Thank EU very much

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And now it’s August…

July’s been a busy month. We started off with a weekend away in Bournemouth and ended it back home in Newcastle, meeting family across from Canada who I haven’t seen for three years (practically to the day).

In between, there’s been lots of gym visits and a discovery that I can actually play squash – if you don’t worry too much about my service.

It’s been a fantastic month and of course, being a good blogger, I’ve taken loads of photos to photoshop so I’ve got thigh-gap and incredible skin and to make you all amazingly jealous of my cosmopolitan and exciting life.

Or I ate and drank and had a good time with the people I love most in the world.

But the month got me thinking about how lucky I have been to be able to travel so much. I had the most amazing adventure in Canada – we saw wolves! – and have forged a new relationship with family who, until 2013, I hadn’t seen since the late 1980s (if you discount one hurried meeting at Montreal airport).

And Bournemouth felt like home. No, not that home – this is where living in so many different places gets confusing. Home Madrid home.

Okay, I can hear your brain’s whirlygigs whirlygigging. Bournemouth and Madrid???? No, I haven’t lost the plot (or the map). There are lots of language schools in Bournemouth and when we were there, we heard as much Spanish being spoken on the streets as we used to in Spain – and as a former TEFL teacher, I will now wag my finger at all these young people and intone my old well-worn phrase: “In English, please.”

Oh, memories…

I spent eight magnificent years in Madrid.

Nope, that’s a lie. They weren’t magnificent. They were life-lived years, with all their ups and downs. Some parts were wonderful and some of the people were amazing. But there were also really difficult times, being away from family during times of illness, for example, or the usual day-to-day frustrations at work or at home or in the supermarket, when you wonder why strawberry season is over and it’s Wimbledon fortnight.

And don’t even get me started on Begoña the student at Caja Madrid…

If you’re after a description of the city, click here.

But Madrid is more than a tourist site to me. It’s the place where I became me.

Going to live in a foreign country teaches you so much more about yourself than possibly any other experience you can have. The people you meet have no knowledge about you outwith a few stereotypes – namely, you’re British, love the royal family and have tea at 4.30pm, despite the fact you work until 5pm. Whether you went to Cambridge or – ahem – Sunderland University (nee polytechnic) makes no difference to them and all accents sound the same.

Yes, I sound the same as the Queen to people who don’t have English as a first language.

And you’re the same. Whether someone came from La Moraleja or Vallecas – think Kensington and Brixton – means nothing, you judge people as you find them and vice versa.

How bloody fantastic is that?

Added to that, I met people from all over the world: Romania, Italy, Australia, the US, Germany, Russia, France, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Cuba, Poland, Israel, Argentina – all with different viewpoints and cultures that forced me to rethink my own beliefs. The “norm” no longer exists.

Bullfighting is still bad, however. I didn’t change that much. Although I do have a greater acceptance of Eurovision.

Not having a common language also forces you to reassess yourself. When I lived in Edinburgh and met someone new, I turned into a witty wisecracker to break the ice. It’s hard to make witty wisecracks when you’re struggling with what form of “to be” to use and whether you have to be formal or not.

That made me more interested in people. I had to ask questions and truly listen to the answer instead of thinking of my next retort. Not being able to speak the language also meant I could ask for clarification without fears of being thought ignorant. (We’d already proven that when I called the Pope a potato and told a waiter I was delicious.)

It also turned me from a self-sufficient woman to one capable of asking for help and advice when needed. And guess what? Life’s so much better when you’ve got someone to giggle with when the hairdresser tells you to take your knickers off and gets the hot wax out when all you asked for was a trim.

You also discover how not to take yourself too seriously.

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Most importantly, I learnt to appreciate the simpler things in life – the apple blossom in March heralding the start of spring, a drink with my best friend after a visit to the Prado, crickets playing the soundtrack to an evening walk… I once had a flat full of stuff; my life will now fit into two suitcases (bloody toiletries).

I toyed with the idea of voting Leave in the EU referendum. I like change and breaking away from the status quo – the reason I wanted Scotland to break away too. But I couldn’t vote to deny my great-nephew and great-nieces the opportunity to enjoy all I’ve experienced and so I voted Remain.

So thank you, EU, for everything you’ve given me. And let’s hope future generations can have that too.

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