Where’s weird now?

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


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!

The Prospective Post: From Jaén to London

It’s six degrees. Soft spanish voices click and roll, and the language takes on a dreamier quality. There is no smell. Pages flip in a magazine. Are our senses more sensitive in the morning? The quiet seems respectful. We enjoy it.

Renfe les da la bienvenida a everyone in the train, but their chime and prerecorded announcement are too loud for the soft morning. I am leaving Jaén, for a several thousand kilometre round trip which will take me two and a half days. There is strong woody perfume, and looking around me I recalculate: aftershave.

A stunning sun rises in the east as we swoop round the city of Jaén and her southern mountains. Backlit clouds appear orange. I feel pleasantly tired, and want to move slowly so not to break the emotion. Jaén is lost for overlapping hills. It seems too early in the morning to write about the real world. I’d usually sit back and enjoy this sensation.

Cacti and high pines live side by side at this station, Mengibar Artichuela, and dew hangs from the trackside wires. The louder voices which had arrived with the sun are once again more silent. In Spain this grey is a phase, to be escaped inevitably by hours or distance. There is no distance long enough to achieve the same feat in Scotland.

It’s nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. Last night I created a wordpress account. The plan is to write more, draw more and reflect more. I read advice about how to live your life better: do what you love, live in the moment, and I have changed my life direction substantially, but it seems to take a bit of work to stay on course. Money being a bit of a concern. Health, eating and sleeping being others. Topics which I’d like to explore:


how to improve nutrition

learning Spanish

maintaining French

ways to live mortgage free

re-learning to drive

The task list was obviously a bit of a stretch for that time in the morning.

I have now been asleep and it is is 11.20, due into Madrid Chamartin at 12.30. I’m glad for my ability to sleep in different places now. How to describe the different sensation of enough sleep. It’s felt most keenly in the mind, but the body although contracted and achey feels also in some way renewed. My main task in Madrid is to find a fork, spoon or eating implement, and of course go to the airport.

Now i’m in fancy terminal 4, yellow and wood and a bit of the lloyds building going on too. Very nice. The green salad is 6 euros 50. I can’t bring myself to buy it. I need to be in terminal one but there is no hurry and I’ve just bought quite an expensive coffee and water combo so I’d best make the most of it.

I’m in Caffriccio where the management don’t trust their employees to count coins and there is a money beast, which swallows cash and spews your change at a level designed to test even the lightest of travellers’ baggage coordination skills.

In Atocha, I had used the 60 euro bathrooms and ate my onion curry. With my hands. Which caused less interest among the Spanish than i’d expected. I felt more self conscious beginning the process, which, with my trusty tiffin involved tipping some of the onions onto the cold damp rice. The doing brings new confidence. You have to own the action.

The same tiffin attracted attention later in the evening from the Southern Rail attendant who sold me my (26th ?) new oyster card… (I have about 3 sitting at home) at Victoria station. He reminisced about rice, curry and dhal in his home in Kerala, as did I.

At Bethnal Green I saw the familiar sights, as well as noting the inevitable London-speed changes the last nine months have brought to Cambridge Heath Road. I was delighted to see the 106, not because I will travel on her, but as she had been a constance presence in my London life after India, regardless of where I’ve been based. I shouldn’t have started watching Ramsey’s kitchen nightmares on the hotel TV. This is exactly the sort of procrastination I’m talking about.