It’s been a strange year during which I have often felt sad or angry about Britain’s departure from the European Union and all the changes which that will bring.
However, now the map of England is so clearly blue, it’s time to concentrate on some of the things that make me happy about my own life.
1. I spend a lot of time in the city of Valencia on the east coast of Spain, where I have a dusty, creaky flat in a place I absolutely love. El Cabanyal is the seaside neighbourhood of Valencia. I live ten minutes walk from the sea and on a lively square. There’s a big palm tree and lots of orange trees right outside my window and a world of life and activity.
At the weekly street market, you can buy great clothes for less than a euro. Right now there’s a sparkly, white Christmas tree. Sometimes the people from the neighbouring community centre cook huge paellas and it’s fascinating to watch them building the fires made from orange branches and adding all the traditional ingredients(chicken, rabbit, snails, rice, beans) to the giant pans.
In a week’s time, there will be a riotous all night market, to celebrate the arrival of the three kings. They come by speed boat across the Marina and ride through the streets in a carriage, throwing handfuls of sweets to the over-excited children.
At Easter, the famous Semana Santa celebration are rounded off with a traditional dance around the cross which is a key feature of our historic square. And in May there’s a huge, beautiful cross made from roses and carnations, as part of Las Cruces de Mayo festival. The local people stay up all night making it by hand and in the morning it’s a joy to behold as we open the shutters.
If I never left this flat and my seat on the tiny balcony, I wouldn’t be bored(just a bit hungry) and for this I am very grateful.
2. In the summer, when it gets too hot in Spain, I head for a small village in Snowdonia called Maentwrog. Here there is a long wooden verandah to sit on and watch the Ffestiniog Railway steam train as it chugs across the hillside opposite.
Above the hills, there is a magical mountain called Moelwyn Bach. Sometimes when I wake up, I can’t see it because it’s shrouded in cloud and it’s always miraculous when it does appear. On other days the mountain is perfectly clear with a precise outline. The colours on it change all day long depending on the light. I love this mountain and can watch it for hours, while listening to the chaffinches singing and the sheep baaing in the fields by the river.
3. There are many glorious beaches nearby, on the Cambrian Coast or on the LLeyn Peninsula. Most are wild, backed by dunes, farmland, mountains or in Harlech, a spectacular castle. They are usually very quiet and in some cases totally empty. The best one is close to Criccieth and when we go there, having walked for about 20 minutes from the road, it’s nearly always deserted. The sea is cold and clear and you can see for miles along the lovely Pen Llyn coast. These beaches are some of the best I have been on and I am so lucky to spend time near them.
4. I moved away from London nearly 13 years ago, but I am very fortunate that I still have very dear friends living there, who have offered me warm and kind hospitality ever since I left. As well as deepening the bonds of friendship, it’s enabled me to continue spending large amounts of time in this amazing city.
I love to walk by the Thames, on the Heath or through the streets and squares of Islington and Bloomsbury. To swim in the Mixed and Ladies Ponds and sunbathe and stroll in the flower-laden parks. I love the brilliant free museums, the vast choice of food available and the diversity of London’s people. I love the fact that I never feel out of place there, no matter what I look like. And that our green and vibrant capital, like my oldest friends, will always be part of my life.
I wish you all a very happy, healthy and hopeful 2020. Arms up for another new decade.