We’re about to head off to the airport to fly back to Spain after our summer sojourn in the UK. Weighing bags, packing and repacking to avoid incurring excess baggage fees, making sandwiches, including clothes for all climes – rain/cold/sun… with the bags finally ready, the annual trip is at an end, and it’s time to get back to sweltering reality and our hot little house. Which always gets me thinking, what do I like most about being here (apart from my seeing family and friends)?
Coming from dry, dusty, sparsely-treed Seville, it’s a joy to see all the woods of Essex, some dating from medieval times. They come in tight clumps, spread out in long, thin shapes in the middle of fields, or large areas like the one near my parents’ house, which is used for coppicing and building stick-shelters. I’ve never found anything like it in Spain, and seeing my kids run through a wood, hunting for monsters and sword-fighting with twigs, is a source of enormous pleasure for me and my parents. People don’t go for walks there like they do here – wellies on, in the car, and off we go.
The next one is naughty food – by which I mean cakes, biscuits and puddings. Preferably chocolate. Chocolate fudge cakes, chocolate-covered ginger biscuits, GU chocolate mousses… it’s a wonder my backside can fit into the plane seat on the way back. The choice and quality of these tea things (scones, crumpets too) and desserts is in another league from what’s available in Spain. I would single out for praise Co-op’s lemon cupcakes, which are delectably delicious, Happy Face biscuits and anything by Tunnocks, and my mum’s home-made raspberry jam, which we got through about nine pots of.
My last is a strange one. It’s animals: parks, farms, stately homes with the odd paddock housing some four-legged attractions. To see an animal near Seville, you only need to drive up into the Sierra Norte, and there are fighting bulls, acorn-chomping cerdos ibericos (jamon to you) and horses being ridden. But you can’t get up close (or at least, I wouldn’t advise it, especially not a toro bravo.)
We’ve had a great time admiring giraffes, zebra, monkeys and other beasts in various surroundings, my favourite of which is a local privately-owned Tudor house with a rare breed farm. Piglets run freely, peacocks strut about as if they owned the place, dreadlocked donkeys come over to say hello and have a nuzzle, and horned sheep look askance. Massive Longhorn cattle wander about the driveway looking like extras from an Indian film.
It’s run as a traditional farm, ie non-intensive, no profit margins or targets. Yes, it’s a luxury, but wandering around medieval barns, cottages and stables with all these happy porkers and chickens is a privilege I’m very happy to pay for (and do so every year).
Elsewhere, my children hand-fed goats and giraffes and got up close with tortoises, iguanas and marmosets, in small walk-through sections of the zoo – you’re right in there with them, no netting or glass or bars dividing you from the animals. I was more excited than the kids.
Of course I also love reading English magazines (being a journo), watching English TV, and shopping at English supermarkets (smoothies, curries, kids’ pyjamas and underwear being irresistible), plus carpet and central heating in winter. But these are all to some extent available, or recreatable, back in Spain. Unlike the bosques, postres and granjas, which most definitely are not.