Wait now Jeremy, who’s got the detonator?

Jeremy Hunt watching a doctor with a detonator, thinking "they wouldn't dare"
Who’s holding the detonator now, Jeremy?

Jeremy Hunt has declared the matter of negotiation over junior doctors contracts closed. Despite strike action he has refused to enter into a meaningful dialogue with the profession, and he has conducted himself in the manner of a parent, exasperated with the noisy tantrums of a (hopefully now exhausted) child.

As a means for change, British strikes are notoriously ineffectual. We want to protest, but we (rightly) wouldn’t want anyone to be inconvenienced, let alone endangered at our expense.

Our own government too, understand this. A striking workforce is a stressed workforce, and protests falling on deaf ears is demoralising. I’ve grown to admire the conservative government, and the private money which backs them. They understand beautifully how power works, and how the imposition of their so-called nuclear option will break a generation. A subdued and disheartened consultant body is not one which will oppose the sale of contracts and services to private providers.

Junior doctors, well-educated as they might be, have had neither the time nor the energy to consider that Jeremy Hunt is not in the position to impose anything.

Here’s the real nuclear option: we remember that a contract is a just an agreement between parties, each and every doctor in the UK has a choice about signing on the dotted line. I propose that junior doctors write to say that they will not be renewing their contracts on the current terms but will be happy to work out their notice (generally 3 to 6 months). Naturally, these tendered resignations would be reconsidered in the event of renegotiations and a mutually agreed contract.

Doctors, hold the cards and should call the stakes. It might seem high risk, but like with most remarkable changes, it can be achieved with solidarity. A government which cannot provide a health service is not viable: the conservatives (and friends) would do well to be reminded of this.

I know many people will think this is a shocking suggestion, but really, faced with mass resignation and no replacement workforce, the government would have no option other than to re-negotiate. A ticking clock will no doubt sharpen their attention, and in addition, the general public wouldn’t be subjected to the drawn-out process of more sporadic industrial action. Most terrifyingly of all, for the private interests, an emboldened medical profession will be better placed to protect the National Health Service.

Of course there will be a hoopla. In Mr Hunt’s own words, invested parties will be “winding everyone up on social media”. The profession will have to stand strong, as the biggest, nastiest scare tactics all will be cracked out, those strictly reserved for when the power game has been rumbled. But ultimately, doctors should feel reassured, asking themselves, as Jeremy has, “did [we, the medical profession] make the long-term strategic calls necessary to help the NHS offer the highest possible quality of care patients?”.

From the start, the message from junior doctors has been clear: this is bigger than us, and it’s bigger than the money. I believe this, and I think the general public do too. It’s with that support that junior doctors should at least consider their own nuclear option before the government imposes theirs.

 

 

 

 

I send this to the Guardian on the 9th of August (minus current title and jazzy drawing of Jeremy’s face) who initially said they’d publish it, but then didn’t  – so I’ve updated it to include the recent strikes.

I should say that before working in Spain, I was a junior doctor in the NHS for 10 years (a senior medical registrar when I left) in London and Glasgow. Things have been going pear-shaped for a while, medical politics-wise, and after being involved in/opposed to what was effectively stage one of this dismantling (“Modernising” Medical Careers)  I didn’t actually think the profession was going to stand up for themselves. I’m delighted and relieved that they have, and for the first time in a long time i think the NHS has a fighting chance.

 

How Post It portraits helped me wrestle with my completion monster

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I had become so used to falling short of the goals I set for myself that the promises I made to myself and others felt empty. While almost certainly partially fun-monkey related*, I do think that part of my procrastination was a submission to the fate of the partially completed project. And somewhere in you-tube-athon or possibly procrastination click-fest I came across the tiniest piece of advice. A snippet of a frase, and frustratingly I’m not even sure where it came from – really – because I’d love to say thanks.

The advice was: lower the goal. Set yourself the minimum achievable goal. Something you can definitely do. Build your confidence in your willpower and creativity by achieving at first, the ridiculously easily achievable.

I’d tried the sketchbook route before, which I know works very well for a lot of people. I have a tendency to become frustrated with the “bad” pages, and an equally frequent tendency to mislay the book when I’m looking to draw. I understood: the low goal had to include fail safes. I settled on the post-it note. One note, one face, one day.

An unexpected upside of the post-it note was the very visible nature of the activity. “What’s going on here?” said my flatmate, and she’d visit the wall to laugh at the squished faces of the people hastily sketched at 2.43 am. I can’t tell the number of times I’ve retired to bed to face the wall, feeling sweaty with the realisation that I haven’t done the days drawing.

The theory went that provided it was a face, some drawing was better than none, and keeping that bar ground-scrapingly low I  wasn’t allowed multiple attempts. After drawing inspiration to scribblers everywhere, Danny Gregory, for a week, I switched onto an actor in a TV show I was watching, then my family, and then my Facebook friends from a randomised list.

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The eagle-eyed among you will spot a faceless day. Failure. A real low.

The success of the post-it portraits had significantly improved my ability to take on and complete other tasks, and in the week of the 4th of February my flatmate and I successfully launched, on a very tight deadline, a special project (which is ongoing). I hit the sack on the night of the 11th without even realizing I’d not done a face.

I felt pretty crappy about it the next day. I felt like a 2 ball juggler who’d added a third to her repertoire and dropped one without even noticing. I felt like I’d be a 2 ball juggler all my life. And my drawings were crappy. They weren’t even great – unlike in the first weeks I was rushing them, and many were a late night afterthought.

I put a blank post it on the wall, giving ditching the project some serious consideration. And with that I realised how pitiful I was being. With one setback, and some subpar images, I was ready to sabotage the whole – let’s face it – frivolous project. The polar opposite of grit, it’s not too great to realise that when the going gets tough (or even just doesn’t continue being super easy), you’re the first with your hands in the air saying “well that didn’t work”. I grumpily and begrudginly continued onwards (what a champion I am!). Although the quality of the work didn’t greatly improve I was certainly faster at getting down a likeness and some shadows and contours seemed to be becoming almost like friends.

For a few years, I’ve thought of doing a drawing for my parents’ birthdays. They are the proud owners of the publishers’ proofs of their wedding photos that they couldn’t afford to print properly, and I’ve always toyed with drawing one (minus the big “proof” stamp). This year, I felt it would be possible: I knew I was faster and with the strict no multiple attempts rule not in place, I started a drawing 3 days prior to the event (because although I might be better at follow though I still have the tendency to be a bit last minute). About 1 hour in I had some doubts, and then banished them. The whole thing is about A3 size, took nearly 10 hours, and is the most serious piece of intentional drawing I’ve done in years.

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Please excuse the glare on my dad’s shoulder from my desk lamp! It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a solid likeness. I am 100% sure I would never have done it without all the crappy 3.25 am faces, I’m sure my power of observation and possibly even technical ability has improved slightly, but more important was the belief that I could take on the project (albeit only lasting 10 hours in the end) and see it through.

Thanks post-it notes. Thanks internet artists (notable mentions Danny Gregory, Mark Crilley) Thanks whoever it was that helped me set the bar low.

 

*the best article/post on procrastination ever written by Tim Urban. I imagine everyone’s already read it but i’ve linked it anyway :-).

Cinematic Counsel Courtesy of Dr Nathan

 

doctor will see you

Since graduating from a Buzzfeed quiz with a recommendation to become a medical professional, my good friend, Nathan, ahem: Dr Nathan has been “prescribing” cinematic advice and council for the needy of Jaén  (and indeed those further afield). And who would have thought it? It turns out in these dark days it’s a much required service.

Here are 2 referrals which I personally fielded:

Here is a two letters which I am forwarding to you in good faith for your cinematic counsel. I trust that our colleague Jessica Marie may have some further referrals for you.

1.

Howdy Dr Nate (yah don’t mind if ah call you Nate do yah’ll?),

Ahm what you might call a business bigwig (in more ways than one), but ahm nat content with screwin’ over the little guy in the private sector so ah’ve now set my sights on public office in the goddam, god bless best country in this whole world. Frahm leading corporate America to leading “America Corporate” (copyright pending), ah just love privatising the shit out of every last inch of this beautiful country. Ahm lookin’ to watch a feel-good film about how megalomania pays, and ah don’t wanna see any art-crap-europe cinema, unless it’s full of titties,

Best regards,

Mr Darren Muffet
(ah have changed ma name to protect mah identity – but ahm still proud to be from the U S of A)

 

Dear Mr ‘Muffet’,

I must tell you that in all my years practising medicine, I’ve never quite seen a case as aggressive and advanced (yet simultaneously backward) as yours.

I’m afraid that at this stage, the only course of action is a heavy dose of The Wolf of Wall Street. Please take one viewing, once a day for a week, in order to give sufficient time for the initial europhic cool to wear off and the underlying message to work its way into your system. Although you may not see it right away, I feel this course of action is best for you in the long run.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Nathan

 

2.

Dear Dr Nathan,

I am a simple lad from ‘oop north’ and have neither access to kestrels nor a village hall ballet school. I’m shit at football and am worried that I’ll be left to push bicycles laden with bread up cobbled paths for the rest of my days. Can you offer some celluloid inspiration for a poor lad like m’self?

Yours beseechingly,

Timmy Buttons

 

Dear Timmy,

Don’t fret m’duck, we’ll have ya raaaht as reeeehn in no time.

From the symptoms you describe, I’ve detected a deficiancy in your sense of belonging and feeling accepted. Therefore, the only course of action seems to be a prescription of This is England.

The dosage is particularly important in this case, so please ensure that you watch the whole film first, and then suppliment this with the subsequent series’ in chronological order: This is England 86, This is England 88 and This is England 90.

Please note, this suggestion has been known to cause side effects including mild melancholia in some cases. If so, please contact me as soon as possible, so that I can provide you with the alternative lighter treatment – Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Nathan

 

Of course, it is only polite to follow up on such matters, and duly I sent the following update to Dr Nathan:

 

Esteemed colleague,

many thanks for your prompt diagnoses and your judicious treatment schedules. I trust I shall be able to make further referrals? . Timmy has already announced his intention to get some tattoos and has told the bakery owner to f*ck off, but as you note Mr ‘Muffet’ has quite an intractable case and a few more viewings will be required.

Sincerely,

 

Dr Nathan is available for consultation in Jaén for all your cinematic queries. If you can’t come to this Andalusian “Pueblo masquerading as a City” yourself, myself or my colleague at “Dos Besos” can certainly relay your request.

 

The Camino Cleanse

Packing List

No lemons, cayenne pepper or questionable bowel habits – I promise! I’ve already posted about the inevitability of a sexier post-camino ass so you’re not going to take need such drastic measures. And if you don’t know what this camino I’m going on about is, feel free to investigate here, here or here.

This cleanse is an altogether different kind of cleanse. A cleanse that one might achieve by first becoming (arguably) a little bit dirtier.

It started with the realisation that an albergue is simply no place to apply concealer: the lighting is TERRIBLE, you probably have to share the mirror with at least two other people and the all pervading smell of feet will make your efforts seem a bit, well, dirty.

I’m not going to go on an all-out war on make up on or off the camino: there is a pan-species precedent for adornment (thanks Darwin!), and personally I like wearing a bit of lipstick and mascara. But few animals have taken quite as far as the court of the sun king or it’s modern equivalent: Somerset House during London Fashion Week.

At the risk of sounding like a “feminine personal care” advert, we all need to be clean and well presented, but do other people care what we look like as much as we’re lead to beleive?

The back story (or, how I obliterated any sign of my actual face, daily)

As a very long time acne sufferer, I spent at least 20 years covering my skin in “product”.  My skin was very red, bumpy and I would have new painful “blind” spots and whiteheads almost every day. I spent, probably (I’m pretty ashamed to say) thousands of pounds over the course of around 20 years trying to clean, cover or otherwise rid myself of this broken .

I’m eternally thankful to Elaine Mummery whose dietary advice has almost completely rid me of this issue: no topical products required.

But it’s made me angry: mostly about my own naivety . Claims made by cosmetics companies via their generally beautiful and delicately complexioned staff who, (visibly not suffering from skin complaints) could reasonably peddle any advertising information they had been given as some manner of universal skin health truth.

My own profession too, seemed to play into, rather than stand to oppose expensive and medicated solutions.

A free face at last (I know, this back story is going on a bit isn’t it?)

Imperfect, but reasonably clear appearing skin has been a liberation: from the mirror (minimum half hour prep before leaving home) to the obligatory financial toll of all that snake oil from both the skincare and make up industries.

I was glad about the liberation of my own face, but I hadn’t really considered properly stripping back on, say moisturiser, masks, the odd bit of concealer here or there, nor indeed had I thought in any detail about the products which I continued to buy and my role in continuing to fund an industry which is worth more in the

But the camino forced me to pare back further: to really consider the cosmetic choices I continued to make. I left my first albergue with the decluttered wash bag: a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, body wash, a nail brush, razor, tweezers, black mascara and red lipstick.

No Poo? Low Poo.

The observant among you will have have noted there was no shampoo or conditioner in that list. I’m not technically “no poo”: I do wash my hair once every three to four months – but I did wonder if the sweat and soil of the camino might push me over the edge. I decided to risk it, in the knowledge that shops were never too far away.

But for every one person who recoils in disgust for my “no poo” lifestyle, many more are disturbed, grossed out or squeamish about my “no deo”. I have intermittently not worn deodorant: at home, at the weekend, and the camino seemed as if it might be a bit sweaty regardless, so I dumped it for the 30 day duration as well.

The Unadorned Face

How will people react, when I speak to them, face (and indeed, hair and armpits) unadorned?

It turns out: totally fine. Although my face would best be cast in the part “scullery maid number 3 (no lines)” in a period drama, or on a bad day (and let’s face it, on the Camino there are bad days) as a stand in for Woody Allen, it turns out that other people couldn’t give two hoots.

And yet, in the UK the average spend on cosmetics and skincare alone last year was £1,759 for 19 to 24 year olds, rising to £2,238 in the 45-54 year olds. The beauty industry say women spend this money because it’s fun and empowering to experiment with your look – and I did too – what am I going to say “I spend the money because I’m ashamed of my face”?

Did I (a vegetarian and pet lover) consider animal rights too heavily when I was trying to rid myself of my suppurating skin? Nope. My face became an ethical blind spot: everything was justified in the name of promise never delivered.

The scientific evidence for the products with which we layer our skin is nigh-on non existent. The marketing budgets for all international cosmetic companies dwarf any spending on product development: their investment in really trying to improve our skin.

Still Travelling Light

The make up bag I carried on the camino continues to serve me now. I have some locally made soap in place of the body wash, and I’ll update the make up with ethical cruelty free brands (more difficult than it first appears – advice appreciated) when they run out.

My hair was rinsed many many many times (particularly after swimming in the sea) but no ‘poo was used during the walking. Although I did wash slightly prematurely at the end of the 30 day walk, and my “low poo” regime continues to this day.

As for the antiperspirant? I certainly wouldn’t bother heading back down that road. Ditch your cosmetics for a small soap and a travel face towel and really “freshen up” in the toilets.

Am I saying “ditch a cleaning ritual”, “ditch the pleasure of beautiful scents and fragrant skin”?

No. Feeling relaxed and pampered is a wonderful gift. I’m more likely now to spend money on going to a hamman or spa: paying a person for their time, and some oils or honey than a pot of high-tech empty promises on a shelf.

Although my cleanse was perhaps less spiritual than  most, removed from daily life, this journey across Europe’s north coast can become a place of experimentation: assumptions, possessions and values which we carry can be challenged, and if necessary discarded. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Must we all be beautiful? It’s very tiring and and sometimes a bit of a chore, and I’ve not seen all of series 2 of “House of Cards” yet.

 

 

 

 

Orchestral ASMR: Intense ASMR Experiences where I’d Least Expected them.

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ASMR: a sensory experience so personal, private and internal that it hadn’t been documented as an experience or sensation in any language that I know of. I’m not even sure I’d ever heard it described in literature or song – even obliquely, but in 2009 when I searched “relaxing voice” I became a passive member of a community which had described a sensation and it’s triggers through the medium of short film.

It remains a private experience, on mobiles and computers, usually in bedrooms, late at night. I really thought that it was something that everyone experiences – and to some extent wonder if it could be a more widespread phenomenon, with some people having lower thresholds for triggering it than others. But, in particular among those who haven’t experienced this profound relaxation, there is scepticism. For them, ASMR viewers are enjoying (or are even titillated by) the particular attentions of beautiful women.

And I can understand their scepticism, similar to that voiced for now well investigated sensory phenomena such as synesthesia, or more concretely the sensations associated with the syndrome of “low pressure headache”, described, but controversial, l before the era of MRI revealed “physical evidence” for this.

There is nowhere less sexy than an albergue. It’s a low cost dormitory offered to walkers following the Camino de Santiago*. After walking some 20-40 kilometres (on average) peregrinos pay a minimal sum for a mattress (on the floor or a bunk bed) and retire early (usually) ready for walking early the next morning, before the midday sun.

This summer I walked just shy of 900 kilometres, on the coastal “Camino del Norte”, spending most of my nights in this kind of accommodation.

I have simply never experienced more intensive ASMR, in this most unlikely of places.

The lights in the albergue go out at around 10 or 10.30pm, but for a peak ASMR experience, I’d recommend slipping into your sleeping sack (or sheets) at around 9.30pm.

There’s a bit of visual stuff. People are carefully folding clothes and items for the next day. They move slowly and softly (the walkers are usually very respectful of those who have already gone to sleep), they smooth out their sheets.

But the audio is where the albergue really comes into it’s own. The volume until 9pm can be rowdy or chatty, with little respect for any very early sleepers, but almost like a gradual dimming of the lights in preparation for a performance, the volume drops.

This drop from normal speech amplitudes gives way to a staccato silence punctuated initially by the clicking whispers of the various nationalities on the camino. There might be a crescendo type performance from a chorus of Polish walkers with incomplete plans for the next days’ walking. One of them may break into normal speech by accident. The very fragile nature of unintentional (or as I like to call it “found” ASMR) is part of it’s beauty, and generally a hiss to suggest a return to whispering follows.

These ensembles give way to “soloists”: the late bag packer: carefully clicking, opening, closing bag buckles, the rustler: trying to minimise their plastic bag noise, the walker: low frequency muffled footsteps across a wooden or linoleum floor and the reader: still flicking though the pages of their guide, consulting the next day’s route. There can be special performances: in one albergue a girl methodically detangled her curly hair with a brush, making for a glorious background sound.

In the same way that the enjoyment of the music of an orchestra or band does not rely on the physical attractiveness of that group of people, the source of these soft sounds and movements is very much secondary to their nature.

As others search to experience exhilaration or terror on a roller coaster or go to see a comedian to laugh and be entertained, I seek out the ASMR artists and their well timed soft, tapping and clicking noises for the sensation they create. Something which seems to mainline my central nervous system, producing a profound relaxation, and a sensation which I’d hesitate to call tingling  (but I can see why others would use that word) in my back and neck.

Silence, or worse, snoring drown out the orchestra at usually 10.30-11pm. Despite “hanging on” for the tingling, I was generally asleep by that point anyway.

* Medieval pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela

A Sexier Ass in 30 days? That’s a Given, Baby – Why the Camino Bestows an Allure that Lasts all Winter.

walking uphill

My ass was in excellent condition when I finished the Camino del Norte this summer. I was leaner, with toned legs and “a bit of colour” – which is as sun-kissed as someone with decidedly northern european colouring can manage without flirting with a melanoma or suchlike.

But it’s true that summer’s lease hath all too short a date, and my fleetingly toned thighs and rear have given way to flabbier, more pallid self (or “the real me” as any acquaintance might recognise).

But the Camino’s sexiness bestowing powers are more than skin deep!

So here are 5 sexiness enhancing attributes that will last you long into winter:

1. Improved fluency in other languages

Language learning can be a bit sexy, or make you an enormous arse (not of the sexy toned kind). If you are one one of the webs growing community of language learners, you might wish to flex some lingual muscle chatting to some of the many nationalities on the camino.

Walkers are still predominantly Spanish, and if you’re looking for some low cost hispanic immersion, you can definitely find it here. The Ruta del Norte still isn’t as commercial as the French Way, and 30 days of café con leche and the odd caña will certainly give you a solid “holidaymaker’s level”.

Following the publication of French intellectual, Jean Christophe Rufin’s “Immortelle randonée, Compostelle malgré moi” there are a fair number of Frenchies to be found en-route, so learners of the language of Voltaire won’t be disappointed either.

Avoid being an enormous arse by 1) not making prior assumptions about any one person’s level of any given language and 2) being courteous with those who wish to practice their English with you.

2. Amigos Internacionales

On the french route much is made of “a camino family”, a concept I find frankly claustrophobia-inducing (anybody with me on this?). The Camino del Norte offers a more gentle camaraderie on the level of a facebook friend. Return with tales of “your new family” and your mates will think you’ve joined a cult. Return with a scattering of potential European coffee dates and you will instantly seem enchantingly more mondaine.

3. An Enviable Instagram Feed

The millennials are sexy on and offline. I was born in 1980 and as such missed the party by a whisker (very much my general style), my brother, only 18 months younger, is a child of the age of IT.

What makes instagram so annoying, are of course the captions: “enjoying a coffee in Bilbao #caminodesantiago”. Forgo this level of banality. Tell people “yeah, I’m just using it as as sort of visual diary”, and post a date and the hashtag. This alone is more difficult than it sounds as both wifi and plugs can be at a premium.

The occasional, well curated yellow arrow tells a story. Don’t snap ’em all.

Alternatively do snap ’em all. Every last one of the bastards. Geotag and provide a detailed description of each one. You’ll be walking for two extra weeks (at least), but some news media outlet will take up the story of one walker’s obsession with yellow paint.

This should not need said but: DO NOT POST PICTURES OF YOUR FEET.

4. Real or Imagined Survival Skills

But predominantly imagined ones. The important thing is that you survived in the Spanish wilderness with only a flick-knife  some safety pins and your credit card. And that card was NOT accepted at all local retailers.

To your friends in an office in Luton, you might as well be Bear Ghrylls.

5. Profound Insights and Wisdom from this Mediative Experience.

Nietzche, Kant, Bear Grylls, that French one (see above), Dickens, Orwell and Ray Mears .

Many great thinkers and writers are great walkers. Thankfully, and the human brain is better at lazy association than an imagined venn diagram where you are placed within in the “walkers but not thinkers” crescent.

Step after step on the white stones on the forest floor, being buffeted in a costal crosswind or sheltering from a torrential downpour under one of those charming Galician grain shelters, it would be easy to think you were contemplating the greater matters in life, and it’s in the interests of your sexiness that you cultivate this. “I’m running out of Compeed*”, “I think I left my towel in the last albergue” or “I hope that snoring guy isn’t there tonight” don’t have the same pulling power.

My own most profound insight from the Camino was that Paulo Coelho’s the Alchemist is a reliable and powerful “screening question” at parties. “I totally love that book” should provoke a sudden, and urgent need for a trip to the toilet.

*other blister plasters are available, but none are as good.

What it feels like to not show up for work, or what I learned from Whiplash

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A trembling cymbal and fine motor control of a rhythmic iteration have brought me to my senses.

I’ve realised what it feels like not to have been showing up to work.

Possibly for years.

I put more time and effort into my transitory job, than into the reasons I took this low paid but commitment-lite work in the first place.

I know what “bone tired” feels like, but it’s not a sensation I’ve had for years. I’ve not poured my heart and soul into anything, and it’s killing me.

Whiplash is a raw film about the demands and exhilaration of excellence.

I have a moderate life and I detest myself for it.

I fear late nights, when I am at my most productive, for feeling tired and raw the next day. I think, better go to sleep, and have that lie-in anyway because I’m really not at my best then anyway.

This year, my aimless existence has even been subsidised by a sibling, so I can’t even claim self sufficiency.

I feel deeply uncomfortable in my high level of comfort.

Before I slept: 2 drawings. An attempt at Terence Fletcher’s concentrated but at once contemplative face (a justly oscar worthy performance from JK Simmons), and a scribblier Miles Teller in a relatively neutral pose from the final scene. Expressions and likenesses are obviously a challenge. In particular with regard to Teller, I’ve learned from this to choose a stronger facial expression to give the thing some life!

On looking at these images again this morning, I made some adjustments – but my international adaptor is currently in Seville, so better to upload these now than later.

Where’s weird now?

Move over Austin, there’s a new weird kid in town

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Jaén. No, not Jane. “Hayen”, and if you can cough up that “h” like a furball, all the better (you’ll be needing it later).

I’ve often not chosen great places to live, rather, I’ve had great places thrust upon me.

Saving some money to live in Paris, I found myself in London’s Homerton during the “fried chicken years”. First impressions weren’t good. The only shop open after 9pm was “Senoritas”, whose services I was unlikely to require. But over the subsequent four years, and during the early days of it’s gentrification, Homerton was an edgy and exciting place to live.

And throughout my time in Paris, I felt like I’d ditched my quirky, funny boyfriend for a superficially superior specimen, but longed for the weird goings-on at the canals and in the basements of Stoke Newington.*

I came to Spain to learn Spanish and live in Seville. And I did, for four months.

I found some quirky cafes (Thank you Alameda), some tourist strongholds and a picturesque river walk but when I started to look for permanent work, I cast my net wide, knowing this postcard city and I weren’t a match.

I wasn’t keen to come to Jaén, but soon-to-be-beggars certainly can’t be choosers, and I passed up some poorly paid work in the charming Cadiz to come to a town which advertises it’s self as “an interior paradise”. Someone should tell 1) the Jaen tourist board: “ONLY ONE HOUR FROM GRANADA”, they scream, and 2) the Jaén wikipedia entry, which features a large roundabout as it’s main image. I was reassured by my at the time Pamplonian flatmate “It can’t be that bad” she said, “it’s got a  Corte Inglés”.

But she makes a striking impression, arriving from the west, with white houses lapping on the steep hills of Jabalcuz (“Habalcooth”, again go for it with that furball).

Architecturally, she’s underwhelming. Four weeks prior to the famously commemorated bombing of Guernica, Jaén suffered similar, devastating losses during a bombing raid as part of the Spanish Civil War. Narrow arabic streets provided a high concentration of deaths and casualties, and many of the old parts of the town were lost.

There’s not much said, on the internet or otherwise about small town architecture post war and during the Franco era. With good reason: the preferred style was ugly, or should that be cheap.

But Jaen got’s something about it.

It’s weird.

And it’s ok with that.

*There was an excellent Tuesday evening life drawing group in a Stokey basement. Great tunes. I hope it’s still there!