Barcelona – the road back

And so, I’m back in Barcelona.

It’s been a mad few months since the end of the Big Trip, during which my outlook on life totally changed, along with my plans for the future. After the emotionally draining but vital week I spent here in October, I got a lot of things straight in my head, and made a lot of Big Decisions. Yes, I was going to get a tattoo.

All right, that did happen, but it wasn’t exactly the biggest decision. Spending a week here made me realise that I loved the city (warts and all), and I wanted to come back. And spending that time with Tom made me realise that, whatever my feelings about him, his way of life was something I could aspire to. And something I could do.

So, I’ve spent a busy three months, interviewing for the CELTA English teaching qualification first in Cambridge and then in Barcelona itself, via Skype. Turned out the ‘part-time’ course at Cambridge Regional College was still three days a week for seven weeks, and there was no way I could get that time off work. Sod it, I thought, might as well go the whole hog, and do the four week full-time intensive course. And then something Tom had told me came back to me. Why not get a head start and do it in Barcelona itself, if I want to work there?

One Skype interview with Oxford House TEFL later, and I was set. Four week course, starting in February and finishing in early March, just in time to try finding work for the summer term (and getting out before Brexit, if that makes a difference).

Some sensible people pointed out to me that, given my previous feelings about Tom, moving to the same city as him might not be the best idea. But actually, some things have happened since my return from Europe that have helped sort my head out about that even more than our dramatic conversation in October. Principally that I’ve had a rather ridiculous amount of casual sex via Grindr, which may not be noble but has both built up my self confidence and made me realise that Tom is not, after all, my last chance to cop off with someone I fancy.

Thus fortified, I’m looking at it more that I’m moving to somewhere I already have a friend – let’s do baby steps at this reconstruction of my life. But the other thing I needed to do was to clear out my life of all the stuff that, after my Big Trip, I’d realised I had no actual need for.

Cue a frantic three months of sales via eBay and Facebook Marketplace, that have left me with enough money as a fallback if this doesn’t work out. Probably the hardest thing to say goodbye to was my van, after all my big plans about living in it. But those plans were predicated on the idea of staying in Cambridge, something I no longer wanted to do, and I couldn’t think of anywhere in Barcelona to park it on a long term basis. Especially if I didn’t want to be broken into on a regular basis.

So off it went. I shed a bit of a tear, but the main thing about my changed outlook is that I’m no longer looking back in rose tinted nostalgia, but looking forward in hope. Yes, that part of my life is over, and it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. But without the journey the van made possible, I’d never have settled on the plan I now have. In the words of the sometimes-wise John Lennon, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans”.

And now all that stuff I’d been hoarding, in some cases for decades, is gone. All I own now fits in a suitcase, a satchel and two backpacks. Well all right, and the several large boxes of stuff my brother has kindly agreed to store for me at his place.

I had a great sendoff from Stretham, with me hosting one last pub quiz and joined by many of my friends. The pub staff were even generous enough to let me keep all the quiz entry money! Next day, the keys were ceremonially handed back to Pocock and Shaw in Ely, and I dropped my now reduced belongings off with my friend Layla, for collection on the way to Spain. Then it was time for the last outing in my beloved Mazda MX5, a 150 mile trip to my brother’s in Swindon, where he’d kindly agreed to sell it on for me.

All right, getting rid of the MX5 was even harder than getting rid of the van. I’ve owned this car for 11 years, and it’s never let me down. The only work it’s ever needed was a new timing belt, a new water pump and a new alternator belt. It just soldiers on supernaturally despite being over 26 years old now.

But it had to go. After all, there’s no rational reason to spend money and worry owning a car in a city well-served by public transport and easy to walk around. For the first time since 1989, I’m going to be carless. And you know how it feels? Liberating.

After a nice night with my family, there was a minor snag involving more than 12 inches of snow and a lot of frantic shovelling, but eventually the train got me from freezing Swindon to less freezing Cambridge in time for me to pick up my bags and head for Spain the next day.

Before that though, there was yet another round of farewells to be had at the Royal Standard on the end of Layla’s road. Layla and I were joined by my friend Neil Ogden, who I’ve known since my HMV days and who continued to work with me at Cambridge Assessment, and the party was complete when young Phil joined us. I had a pub meal of bangers and mash in a last gasp of Britishness, and not even the aggressively homophobic idiot who said my flirting with Phil had “scarred him for life” could spoil the evening. Especially with Neil and Layla standing with me to tell him he was an idiot. I do have great friends.

Next day, hungover, and with an incipient cold, I covered myself in baggage and slogged to Cambridge station and thence to Stansted, where a surprisingly unproblematic Ryanair flight got me to Barcelona by the late afternoon. Emerging from the terminal blinking in the Catalonian sunlight, I felt a familiar but recently all too absent emotion. It’s called hope. I’m really here. I’m really doing this. I can really do this. It’s time for the new start.