I sense that the next few weeks are going to be existential, not necessarily of the crisis variety, but certainly of the big life thoughts variety. The head-scratching, wall staring, appearing like I’m doing nothing (this happens a lot) but actually with a head full of dusty wooden cogs, creaking into action like the inner workings of an ancient windmill that hasn’t ground any grain for generations, as I attempt to work out what the hell is next.

Am I the only human to have spent 3 months in Spain only to discover that their Spanish is now worse than it was on arrival? How can this be possible? I have signed up for every class available, I’m watching Spanish Netflix, reading newspapers, and listening to Europop on the Radio, which to be fair is only really teaching me how to say “let’s make love in the club” which is handy to know I guess, although I would appreciate if they could also sing the follow-up sentences of “are you sure that’s hygienic?” and “do you have a wet wipe?“. Let’s see if I can work that into a conversation. Even Twitter has cottoned on to my new location and is now chirping at me in Spanish.

Despite having achieved a reasonable amount since arriving here in Ontinyent, with that initial burst of “new adventure” energy, I am aware that I need to keep that energy up. I am a professional procrastinator but unfortunately it doesn’t pay well so I need to keep pushing forward and find not only employment but an entirely new social life. The now 40-degree heat only encourages my avoidance issues, I’m actually scared to go outside in the daytime for fear of spontaneously combusting like tinder wood, then there’s the looming month of August where nothing gets done here except a profound dedication to street parties, of which I’m all in favour, but it’s not going to help with moving my life forward, or maybe it will. *cut to September and I am in full Moro costume at one of the reenactment clubs for the Moors & Christians festivals. I don’t think they accept women, but I’ll find a way*.

Friends and family are telling me to “relax/ its been a tough year/ it’s only been 3 months/ you’re doing really well” etc. All of which I know, but despite being a procrastinator I am also impatient. A very conflicting pair of character traits and I want to stop at least some of these plates from spinning and try and achieve some semblance of certainty. A tall order in anyone’s life.

That’s enough self-deprecating drivel, for now, let’s look at the positives.

I love it here. I love this house, I love this weather (despite the combustion fears) and I truly believe I can be happy here. I am happy here, this culture suits me. I think the dog is happy here although it’s hard to tell as he’s unconscious for 20hrs a day, I anticipate him waking up in late September.

I’m being a lot more active, even in this heat, I am making the effort to get out and exercise. The huge hikes with Doof will now have to wait until the cooler months but have been replaced with a weekly riding session at the El Mas de Xatà stables, I’ve even signed up for pilates classes and have a pass for the local swimming pool. Whaaaaat? Who is this? What’s happened to Bel? Pilates? Swimming? You hate swimming WTF? (don’t worry it won’t last, I’m just showing off).

The fact that I am riding again is one of the most unexpected treats I’ve experienced since moving out here, and I have to thank my new friend Liba for trusting me to take out her horse each week. I rode quite intensively as a teenager so it’s wonderful to have contact with horses again. It’s a privilege to be allowed to ride someone else’s horse, it’s like lending out a really expensive pair of shoes, or your favourite white label vinyl. I appreciate her trust in me, and I’ll try not to scratch her favourite record.

I’ve already had my first set of visitors, my brother and his wife came to stay for a few days which was lovely and demonstrated actually how accessible this place is, and the fact that I may see more of my friends than I did in London, and certainly spend more quality time with them while they are here. Being able to share my life in Spain with my family was really special and we had a gorgeous couple of evenings riding and eating and drinking at my favourite Ontinyent haunts.

Bel Ontinyent
Food items I now have in my Spanish fridge that would never have been in my London one: (to be fair my London fridge rarely contained more than a bag of coffee beans and half a bottle of vodka).

Sobrasada – The fact this is now a regular tenant of my fridge is absolute madness. This is soft chorizo that I have discovered is perfect fried up in an omelette or grilled on toast with honey.

Guindillas – those feisty green pickled peppers that always get left on the side of the plate at restaurants. I am equally filled with fear and respect for them, as they sit snarling in the corner of the fridge like a pack of mistreated Terriers.

Olives – I don’t even really like olives, I eat them because I feel they are what adults eat and a better option than the Cornetto in the freezer. (that is a bare-faced lie, the Cornetto wins every time)

Watermelon – Hate watermelon with a passion. But there it is, taking up an entire shelf like an ungainly dinosaur egg. I reluctantly admit it is undeniably refreshing, God damn it and it’s naturally hydrating ways. Even Doofy likes it, the turn coat.

Boquerones – White & silver pickled anchovies. In London these would be a restaurant choice, not a staple. But here they are, wafting their pungent whiffs each time I open the fridge door.

Am I eating better than I was in London? Yes I’m pretty sure I am, I feel better with the absence of Deliveroo and the convenience culture I was very ensconced in, I am happy to actually have anything in my fridge at all. Even if it is Sobrasada and Jamon!

Lets get back to the big life thoughts…

I am notoriously a self-flagellator, excuse my language, but I do give myself a hard time, all the time. I think we all do, don’t we? Coming from the capital city of stress and anxiety, in London if you weren’t talking about how stressful your job or your life is then frankly why talk at all? I am now questioning if I should be more stressed than I am. How crazy is that? I am so used to stress it feels unnatural without it. I am lucky enough to still be working, (ok so I’m still working for the ex but sod it, it’s an income and I can work remotely, so suck it up) although this may not be forever so I will need a local job by February next year when my visa expires (thanks Brexit). Then no doubt I will find stress even where there is none. I’ll eek it out like a blunt shucking knife working its way into a particularly unyielding oyster, because that is what I do.

I am still adjusting to an entirely different working culture, it really is more different than I had anticipated. My brother, for instance, visited last week and his mind was entirely blown by the daily work pattern. This is a man who has worked the 9-5 all his adult life, so when he witnessed groups of work colleagues drinking wine & beer at 10am on a Wednesday morning, no matter how many times I explained it to him you could hear the synapses in his brain malfunctioning “no no, I cannot compute, you mean they drink wine and beer and then go back to work?” *small internal explosion* But it’s this morale-boosting, stress-busting working routine that is what makes this place seem far more genial and relaxed than the Big Smoke. That and of course it’s probably about 300 times smaller than London. Not really a fair comparison, I know.

So the future work vision is one thing, and I don’t yet know what that looks like. The other challenge is building an entirely new social life, virtually from scratch, in another language, which as I mentioned earlier seems to be regressing rather than progressing (self-flagellating again). Our social lives generally grow from schools, college, work, and all those obvious natural social connections that start at kindergarten and continue to evolve for the rest of our lives. So to start with an entirely clean slate, no connections, nothing, is actually really interesting, and feels like a luxurious position to be in. How often do you get to create an entirely new social life unsullied by history or reputation? Fortunately, I don’t need to be surrounded by people all the time, I am good at being alone and when it comes to friends I’ve always been of the “quality over quantity” mindset. Therefore I am happy to slowly build this new life and the people in it. I do have a few links that connect back to the UK from which to spring. Still, with the dawning realisation that I am now embarking on an entirely different life, at the age of 51, now the practicalities and logistics of getting here are starting to fade. The settling dust revealing this new place, this new life, is giving me that weird spinning feeling in my belly.

The crutches of familiarity have been kicked from under me, and I am learning to walk again.


Bel Sharpio moved to Ontinyent from London. What was once a joint adventure with the now ex-husband has become a solo one. Just Bel and her dog!