Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Future Becomes Clear

And here I am once more, returning to my most-neglected blog, making promises to myself that this time I really will make time to do what once, was a weekly staple.

Well, what's prompted me to get back in the saddle on this occasion is a rather happy series of events, that I shall tell you of forthwith.

Back in March, I was finishing off a class with Ramón, my karate teacher, at his dojo (black belt exam coming up at the end of June, gulp! But that's another story). Anyway, the front door opened and Ramón popped out of the office to see who it was and I recognised a voice I hadn't heard for several years. I stuck my head around the door, and sure enough, there was an old client of the academia, who I'd worked with on several translations - of his website, various articles and a couple of books. It was always a pleasure, his being quite particular about what he wanted, on top of writing well, and it forcing me to improve as a translator. So, to cut to the chase, it turned out he'd written, produced and directed a film and asked me if I'd do the English subtitling for it. The crowning moment was when he stated he wanted me to did it since he knew he could trust me. I agreed, and he said he'd be in touch. No sooner was he out of the door, than I started to dance around the entrance hall of the dojo and sing happily, arms aloft, much to the amusement of Ramón. Me, writing subtitles, for a film! 

Nothing transpired for several weeks after that, and I awaited a little nervously, wondering if things weren't going to pan out, but sure enough, an email eventually arrived, and with no messing around - the script was attached. The film, a musical, was also being having its premiere in Asturias the following week, so I decided to attend. Its director, having been told I'd be there, responded that he hoped I'd enjoy it. Ah, I foolishly hadn't considered that, what if I didn't like it?! I've never been able to decide if my tragic inability to lie convincingly is a positive or negative quality. My emotions quickly show on my face and I am almost always incapable of preventing it. I could be in real trouble here, I thought, and went along to the showing in no little trepidation, took my seat and waited for the film, and a possibly excruciatingly embarrassing scene afterwards. I was thinking that making a film is a huge undertaking, it could be awful, and the blurb about the film wasn't convincing - a tale of dancing protesters, determined to stop the violent destruction of green land by an evil developer, plus there was a speaking gnome in it, hmm...

Oh ye of little faith, Raelha. It turned out that the film was carefully crafted, amusing in parts, touching in others and with a message that was intelligently hammered home, and it avoided preaching to the audience, which was no mean feat, given its subject matter. At the end I was able to go up to the director and truthfully state that I'd enjoyed it very much indeed.

After that I spend a month or so working on the subtitles. The dialogue didn't cause many problems, but the songs, well, they were definitely another matter. I'd originally been asked to provide a literal translation without worrying about rhythm or rhyme. However, on our second meeting it was pointed out that in one of the songs, a tango, the rhythm was actually quite important, so if I could find a way to follow that of the song, but still without changing any of the meaning with as literal translation as possible, it would be much appreciated, and then there was another, highly metaphorical, song, that also needed special attention... And so the gauntlet was laid down, and the challenge was accepted. I have never enjoyed translating so much.

The whole process was a fantastic experience, from the first draft to the final check of watching the film with my subtitles on it - quite an emotional moment for me. I also had to force myself to concentrate on any possible corrections since we were watching on a rather tasty Apple computer with a huge screen and high resolution - the colour and light were amazing, a real treat after my tatty old laptop.

And now it is done. I learnt much in the process, but the most important thing by far is that, although my teaching is going very well, my students are happy and I'm frequently called out of the blue by strangers asking for classes which I have no time to give, what I want to do, definitively, is translate. I love the playing around with language, finding the correct combination of words in English that perfectly express the ideas of a different tongue. Teaching would be easier. I know if I opened up my own academia it would be successful and I'd more than likely earn a very good living, indeed, the thought has been tempting me these last nine months or so. But no. I have not been walking around for the last few weeks, I've been floating, and that's how I want to feel from now on. I'm hooked.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

How to make an authentic Spanish omelette

I have been asked on numerous occasions exactly how to make that most delicious of Spanish delicacies, the potato and onion omelette. This is comfort food, Spanish style, and I generally end up making one a week. It's a versatile dish, though, and can be poshed-up for dinner parties. It also keeps, so any leftovers can be eaten the following day - in Spain it's common to eat a slice, in baguette-style bread, as a mid-morning snack. 

Anyway, as my mum swears she still hasn't mastered the operation (despite all my hints and tips throughout the years) I thought it was about time I wrote down, once and for all how it's done. I don't declare myself an expert, what I can say is that I have been making them successfully (with the odd blip) for over a decade and a half and R swears he's going to put me in for a Spanish-omelette-making competition come the fiesta season, so here goes:

Now, as for ingredients, the quantity will depend on how big and thick you want your omelette to be. However, for the novice tortilla chef, I'd suggest a smaller frying pan (no bigger than 24 cm across), and therefore a smaller omelette, as the flipping process can be a bit tricky, even when you've done it many times.

To start off with then, you'll need two medium sized potatoes, a small onion and five or six eggs. The potato-onion ratio can vary - there are quite a few Spaniards who even omit the onion altogether, I myself like quite a lot of it - but the egg-potato one is very important. You need enough eggs to cover the potato-onion mix once everything is in the bowl together, but not to drown it- bear this in mind when progressing to larger, grander omelettes! 

About the right ratio of potato/onion:omelette - if you're not sure how many eggs to use to begin with, start off with a few, you can always add one or two if need be

So, you need to peel and chop the potatoes. The pieces need to be fairly small, in cubes of about 0.5 cm, and fairly evenly cut. The onion should be finely chopped.

Next, heat a good finger of oil in the frying pan for the potatoes, which will be cooked in a couple of batches (sometimes even three for a monster omelette). I am well aware that using this amount of oil is completely offensive to the British psyche, but if you want the real deal, then that's how it's done. I've seen English recipes that boil the potatoes first, but this is a big no-no in my book - you don't get the same taste, plus the potatoes will stick once you get them in the frying pan. No, if you want the authentic tortilla de patata then get that oil in your pan! 

So, you need to cook the potatoes (sprinkled with salt) slowly, on a medium-low heat - the idea is not to brown then, or for them to be crispy, but instead to reach a squishy, melt-in-the-mouth stage. This is sometimes hard to tell, since they won't be changing colour much. I generally do the three-cube test - if I can try three of them in a row and they're all done to perfection, then that batch is done. You'll have to be patient though, as this process can take a long time.

While the potatoes are cooking, break the eggs into a large bowl and give them a good beating. As your batches of potatoes cook, add them to the eggs and give it all a good mix. The onion can be cooked with the potatoes if you have room, or after. If you cook it with the potatoes, add it about five minutes after and cook until it's soft and translucent, don't let it brown very much, or get crispy.

Once everything is fried and mixed together with the egg, empty most of the oil out of the pan, (the Spanish tend to keep oil for reuse, it's up to you) turn down the heat slightly and pour all the mixture into the pan. Leave it to cook until the bottom of the omelette is just starting to turn brown and can be gently unstuck from the frying pan with a spatula.

 Now, here comes the trickiest manoeuvre of the whole procedure - the first flip - and for this you will need a large, flat plate or pan lid - it needs to be bigger than the pan and as flat as possible. 

Cover the frying pan with it and hold it in place with one hand; with the other hold the frying pan and when you're ready, flip it all over so the omelette ends up on the plate/lid. I normally count to three to psych myself up before doing this, and do it over the sink since I've had some disastrous moments in my years of tortilla-making - cleaning up a omelette-gone-wrong is much easier if it's half fallen into the kitchen sink rather than onto the hob. However, let's be positive and assume that everything has gone swimmingly well and we now have our omelette sitting on the plate. Place the pan back onto the hob, and slide the tortilla back in there, using the spatula to help if necessary.

At this point, you need to tuck the edge of the omelette under so the tortilla is rounded into its authentic shape.

Tucking the edge under

From this point on, its easy: cook this side of the tortilla until it starts to brown and then keep flipping it until it's cooked.

However, since being here, I have discovered that traditionally an omelette will be made hours before it's eaten and taken out of the frying pan before the eggs have completely cooked - as it cools, so the eggs cook and the omelette solidifies. If you can get it right it means that you end up with a fluffier, lighter omelette instead of one that's heavier and dries out quicker (not so good if you fancy nibbling on leftovers the following day). This does need a bit of practice though, as there are lots of variables such as omelette size, how hot it got in the pan, how many flips it had and the potato-egg ratio. It's quite common practice here to eat an omelette with the egg still sightly runny in the middle, and many people prefer it that way. Personally, I also prefer this method, though I don't like it too gooey in the middle. If I can, I'll leave my tortilla for between one and two hours before eating and then enjoy it while it's still lukewarm with a plain salad and a generous dollop of mayonnaise.

For those who prefer not to wait, you'll need to keep turning the omelette over until it's cooked to suit your taste - you can poke it with a fork in the middle and peep in to see if it's done. Even if you do it this way, I'd still leave it to sit for five or ten minutes before tucking in.

As with all dishes, your tortilla will (should) get better with practice, or perhaps trial and error is a more correct way of putting it. Once you get the hang of it though, you can make them bigger, thicker and tastier. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Winter in Asturias

Winter? But it's almost May! I woke up on Sunday, however, to a crisp, brilliant white landscape and falling snow. It's melted now, although it's still pretty damn freezing. The previous couple of winters here have been a lacklustre affair without the heavy snowfalls I'd become accustomed to -  a little dusting here and there, and that was about it. This winter, as you can see below, was a different kettle of fish altogether (and has been rather a shock to the system, and the cats). What I can say, though, is that the landscape has been stunning. Enjoy the photos!

The White Car Economy or Henry Ford Turns in His Grave

Most readers, if not all, have to be aware that Spain is going through a difficult time at the moment, and that's putting it simply. One of the measures that our most splendid President Rajoy (or the Famous Disappearing President, as R calls him, since he's almost never to be seen) has come up with - apart from asking the lovely EU for hundreds of millions to prop up our failing banking system while making huge cuts in Education and the Health System, is what is known here as the Plan PIVE. I'm not quite sure what PIVE stands for, but it means that if you have a car that's 12 years old or over, you can pop along to your friendly dealer and part exchange it for a brand spanking new motor and get a whopping €2,000 discount. In reality, the discounts can be much higher as the industry battles to keeps selling, stay afloat and maintain some 4,500 Spanish jobs - even more important this month as unemployment has hit a record high of over 27%.

The result of this is that we're seeing a lot more new cars on the road than you would expect. The effect took a while to kick in as families, recognising a good deal when they saw one, and probably knowing that their current car wouldn't last much longer, scrimped and saved to find the money needed for the minimum deposit to then be able to finance the rest of the payment. What is showing, is that a large percentage of these shiny new cars are white. In other words, there's just about enough money to get the car, but no more to pay for fancy extras, such as a dash of colour. To quote a Spitting-Image-Favourite, Tory MP (and both shock and disgust myself in the process) it's "back to basics". I myself am partial to a bit of white: it looks a lot more stylish than certain colours and doesn't go out of fashion. Plus, and after a bit of internet research I'm not sure if this is true, it's cheaper to insure that a black, red or yellow car, or so people believe. So savings all round. R and I have even turned it into a game - spot the new white car, or as we say, pointing wearily, yet again "coche nuevo blanco". Something else I have discovered is that the cars selling most are the superminis and the cheaper makes. Dacia Spain, for example, has sold out of all its smaller models for this year. If you want a bargain €6,000 car, you'll have to wait until 2014, Kia is on the verge of a similar situation with the Rio. And what are being pushed in all the car ads at the moment are the remaining larger family saloons. It seems, therefore, that there are people who can afford new cars, but with no extra trimmings. Even those who are buying more expensive auto-mobiles are opting to save those extra euros and go for the cheaper white: in my area I've come across both a new, white Range Rover and Nissan Qashqai (it was hard not to notice the latter as it almost ran me off the road, but that's another story). 

And why, you may be asking yourself, have I suddenly taken such an interest in, and become so knowledgeable about cars. The answer, as you have probably guessed, is that I am soon to become the proud-ish owner, with a lot of help from my ever-practical mother, of a new Clio 3, and yes, I have asked for it in white.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A UK Xmas - part III

Final stop, North Yorkshire. I'd made it to Harrogate, where I was kindly met by my lovely sister and niece (whose first words, after a hug, were "I like your suitcase". Ahem.).

A quick drive and we arrived at my sister's house in Ripon where my mum and her boyfriend were already waiting for us. More bear hugs ensued, then before I could continue with the business of Xmas drinking, a shower was needed. By the time I got back downstairs, the living room was full of festive boozers - knocking back the champagne no less - who I happily joined in with. Eight years it had taken me to get back at this time of year, so I felt it was more than justified. By this time I was feeling pretty sleepy, and also, oh dear, a bit achy and sniffly. And yes, by the time I hopped into bed, I needed to take a box of tissues with me.

I was sharing my niece's room, and when I awoke at 5 am on Xmas morning she was nowhere to be seen. Feeling pretty grotty though, I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Unfortunately, I was to be granted only two hours more kip. My mum, obviously taking revenge for all those hideously early Xmas get-ups when I was a child, bounded into my room at 7.15 announcing that my niece could await no longer and my presence was needed downstairs for the Grand Opening of the Presents. I staggered down to the living room and curled up on the sofa while gift after gift was enthusiastically opened by all concerned, myself included (my Xmas haul was composed of, amongst other items, a very-gratefully-received box set of Outnumbered, which my sister had introduced me to the previous January, and a tasteful plaque for my wall that stated "Cats are like chocolates, you can never have just one...").

After that it was back to bed to repose for another hour. Feeling I should lend a hand, I decided not lounge in bed for too long and so shuffled down to the kitchen to help prepare the big meal. Fortunately, I was put on veggie duty so had little more to do than peel potatoes, parsnips and carrots, chop Savoy cabbage and prepare Brussels sprouts. I would've been happy with just the veg - you can't get parsnips or Savoy cabbage in Spain, and I adore sprouts - but I'd been bought a nutty, veggie bake too, my mum had made a gluten-free bread sauce and there was also stuffing. This was all served with gravy, apple sauce and cranberry sauce so I felt quite decadent sat there with a plate full of food, and more than a little guilty. Having come from Spain, where I knew thousands of families had trouble making it to the end of each month, where soup kitchens and food banks are nowadays the main source of groceries for many people of all ages, including some with a university education, I was grateful to be in a situation where I could sit down with my family and enjoy a plentiful meal together. I cleaned my plate; when I was little I was fed stories of starving children in Africa, this time I was thinking of hungry families in my adopted country.

I was brought out of my sombre, and sneezy, mood by a post-lunch photo session. It should've been a simple affair - my sister sat at the table next to me and mum played photographer. However, instead of using the zoom, she shoved the camera at us to get us in frame. We both recoiled at exactly the same time, looked at each other and burst out laughing. And we couldn't stop. The cacophony lasted a good twenty minutes, and proved to be contagious as you can see from the photos:

After we'd all calmed down mum declared "I've not laughed like that in years", and I don't think I had either.

One thing I was disappointed by was the momentous occasion of the Xmas day film. Or rather lack of it. When I was little, this was a big event. I remember watching E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on the 25th December - had you not made it to the cinema (a magical occasion in itself back then) this was your first chance to catch the blockbuster and so was a huge occurrence that I looked forward to all through lunch. However, nowadays, with Sky and other channels taking your money and using it to buy up all the best films, we were left with pretty poor showings. In fact, I can't even remember what we ended up watching. A little piece of the magic was lost. Given the state I was in,  though, I didn't last much longer on Xmas day and crawled into bed at an early hour. Boxing day was even worse. I managed a trip out to restock on tissues and that was it. The day was spent feeling sorry for myself and feeling snotty.

However, having been more-or-less force-fed vitamin C and zinc tablets (by my ever-prepared mother) for the previous three days, I was feeling much better by the 27th. Quite fortunately too as it was Panto day.  Harrogate has the best Panto I've ever seen, even though it's performed by the same company every year and contains no B-list, or even C-list, celebs (perhaps that's why it's so good). This year it was Jack and the Beanstalk (with a very believable, moving giant) and, despite my weakened state, I bravely managed to keep up the calls of "Oh, yes it is!" and "It's behind you!" until almost the very end, when I eventually went hoarse.

For my final day in the UK, I went shopping. To the supermarket. I like this type of shopping at all times, but a UK supermarket is, these days, a special treat. I had planned on filling the basket (and my suitcase) with Crabbies and Rekorderlig strawberry and lime cider (see my previous post). However, there was a last-minute change of plan and I ended up with cat treats instead. I have one extremely fussy puss, who will only ever take malt in the form of Whiskas malt bites. These, in Spain, cost me about €2.50. In the UK I got them on a 2 for 2 pound offer. And even without that, it would've cost me only 1 pound twenty per box, or about €1.50. I was furious: not only do Spanish workers earn significantly less than the British (unless you're a top footballer or one of the many corrupt politician, it seems) but we also have to pay more for our goods. And it wasn't just the cat malt, though that was the best (worst) example I found of how we're being swindled over here. There were many, not only in the supermarket, but there had been throughout my trip - the digital camera my sister had bought my niece for Xmas only cost 40 quid, and it was a good make. Something similar in Spain would cost me about 50% more. Had I had more money, I would've bought myself one before I left. I'd never before felt poor in my life, even during the 10 years I spent at university; now I did. So, I filled my trolley with Whiskas malt bites, and also the obligatory, much-missed, gluten-free crumpets (which predictably didn't last very long once I got back home) and that was about it.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I have a rather lovely sister, a fact that was confirmed when I discovered that my train back to the airport had been cancelled due to engineering work. Of course that hadn't stopped them charging me 110 pounds for it then failing to advise that it wouldn't be running. Cue my fantabulous sis, who offered to take me down to Stansted - a journey of 3.5 hours each way - without blinking. In the end, the journey was much more comfortable for me that way. A good thing too, since I arrived back home, exhausted, at about 8pm that evening, much to the delight of six, stroke-starved cats. 

I must admit, all in all, it was fun. I had a great time, despite the sniffles, sometimes unreliable train service and tiring journey to and from Spain. I also learnt to appreciate where I come from and see the many positives of the UK, for perhaps the first time ever. Having said that, thankfully I did make the most of it, because it may take me another nine years before I decide to brave it again at Xmas.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A UK Xmas - part II

So, I’d finally made it up to Macc where my friend Sue was eagerly awaiting my arrival for some fun and frolics, helped along by the odd cocktail, pint or glass of wine, or two. And I must say, the programme she’d come up with for my entertainment passed with flying colours.

Given my late arrival, we only managed the one glass of the old vino before bedtime, but were up and ready to go by a decent hour the following day, which held a trip to Manchester in store. Now, I know that Macclesfield is none too far away from the home of Corrie, Oasis, Aflecks Palace and the Madchester music scene, but, apart from a fleeting visit last year, I hadn’t been there in years. Literally. And yes, it had changed, though the slightly scruffy-with-a-whiff-of-cool Manchester I remembered from my teenage years of Saturday shopping trips was still there too.

Where are George and Bungle?

Anyway, it being the 21st December, we had a wander round the Xmas markets, comsuming some Amaretto-imbued mulled wine, purely to keep the chill out you understand, and then I went to good old M&S to do a bit of knicker shopping – I tell you, you cannot beat the price-quality ratio anywhere in Spain, and I always look forward to a trip to Marks to keep the old underwear draw in good nick whenever I’m back. So, I ran around the lingerie section, eagerly holding up pairs of smalls to ask for Sue’s opinion, oblivious to the funny looks we were getting from some customers. After that, it was time for a drink, so off we headed in search of something tasty, which indeed we found, in the form of a Cliff Richard.

Winter warmer - mulled wine with added Amaretto, hence the grin

How could I not opt for a Cliff Richard when choosing a Christmas cocktail?!

I could’ve happily downed several, but having promised to meet up with some old friends back in Macc for a night out, we caught the train back and continued the drinking there, not before I’d freshened up my journey-weary hair with some spray-in, dry shampoo, which, as far as I know, has yet to make it to Spain, though I hope it does soon - brilliant stuff! After Cliff, anything was going to be a bit of a let down, though I solved the dilemma by opting for a Crabbie's (alcoholic) ginger beer which came with added lime and Tabasco (and I'd thought it couldn't get any tastier!).

The old faithful, with a twist

We were joined in the pub – one of the very few “traditional” ones left, though I'm not sure if a stuffed Crocodile stuck upside down on the ceiling counts as traditional (shucks, why did I not think to take a photo?!)  - by Dee Dee the Jack Russell, making it seem even more typically British and therefore exciting my, now Spanish, cultural tastebuds. Yes, I was in my hometown, but also feeling a little like a tourist.

Traditional pub deco

The next day involved some last-minute Xmas shopping – there’s only a certain amount of presents you can fit into a suitcase – and so it was back to M&S for more knickers (this time for my Mum – hmm, could this be genetic?) and other bits and pieces. After the previous night – I was proud to have managed to stay out until 1 am after an afternoon’s boozing in Manchester and the long journey the previous day, though by Spanish standards it was a pretty poor showing – it was time for a quieter night. We headed to the old Heritage Centre, which I was pleased to see now has a cinema on the top floor, to see The Hobbit. We went for a quiet drink (or two) after and then felt the need to go home (again, not so good by Spanish standards, but I enjoyed myself anyway).

Wanting my last day to live up to the rest of the visit, Sue had organised a plethora of events for the following day, including a walk around Macc Forest. It was windy, cold and even started to rain while we were up there, but I didn't care -  I had forgotten how serene and beautiful it was and was busy taking it all in, as if for the first time. 

Actually, I’m not sure I had forgotten. It dawned on me, while squelching around in the mud, hood up to shelter from the rain, that I’d previously taken the area where I lived somewhat for granted. Being away from it for 8 years and seeing it again was somewhat of an eyeopener. It seems familiarity does indeed breed, if not contempt, then at least a certain lack of appreciation. Anyway, such was the shock, that we had to end the walk with a trip to the pub – this time I decided to try some of the cider on offer – it was certainly different from the stuff you get here in Asturias and tasty too, though it still didn't knock Crabbie's off the top of my Best UK Bevvies list.

Not Crabbies, but not bad at all

Given my lifelong proclamation of never wanting to have children, I seem to have picked up a knack of getting along with them quite well. After the walk it was time to play Santa Claus so we wove our way back down to Macc (getting a fantastic view of the Cheshire Plain – my, I’d never thought that before either!) and went to see some old school friends and their offspring, and drop off presents from “Auntie Rachel”. This was followed by an Indian (also a must on my UK to-do list: #1 knickers, #2 curry) and then the evening’s entertainment consisted of, and wait for this and can I have a drum roll please... a pub quiz! Sue knows me very well indeed – and so she should, we've been friends for about thirty years – and had planned the perfect final evening of my stay in Macc. Even better, it was in a new (for me), low-key bar in the town that I discovered served not only gluten-free lager (gasp!) but also the most delicious cider I had ever tried (sorry Asturias).

Really rather tasty - and much to my delight, available in supermarkets too!

Add this to the pub quiz and I had a spectacular time – if you’re interested, we came third (though the teams coming first and second had five and four members respectively) and would’ve racked up extra points if I only could’ve remembered the name of Santa’s ninth reindeer  - Vixen (I got the other 8) – and the name of the third wise man – Caspar (Melchior and Balthasar are the two others if you’re wondering). I spent the whole of the pub quiz scratching my head on that one and at one point declared that if I’d still been at the academia, I would’ve remembered it, it being the Three Wise Men who traditionally bring presents in Spain and so was a widely talked about subject by my pupils. Sue sagely pointed out that had I still been at the academia, I wouldn’t have been in Macc enjoying myself (and the cider), so that made me feel much better.

The next day I made my way up to Yorkshire, happily recalling events from the previous few days, keeping an eagle-eye on my garish, new suitcase and in slight shock that all of the trains (three in total) had been on time. Now the only challenge I had to face was Xmas with the family.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

A UK Xmas - part I

This last 20th December I rose at the abnormal (for me) and therefore rather painful hour of 6.30am in order to begin my journey back to the UK for my first Xmas festivities there in 9 years. No longer being at the academia, I was free for the first time in almost a decade to join the family for their seasonal celebrations. As you may have read/know, I myself am not a great believer in this particular celebration. However, I thought it was high time I took part for once; to see my niece, and everyone else for that matter, enjoy it. Besided, I'm not that adverse to all aspects of the celebration, and having been promised two-for-one cocktails back in Macclesfield, plus my first proper UK pub quiz in more than 10 years (more on all that in the next post) I was rather looking forward to it all.

So, I took the car down to El Entrego, caught the train from there to Oviedo, hopped on the bus from there to the airport and was kindly flown to Stansted. I was rather impressed actually: it being only a few days before the 25th, the time of year when pretty much everyone and their granny is travelling, I was out of the plane, though passport control, rejoined with my snazzy new suitcase (actually, it's a pretty gaudy affair with a turquoise snake-print pattern, but having suffered previously from stolen Xmas luggage - bye bye pressies and favourite clothes - I decided that this would be the best way to deter would-be thieves this time round: no robber in their right mind is going to grab luggage that screams "look at me, over here!" And happily I was right, no-one did) and down to the airport train station all within an astounding 40 minutes. I had an afternoon stopover in the capital to catch up with an old school friend, who treated me to lunch and some mulled wine (thank you Fleur!) and then headed to Euston to await my train up north. That was when the culture shock kicked in. Sleepy Asturian hamlet to Euston train station one evening five days before Xmas is one huge change, let me tell you. The crowds were massed in front of the information boards and every so often, hardly had the announcement been made, parts of the crown would stir and make a mad dash for the mentioned platform. Controlled chaos. And of course, this being England, there was an announcement every 15 minutes or so advising people to take care in the station due to the "inclement weather". Now, this may sound perfectly normal to British readers, but after living for so long in Spain it rather tickled my fancy, and kept me vaguely entertained for the 30 minutes that my train was delayed. By then, I was rather sleepy, so when the announcement was finally made for boarding at 8pm (9pm to my Spanish body clock), I had a bit of trouble keeping up with the sprinting commuters determined to have first choice of seating. Fortunately the train was more than half empty (I'm not surprised at those prices!) and I collapsed into a double seat and awaited for the final leg of the journey to start.