“Flushed Away”- Trials, Tribulations and Toilets in Chicago 

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You’ve got to keep looking up! Millennium Mile, Chicago
Are you worried about life? Do you think it’s all going belly up and/or down the tubes? Are you looking for help and a clear answer amidst the unfolding chaos? Yes? Well you won’t find one here BUT you will find some stories that might just  make you feel better about your own life, even if it is at my expense!

So it started like this; here we were staying in a fancy big house for our opening number in Chicago. I’d like to say that we were happy and cheery and embracing change but that would be a huge false positive and my current mood embraces honesty. So we were moaning, homesick and having adjustment issues. In desperation, Leo decided to fly in my sister Gemma and her son George to help us settle in. She has a soothing and gentle personality and laughs joyfully at ridiculous things, which is deeply infectious- so yes, her presence was an immediate and very gratefully received tonic.

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Cloud Gate, Chicago
Chicago, through her eyes, sparkled and shone and we all felt hopeful again. We took ourselves off to the lake, swam, frolicked on the beaches, hired bikes and ate in the elegant Lincoln Park cafe near the famous Chicago zoo. We spent hours in the incredible Art Institute, admired the sculptures in Millenium Park and wandered around our neighbourhood feeling happy and jolly.

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Striking architecture in downtown Chicago
We noted how smiley and friendly the people of Chicago were and our spirits lifted. We could make something of this time here! It was ok. Then they left and we fell into doom and despair. When would we see them again? We didn’t  know and our hearts bleeted like lost lambs looking for safety.

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Art inspection time at the Chicago Art Institute
A few sullen days later, I heard a huge shout from the scarily stylish sitting room in our air B and B house. “Mummy” screamed Anoushka “there’s water pouring through the ceiling” I ran in and there it was pouring all over the yellow velvet chairs. We dragged them to one side and found a bucket, but not before it had throughly soaked me.

I sprinted up the stairs to find the dastardly culprit, imagining it was an overflowing sink but to my horror it was the toilet-yes toilet! It poured all over my feet and wooshed and flowed like a tsunami over the floor and down the expensive polished wooden stairs, heading for the sitting room rugs with a horrid determination. I felt my insides flip over with fear and mild disgust. I found a plunger and whacked it up and down in the toilet like Superwoman (it’s remarkable the strength you have when in “fight or flight mode!) and thankfully the water resided.

I inspected the damage and saw a large crack beginning to appear on the sitting room ceiling. I would have to call the owners. I felt sick. I mustered up the courage and got on with it and was surprised by their very relaxed response.  Leo’s work were paying a very large amount of cash to them each week so I presumed that accounted for it! I managed to clear up the house and the ceiling didn’t cave in – we had had a lucky escape!

A few months later, when we had moved into a more permanent rental, I was woken up on a Saturday morning at 6am by enormous shrieks and shouts. I came flying out of bed in my nightdress, hair squashed to my head, glasses left beside the bed so the world was slightly out of focus and found my feet drenched as I ran up the recently cleaned, carpeted stairs.

There was my husband looking seriously stressed by the small ground floor bathroom and there was that water yet again pouring out of another toilet. Even without my glasses I could see he was wearing a frantic expression. “Plunge that thing down it!” I shouted “What thing?” I pushed past and grabbed the toilet brush “This!” I screamed, whilst bashing it up and down inside the toilet bowl. “Oh no!” I cried “What?” shouted Leo “the brush has got stuck!” There was nothing I could do – I plunged my arm down into the bowl to retrieve it. This was too awful. I handed the brush to my husband -“You do it!” I shouted again, this time adding a string of colourful expletives (well wouldn’t you? I hadn’t even had a cup of tea and my feet were soaked in wee!) He took charge (hooray!) and with enough pummelling the water finally retreated- the battle was won!

The kids by this time were standing watching us in bewildered bemusement. “Go back to bed!” I shouted at them too. It was a very shouty morning. “Where are you going?” Leo asked “I am going right back to bed myself. You can sort this out! That was the most disgusting start to my day ever!”

We recounted the story to our lovely upstairs neighbours “But” noted Andrew, a Pilot and all round brilliant and practical human with great cooking and gardening skills “Why didn’t you just turn off the valve?” Yes dear friends, next to the toilet was a little tap and if turned, the water stopped. Well you live and learn!

About six months later (yes, there’s more) just before we were due to move into our new and just decorated house,  I noticed that water was pouring through the bathroom ceiling. I rushed upstairs and knew immediately that it was the devilish toilet but this time I was too quick for it –  I reached down, turned off the valve and defeated it! Under advice we replaced all the malicious toilets, thereby averting any future potential catastrophes – what a relief.

The moral of this story is that sometimes life throws a pile of filth your way (in our case, literally!) but once it’s faced and washed away, things start to look a lot brighter. I’ve learnt from experience that there is normally a silver lining in most situations and if in doubt – laugh it out!

That first weekend in Chicago… 

Botanical Gardens, Chicago

We arrived in the USA and for the time being, we were here to stay. Were we ready for this? No. Did we know what to expect; have any friends, family or ties – No. Yet here we were; every step we took would be a step towards creating  our new life. It was a daunting and interesting position to be in.  Suddenly we were in a city where people had no preconceptions about us. We could, if we wanted to, literally reinvent ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready for that but I did find myself wondering if there were outdated parts of myself I could eliminate and if fresh parts might emerge in their place.

With those thoughts pinging through my mind we arrived at our air B and B house, where we would be staying for the next six weeks. It was super slick and fancy. The walk in wardrobe was packed with colour coded shirts, post it notes with tiny instructions for us were affixed to every cupboard, a heated toilet seat graced the master bathroom (yuck! Who wants a hot bottom?) plus there were seven television sets scattered around the house including one in aforesaid bathroom… maybe TV watching whilst having a hot bottom was all the rage in Chicago? As if that wasn’t enough to worry me, downstairs in the beautifully decorated reception area were four elegant, orange velvet chairs nestled under a horrifyingly expensive looking chandelier. 

Now, we happen to have two very lively kids who quite like a spot of indoor ball throwing (when I’m not looking) plus occasional sofa gymnastics, so I felt mildly nauseous as I pre-empted all the potential disasters just waiting to happen, but my tummy cried out for food, which was a welcome distraction, so off we trotted, Skyla in tow, to find some.

The first thing I noticed was that Chicago was so hot and steamy it felt tropical 🌴, which really surprised me. We were staying in Bucktown, a trendy area bustling with life, people and activity. There were upmarket boutiques, vintage stores, record shops, guitar shops and enough bars, restaurants and cafes to keep us busy for years. It was heaving with strong young couples in fitness gear, some of them racing along with their prams (don’t those kids ever feel dizzy?), bearded hipsters (beards of all shapes and sizes from neat and trimmed to animal like long bushes!) tattooed ladies (I’ve never seen so many tattoos -ever!) and dog walkers – basically just my cup of tea! 

Gavin with his luxurious beard, at Goorin Brothers hat store

A friendly soul guided us to Big Star, the hippest Mexican restaurant in town, packed with humans of all ages, blaring rock music and super cool staff. It was here we ate our first Chicago meal, Skyla sitting comfortably by our feet.

That weekend we explored the neighbourhood, finding ourselves in a street festival, Chicago style. There was great live music, international food and various stands selling everything from clothes, organic toiletries and home made candles to cheeses and bric a brac. Chicago really comes alive in the summer and now I’m experiencing their beautiful but brutal winter, I can see why! Once the sun shines, the restaurants and cafes fling open their doors and dining al fresco becomes the norm. It was this Chicago that greeted us on those first days and looking back, I’m so relieved it was as we had, what you might call, a “soft landing.” 

Buzz cafe, serving the best coffee in Bucktown

We would spend August acclimatising to our new world before Leo started work and the kids started school. That month (and the ones after) were to prove challenging, in what had already been a challenging year, yet I remained resolutely hopeful and sometimes just a glimmer of hope is all you need.

Hugs at the street festival!

Featured here: 

The Chicago Botanical Gardens

This really is a place of wonder and immense beauty for all the family. You can stay there all day and it has a great restaurant serving healthy food. If the weather is good you can eat on the terrace overlooking the gardens. http://www.chicagobotanic.org

Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, Bucktown 

This is the best hat shop in Chicago. They host regular parties here, with food, live music and a great atmosphere. Their staff are well informed, interesting and great to talk to. It’s really worth a visit. http://www.goorin.com

Big Star

Fun, trendy Mexican restaurant with a large terrace that’s open for as long as the sun shines. This place is packed day in day out and always has a lively atmosphere. Dogs welcome! http://www.bigstarchicago.com

Buzz Killer Espresso 

Buzz has the friendliest young staff, great cappuccinos, fresh pastries and is dog friendly – heaven when it’s a brisk -15 degrees Celsius outside and you need a quick warm up whilst out walking your dog! 

Next up… Trials and Tricky Tribulations in Chicago…

A Perfect Evening in Madrid 

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Gran Via , Madrid at sunset
The day had arrived, the evening was beckoning- it was finally time to get ready for my first night out with the Madrid ladies. What should I wear? A dress? Heels? Oh my goodness – decisions, decisions, decisions! You might think that these decisions are trivial (yes, they are!) but this was the equivalent of a first date or a job interview, this was my first night out with five potential friends. When you are friendless in a new a city and your only company for three months (apart from your kids) has been your dog and shopping trolley (my husband was always travelling), this definitely felt like a big step. So, what was i to do? Would a glamorous dress speak volumes about my desperation to be liked – probably – I opted instead for nice pants, a pretty sheer blouse and some stiletto shoes – elegant but with a youthful touch.  Mabel (my new friend) arrived to pick me up impeccably dressed in a cool jumpsuit, multi strapped high sandals adorning her feet and driving a vintage jaguar with a remix of “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell on the stereo. I stepped in and off we sped to the city centre picking up her various glamorous friends along the way.

Our first stop was an old fashioned spanish bar where we sat for a few tapas and wine. I surreptitiously checked my watch – the time was now around 9 pm and this wasn’t even the restaurant for dinner – these girls must have real stamina. I needed to pace myself, I had to get in touch with my inner Viking and drag her reserves of strength to the surface, there would be no yawning tonight, no racing home like Cinderella at the stroke of midnight – no, tonight I would be full steam ahead

Vibrant, beautiful Madrid
At the table I casually revealed a few personal anecdotes (I’ve had a pretty colourful life so I have quite a library to draw from) and these piqued their interest. I needed to make a good impression, the point being to be interesting but not too interesting. Too interesting can also be seen as just plain weird (anyone going on a first date, please take note!) and that is just plain off putting! Well, by this time I had got through my first hour and now it was time to move to our dinner destination, an unassuming Cuban restaurant a block away.

By the time we ordered food it was 10pm (Madrid does not have the same social schedules as any city anywhere else!) and there were now six of us in our very international group – two Spaniards, a Cuban, an Icelandic, a Belgian and me, the Brit. Out came the plates of food but i can’t be certain what they tasted like as they were accompanied by a steady stream of mojitos. A Cuban band then took to the stage, tables got pushed back, loads more people arrived and everyone started dancing. It was all so alive! The mojitos kept coming as did my anecdotes, which were taking on a slightly bluer hue! My husband started sending me texts “Pace yourself” “Don’t let them know who you really are!’,  “Let them get to know you slowly” “Oh dear” was my response “too late for that!’ as my new friends laughed  at my latest joke!

Friendship is the best medicine!
“Let’s go dancing!’ exclaimed Mabel “I know a club!’ A club? an actual nightclub? I hadn’t been to one of those for about a decade! Grown up (rather dull) drinking clubs maybe, but a proper dancing club – no way! We jumped in taxis and off we went.

Now the club was the sort of establishment that i hadn’t graced since the late 80s and had probably hoped never to grace again. It was a very mixed crowd, pretty uncool (who cares!) BUT, there was a dance floor, we were a lively group and we were ready for fun. I didn’t know if I would ever get this opportunity again so I decided to embrace it whole heartedly.

I found a dancing partner in my new friend Helena and off we went, moving and shaking our stuff. Some bits shook rather more than they used to, my body was not quite as fit (dancing is exhausting!) but enthusiasm and an extreme mojito driven sugar surge took care of that!  The other club attendees looked rather drunk and wobbly as they danced in a purposeless way (one must always have a purpose!) but our purpose was clear – we wanted fun and we were having it and nothing would stand in our way – not even the rather lifeless songs the Dj was playing. I took the situation into my own hands and forced him to play some livelier tunes  (by this time the inner Viking had really taken hold) and it injected some well needed life into the dance floor’s amblers (they really needed some direction!). As to us, well we danced, we pranced, we laughed and we danced some more and then it was time to bid farewell.

I was finally dropped at my house at 4am. Leo came down to the door to look at me. “Abigail, it’s 4am! It’s so late! What were you doing?” “Dancing and having fun!” I called back and then wobbled off to bed, finally emerging at 4pm the next day, exhausted but exhilarated. Friends! Dancing! A new life! Nothing could hold me back and this was just the beginning!

Madrid and the Art of Eating 

When I look back to our short but sweet time in Madrid, my most ardent memories involve food. There is no doubt about it, Madrid is food heaven. It was (for the most part) exceptional. The idea of a sad, soggy sandwich, filled with unpalatable rubbery cheese, stuffed unceremoniously into one’s mouth whilst seated at a desk,  was unheard of in Spain.  Lunches were a time to stop, down tools and fill your tummy with healthy delight. Even the cheap little corner cafes with plastic tables and strip lighting, served three course meals that tickled your taste buds and brought pleasure to your belly. I was amazed by their commitment to proper eating.  The Spanish know how to eat. They know how to take pleasure in food.

From what I could see, the Spanish philosophy is to work to live, as opposed to live for work and this coloured everything. At Leo’s work, menus were set before him each lunch time along with a napkin and silver cutlery- so fancy- he couldn’t believe his luck!  The fact is, you just can’t rush a Spaniard at mealtime (don’t even try!) Even the removals men we hired to deliver our furniture  stopped for a TWO HOUR lunch and somehow they got all their work done! They were slightly slower but my goodness, they were so much happier!  I began to wonder how I had ever eaten all those sandwiches from Pret a Manger. My taste buds really needed an upgrade! Actually my whole life ethos needed an upgrade!

Even our local park cafe had proper menus, an impressive wine list, well turned out waiters and good, tasty food. It was a marvel. We became regular weekend visitors, sitting at their courtyard tables surrounded by large, happy, noisy Spanish families taking their time to eat on a Sunday. Yes food and the pleasure of eating became a proper past time.

Looking back to my life in England, I realised that I had really started to entrench myself into a middle years mindset. Dinner out at 8pm, tucked into bed before midnight- it was all rather lack lustre.  I envied my London friends who had the energy to stay out after midnight- I just couldn’t be bothered. It was with this mouldy mindset that I started going out in Madrid. Now in Madrid, if you decide to dine out at 8pm, your dining companions will either be young families with toddlers or octogenarians (possibly older!)  We asked around and everyone told us that we had to start our night no earlier than 9pm and even that was mildly geriatric. So we slowly but surely began to adapt to the Madrid way. Really we had no choice and do you know what, it was so good for the soul! It felt instantly youthening. Slippers be dammed! My middle years needed a great big injection of life and here it was.

The concept of time was changing…. the kids went to bed later and later, our days became longer, we all relaxed and meals became mini events. I can tell you that those six months we lived in Madrid liberated my soul, changed my view of time and made me look at age in a whole new light! My middle years would now be my mid -life awakening! It was time to get out my dancing shoes…and that is just what I did…

 

My favourite food courts in Madrid

1. Mercado de San Miguel www.mercadodesanmiguel.es

This place is amazing! It’s a large food hall stuffed with delicious tapas, sweet treats and drinks. We brought all of our visitors here. It’s worth going before the rush hour of lunch as it gets crowded. Don’t expect a seat – this is a standing place but it’s worth it. The food is delicious and it’s fun and the venue is great looking.

2. Mercado San Anton

www.mercadosananton.com

This food market is in the trendy part of Madrid. It’s calm and gorgeous, with delicious food to eat on site and also to buy. There’s a cool rooftop bar there that’s great to go to for a pre dinner aperitif!

Beautifully displayed satsumas, Mercado San Anton, Madrid
3. Platea

http://www.plateamadrid.com

This amazing venue is a former cinema in Plaza Colon. It’s gorgeous to look at, has a stage for entertainment and has great tapas and wine. It is really worth visiting.

Finally…Friends!

This new life in Madrid had a big friendship sized hole in it. Once the novelty of living abroad had worn off (around one week!) reality set in like cement and it sounded something like this, “Mummy, we don’t have any weekend friends” ” Mummy, weekends are so boring now” “Mummy, do you actually have any friends here? Will you ever have friends?  Will we ever have friends?” Unfortunately answers were in short supply as I felt the same way. That friendship hole needed filling and fast but it was proving quite hard. Where do you start without the language? I suppose it would have been sensible to join one of those “British women abroad- Let’s unite, wave the flag and empower each other!” style clubs, but I’ve never been good at being sensible and joining groups has never suited me – or the group for that matter. I really hoped new friendships would emerge organically. After a few months my hope was stretched as thin as a pair of nylon stockings with holes in them.

My only companions durintg those first months in Madrid
At the school gates I attempted to make small talk with the mothers. It was so small I reclassified it to teeny. Within three minutes they would look at me with pity in their eyes and then continue conversing in Spanish, while I stood there feeling rather foolish. I pretended to be nonchalant. I took up looking at my new iPhone a lot (does twenty times a minute count as a lot?) and pretended to be “busy.” I called my sister, so the mothers could see that I had real humans who wanted to interact with me and I wasn’t a sad and lonely drifter. She answered (about ten times a week!), which was a relief as she hates the phone. The phone became my life line. When I couldn’t call the UK for a few days I felt completely abandoned, although weirdly I could still make calls to my husband. Poor man – I called him ranting and railing. He took to travelling and coming home late.

I was pining so much for home, my friends and my family, that my heart actually hurt. I hadn’t felt this isolated for years and it was unpleasant. It was just me and the dog. My smiles became bigger to mask my tears, although not too big as that would highlight my desperation and make me look like someone to avoid. I needed to keep my new needy character under control and under wraps. I wasn’t sure where brave and courageous Abigail had gone but I prayed she hadn’t abandoned me completely.  I had to see this process in a positive light – it was a metamorphosis and eventually I would emerge refreshed and renewed, like a butterfly breaking free of it’s cocoon. Well one can dream…

By this stage we had moved out of the centre of Madrid and were now living in a beautiful home in the suburbs. It was spacious, gorgeous and had a little pool in the garden with fresh basil and rosemary growing around it and red roses climbing  the walls. The house was idyllic, which did cheer us up.

Each morning, after dropping the kids to school, Skyla and I walked down to the local village high street where I found a perfect restaurant to sit with a cup of cafe con leche whilst enjoying the warmth (from a sad distance) of socialising humans. After about ten visits the owners (it was a family affair) began to talk to me. Two lovely sisters, who didn’t speak English but were hugely kind and warm and their five languages speaking, charming brother- thank god one of those languages was English! This became my morning safe haven. Now we just needed those weekend friends.

My table at El Nuevo Zaguan, Aravaca, Madrid
I discovered the mothers in my son’s class had a what’s app group, where they shared jokes (some looked quite rude!), party plans and homework. Unfortunately it was all in Spanish. That, plus loitering alone at the school gates at pick up, made me feel like an unwatered wallflower, quietly wilting on the side lines.
I was feeling helpless, wishing we could pack up and return to London, when a flurry of activity appeared on my phone. I was struggling to understand it and then a message appeared  -“Do you know what’s going on?” It read. “Do you need help?” It was Mabel, the Spanish mother I had met about a month before. “I have no idea what’s going on !” I responded, relieved yet desperate. “I do need help!”  She decided to take this lost English lady under her wing – I was someone who obviously needed steering in the right direction – she would be my fairy godmother, my guardian angel!

At school pick up, needy no mates finally had someone to talk to.  Mabel introduced me to “the gang” – a gorgeous group of her friends, some of whom spoke perfect English. “Do any of you like going out and drinking wine?” I asked them after about a week- “Because I’m desperate for a girl’s night out and equally desperate for a large glass of wine.” They laughed and a plan was hatched.

Within two weeks I would be going for my first girls’ night out in Madrid!. What would it be like I wondered. What should i wear? Would they like me? Would I like them?  Maybe, just maybe, they would fill that large friendship hole. My excitement began to brew…

Top Pic: Casa de Campo Park, where I spent many hours walking Skyla in quiet contemplation.

 

 

 

 

Muddle and Melodrama in Madrid!

In the first month of our new life in Madrid, my mother in law came to stay from Mexico. At this point we were squashed into a cramped air B and B and Teresa, who is a very decent person, accepted that she would be sleeping on the sofa. She is in her 70s so I was pretty impressed by her resilience! Leo and I had our own teeny room with a teeny bed – you couldn’t move or you fell out, whilst the kids squeezed into a short, skinny bunk bed. Skyla, who has her own bed, was determined to sleep in my mother in law’s and she was equally determined to get her out! Yes, it wasn’t a perfect set up but we muddled through. 

One freezing January morning, as we got ready for school, I put on the kettle for our morning tea and the heating for our cold bones, when suddenly, we found ourselves in total darkness! What? Teresa was in the shower – “Abigail, help, help!” she called out rather helplessly, “I can’t see! What’s happened to the lights?” Oh my god, I actually like my mother in law and needed her alive! I rushed about searching for a torch so I could navigate my way to the electricity panel, wherever that might be? Amazingly I found it and got all the lights back on without blowing us all up. Well done me! We then had to decide between heat and tea. Tea won.

Five more black outs later, I called the landlady, expecting instant help but instead got a lack lustre, “I just don’t know what’s going on. I can’t do anything.” I began to believe this was her canny ploy to control our electricity usage but there was nothing we could do. At least the radio Leo had installed worked! Each morning we sat shivering, listening to BBC Radio 2, eating our buttered toast and warming our tummies with hot tea.

Moving country was beginning to prove harder than we had imagined. I thought back to those last days in London, remembering the enthusiastic good byes “How lucky you all are, what an adventure! I wish we could do it too! You’ll love it!” or “Oh, don’t worry about the kids, kids are so adaptable. They’ll fit in straightaway!” The fact is, adventures feel adventurous because they are damn hard work! When do you ever get a protagonist in an adventure story who just sits back and has a good time? No, he/she has to climb mountains, fight demons, face challenges, shout at a boss – you get the idea. So yes, we were definitely having an adventure and this was the chapter entitled “Drama, Tears, Crisis!” As to the kids being adaptable, well maybe some are but mine certainly were not! Actually, nor were we! I could talk the talk of adventure and I had got us this far but could I walk the walk?

The first week of school the kids raced off excitedly to make new friends. By the second week reality was pounding at our door, “I don’t want to go to school Mummy!” (Anoushka) “I hate it! I don’t want to make new friends!” (Xavier). Teresa and I attempted to console them but they were having none of it. “Why are we here Mummy?” “Why did you make us leave London!” “We will never like it here!” The guilt was settling on my soul like a layer of lead and it did not feel good. I was no better myself. Once I had got them through the school gates, I would join Teresa for a coffee, a moan and a weep. “Oh Teresa, I miss my friends, I want to go home. I can’t speak Spanish!” She tried to make me feel better but only time heals and we are an impatient family.

Teresa had to return to Mexico, Leo was off working across the world and it was now just me and the kids. My daily ritual was to sit in the local cafe, Skyla at my feet, a cafe con leche in one hand and my iphone in the other, posting sad messages underneath pictures of my beverage, to instagram. Thank god my friends (including new IG ones!) sent me words of encouragement. “You can do it Abigail!’ they wrote! “Don’t give up yet! We believe in you!” Their support made all the difference.

Eventually the kids got their first invitation to a party and parents were invited too! It was at an ice skating rink. Leo and I got our hired ice skates on and powered about feeling rather daring, whilst the Spanish parents chatted at the side lines. One Spanish mother lent me her gloves, took a good look at me and after my turns on the rink said, “Abigail, I can take you out. I have time. I can show you Madrid.” I realised that here was a potential friend, a possible life line in this new reality of mine. Finally here was hope and her name was Mabel.

Pic: Skyla looking rather cosy and mildly guilty on Teresa’s blankets. 

The Perils of Television

I was a box set addict. I just need to admit that now before we proceed any further. I hold my hand up and declare it. Mad Men, Game of Thrones, True Blood, Breaking Bad – these were just some of my many and varied addictions. “Hello Abigail, how are you?” my husband Leo would ask me sweetly when he came home from work, “Ssssh” I would respond, “I’m in the middle of this scene, I cannot be disturbed, I must know what happens next!” Shrugging his shoulders, he would go off to the other room to watch the news on the computer, his food on a plate with a bit of tin foil wrapped around it keeping it tepid at best. What can I say – I just couldn’t help it.

Each night, once the kids were in bed, I would rush to my sofa, place the cushions in just the right position for maximum comfort and then begin the marathon. Sometimes I could curb it and just watch one, but if it was a Friday night and I knew I would get a lie in the next day, I wouldn’t control myself and would gorge on up to three shows, back to back, devouring them like a predator devours its prey. If it was a”Breaking Bad” marathon, my brain was whirring so much with anxiety and excitement that once the TV was off, I just couldn’t go to sleep. This addiction was destroying my rest and clouding my judgement.

When Leo managed to drag me out to dinners to meet real humans – away from my vicarious life with the various imaginary characters on the screen – I would find myself asking friends if they had seen the latest episode of whatever show I was currently watching. What was happening to me? Those characters on the small screen became as real to me as my own family. It was getting scary – I was doing something I see now as “avoiding” – avoiding taking chances, avoiding thriving and avoiding creating. Photography jobs came my way but my ambition had dried up. I remember my friend suggesting I do another portrait project and the thought of it just tired me out. I was in my early 40s and had basically accepted my lot in life. Ambition and dreams were now for other people. I could feel them slipping away and I mourned them but I didn’t have the energy to chase them.

Then one day my husband started talking about Madrid and the possibility of us moving there as a family. Something stirred inside the lazy husk that I was becoming; some old yearning for adventure began to raise her head and call out to be heard and once she started calling, I couldn’t quieten her. I found myself pushing my husband to talk to his boss so we could make the move. I could feel my urgency – this was it – this was the chance to break free from the clutches of the comfy sofa, kiss goodbye to the characters on the small screen and start living my own life again. I was going to write my own story and be the star of my own show.

Those first months in Madrid, when we were living in a small, cramped air b and b in the middle of the city, with no television, but instead, a throbbing, vibrant real life right on our doorstep, I realised that I was finally liberated from my addiction. Everything, including the language, was new. Life was suddenly such a roller coaster ride that I hardly had time to breathe, let alone watch box sets. Leo would return home from work to our tiny scruffy apartment and do you know what, we sat and we talked.

Over a year has passed since that first month and although I still do love watching television, I now see it as a treat to be savoured, amongst the many other flavours and joys of my week.

So to all of you who love your box sets, I do understand – but just remember, the world out there is a big and wonderful place with a chance waiting on every corner – I just wish I had embraced it sooner!

Pic: My survival book of spanish words and phrases written for me by my son for my first weeks in Madrid!