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!

Guernica and the plague of Bedbugs

Bedbugs. In Guernica, but the Albergue are sorting it. Involving a full scale shutdown of the place.

The famous bed race of the camino francès isn’t often seen on the Ruta Jacobea but there was a bit of scrambling around the city, and some busing onto other sites.

In a €15 per night albergue, I got what I paid for. Sharing a room with 2 other walkers, the spainard noted ‘huele del tigre aqui’. While in English a tiger conjures no specific smell, for spaniards it is perhaps the odour teenage boys hope to mask with Lynx body spray, rather than actual washing.

Mostly, Guernica is a delightful city, it would be very easy to spend a few nights here, so I wouldn’t let the bedbugs put you off.

A life size ceramic reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica can be seen in the city. This journal page shows a fragment. It’s a disturbing piece of work all right.

Deba: The Steep City

It’s a steepness we are thankfully spared at the end of the day. An elevator in the street drops us around 7 floors, and another by around 5 to town level, where we stay in a well converted station building. An excellent albergue, which could have more clothes drying space! (Where is Albergueadvisor !?)

This is a15 minute sketch of the Iglesia de Santa Maria in the historic (and only) centre. Crowds gathered outside in black, too ‘alegre’ for a funeral and turned out to be musicians preparing for a concert in the nave. The conductor was an especially expressive chap.


keys handed in. 

1 hour to spare, me and my rucksack (again, I think there will be a theme) and a quick sketch.

Downsizing also in ambition because I  traded my A4 book for a more manageable A5 size. The reality of sketching on the road won out!



The life affirming magic of putting stuff into bags*

IMG_2141   (this is not my camino packing)

I’m a natural hoarder like my dad.

I feel sad for the waste of disposal.

I’ll admit to having kept a collection of receipts as a child. But as an adult, I’ve never stayed in one place for too long and have spent an unusual proportion of my twenties in “hospital accommodation”, choosing cheaper bricks and mortar in exchange for better city locations. As such I do have less physical possessions than most of my peers. I know one more thing bought is just one more thing carried.

But I always feel that an object in my hand might be useful one day.

And I’m reminded of my mother who would throw out my dad’s possessions without him realising, and that woman who bangs on about the objects that bring you joy*.

But I still loathe the moving/packing/cleaning process. It seems to take me longer than anyone else I know (and I’ve had a fair bit more experience with it).

I move around my flat in ever decreasing circles, until I’m left with the batteries, keys and paperclips.

Some items continue to be “in use” right until the last moment (cutlery – which I only have one set of, cup – ditto). Recognising this to be the case, I often just surrender to other activities (my old friend procrastination back again 😉 !) Today: buying bus tickets, recycling (WORTHY procrastination, ideal), speaking to my mum (ditto the worthy but she also always has good chat, so it’s not such a one sided deal) and writing this post!

My main items (pictured half filling suitcase above) will be stored with friends and my camino gear will, of course, come on my back!

My sketchbook is indulgently large (A4 Leuchtturm 180grms) and I’m taking a few sheets of watercolour paper, my watercolour palette and a pencil case with a couple of pens and pencils (I do mean a couple). So I’ll have to think about how to save weight otherwise. I’d be interested to hear from anyone doing the camino now – in the summer – what do you have on your feet? Are you ever wearing boots? I have a lot of conflict about taking something heavier than my teva sandals…

*I’ve not read this book, but I will, not least because it seems incredibly divisive!

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.

A note from Madrid

I love the sense of accomplishment that travel brings.

Particularly dense journeys involving a number of types of transportation.

Yesterday morning I was typing a prospective post (having created my new WordPress account the night before) on a Madrid bound train from the andalusian city where I work. I’ve since been to my adopted home of London and back again.

4,100 kilometers as the crow flies.

But it’s a passive feat, paid on plastic and courtesy of maths, physics, engineering, investment, infrastructure, a number of key professions (pilots and train drivers spring to mind) as well as their the legion of supporting crew.

And little concrete emerges (if you’re me anyway).

Don’t get me wrong. Being in the moment, watching the sun disperse mist over olive groves, dew on the cables and a turner-esque sky over some of London’s greener commuter belts is great, I’m just better than average at “enjoying being in the moment”, and I’d like to start to move from appreciation to inspiration, and preferably therefore to action!



A hasty shot from my hotel window!