry
Reheated/finished baking breadbuns (you can buy them half baked. That way they’re fresh when you want to eat then) and made sarnies (posh ones with ham and cheese and tomato puree and miniature bell peppers and basil leaves)
Decorated and cooked 2 [frozen] pizzas, ate 1, chopped and packed the other one
Washed and/or chopped and packed many carrots, apples, tomatoes, peppers, a kohl rabi, and a fennel (given the choice, S eats more like a rabbit than any other person I know ;))
Packed my suitcase (except for the clothes which were still drying)
Packed all the lunch things (fruit&veg box, sandwiches, pizza, apples, satsumas, bananas, biscuits, chocolate raisins, …) plus 4 bottles of water into a huge carrier bag. It was a picnic to do Ratty proud*
Did the washing up
Tidied the kitchen so I wouldn’t be embarrassed by my landlord feeding my fish.
I got loads done, but it took longer than I expected (quelle surprise) so I went to bed later than expected (not late by my standards, but not nearly as early as intended). And even though I was exhausted, it took me ages to get to sleep. That really was surprising – usually I sleep as soon as I’m horizontal.. like one of those dolls with the weighted eyes.
My colleague says there are days when gravity is stronger than other days. Today is one of those days: First I couldn’t get out of bed. Second I couldn’t carry the lunch bag.
I found a backpack for the water bottles and waddled down the stairs, laden much like a Sherpa, only much less fit/strong/capable. I dragged and lugged my suitcase and picnic bag towards the train station, stopping every few hundred metres to change hands.
The first train I managed to catch left almost 20 minutes later than the one I intended to catch. That coincides almost exactly with the 20 minutes I spent lying in bed not getting up. Funny really.
I’m now tireder than I ought to be for a drive across the country, despite the fact that I’ve known about it for a while and also aimed to get enough sleep. It seems I’m my own best saboteur…
Look what I found when I got to work this morning!
A very posh looking bag, containing..
.. even posher looking chocolates!
It’s the thanks for the prizes I made and donated to a competition in the summer. There’s all kinds if things in there I’d never buy for myself – I’m looking forward to trying them :).
Today was a chocolate munching day – the kind when you already think about how to break the next chunk off while you’ve already got one in your mouth and are holding a spare. I consider it a suboptimal, though sometimes necessary, way to eat any chocolate, it would be practically criminal to munch through the posh stuff. I’m going to save them for a day when I can eat them slowly enough to appreciate them.
I don’t have anything in particular against them, but I have less for them. I have no desire to be bitten and/or poisoned and possibly even less desire to be squeezed to death.
This isn’t about that kind of snake.
Recently I started learning Python. That’s a programming language. One of many.
Luckily for me, my brother is a multilingual programmer.
He’s teaching me how to write python.
Or trying to.
He’s very knowledgeable and mostly incredibly patient.
I am not knowledgeable. At all. And I’m not patient enough when it comes to listening, testing and understanding. I feel like I’m not progressing fast enough but simultaneously not going slowly enough for it to really sink in.
He keeps trying to tell me I’m not totally rubbish, but my head keeps telling me otherwise.
There are so many opportunities to get completely and utterly lost. There are so many commands and functions and strings and lists and dictionaries and tuples and maps and syntax and arguments and types and loops and iterators and keys and indexes and classes and sets and definitions and numbers and ranges and braces and brackets and immutable things and sums and and….
… I don’t even know some of the words in ordinary daily use (and have forgotten them already) and have to have them explained before I stand a chance of understanding their role in the program.
The guy sitting across from us on a train home heard us talking, and watched us tapping away on my laptop. When he got to his station he stood up, gathered his things together, took a step towards the doors, paused, turned back and told me it’s fun when you get the hang of it. That makes sense. Most things get better as you get better.
I don’t give up easily, and I know it’s ridiculous to want to learn a language in a few days, but it’s frustrating floundering about in the simplest instructions.
We’ll see how I get on between now and next year/decade/century/millennium…