Firstly, Dad... Erm Dad? DAD! Hi, great, hi there! Can I just ask you one little favour? Do you mind just hitting that 'X' in the top right hand corner of your screen? Yep, that's the one! Well done. Click that and then, if you could just close down the lid of your laptop, maybe go and pop an episode of Pointless on and completely forget about reading this blog post, well, that would be wonderful. For both of us. Cheers x
So now that we're alone...
...This post was supposed to be about the time, I had a fling in Barcelona. Once, just once, I threw caution to the wind and booked my flight. Jetted off, for a Bridget Jones esque mini- break- shagathon, in one of the most liberal cities in Europe. *Spoiler* That's not quite what happened.
Jay always asks me to go away with him. He travels for work and is one of those rare people you imagine you’ll bump into at salsa clubs, or life drawing classes, who just have this kind of air of possibility around them. The kind most of us just aren’t able to summon, due to constraints such as rent, doctors appointments, trying to win your bosses respect by actually turning up to work on time - and generally, life.
But so far our non-relationship had yet to leave the confines of my tiny London bedroom… and upon one drunken night, the cold hard surfaces of my shared kitchen. (Actually, girls, Freya and Holly, maybe you should go watch an ep of Pointless too...)
Our non-relationship was also the one and only time I had sustainably had both great sex and zero anxiety over future heartbreak. Future heartbreak is almost always inevitable when grey areas collide with brilliant sex – or at least it has been for me. However, Jay was different.
Stunningly out of my league, a shameless flirt, and just easy. Easy in every sense. Virtually all of our encounters had taken place late at night or early in the morning - and around 80% had been sans clothes. Intimacy was normalised, conversation flowed and there were no boundaries – possibly as a result of there being no expectations. His company was just simple.
Refreshing, after some of the absolute head fucks who’d stood in from time to time as: ‘That guy I’m seeing… no I’ve not asked if we’re exclusive… is five months really a long time?’ Anyway, a prolonged fling with Jay extended into a mini-break sounded perfect.
After confirming the flights my first thought turned to my Mum. Actually my first thought went something along the lines of “maybe I should book a wax”. But I was suddenly aware that I needed to convince my parents I'd be totally safe travelling abroad, with a guy they’d never heard of. Yep, astonishingly Jay had never made it to dinner table conversation with the family.
“I think he might be gay.”
Hearing the lie travel down the phone to my Mother, I was surprised how easy it was and how suddenly more acceptable the whole trip seemed. My guess is that de-sexualising any male friend to my family would put their mind at ease. So Jay became this protective and non-predatory male traveling companion. In many ways superior to any female friend I could have gone on holiday with. Jay being gay was the perfect lie. I had a feeling he would find it hilarious.
Bags packed, checked in online, a tiny and scandalously cheap Airbnb booked, purely as a back-up; Jay’s work schedule was always up in the air!
I was ready to go. But it’d been a day or so since Jay had responded to any of my questions about where and when we were meeting. He hadn’t even read the message letting him know I’d bought new pants specifically for Barcelona – they said Sangria on the bum!
Finally I climbed into bed around midnight, we had an early flight the next morning - and I felt as though my eyes were melting.
What?! It was 4:30am; a time my body clock had only ever previously acknowledged for bleary eyed bathroom visits. This was a lot to take in. I rubbed my eyes trying to make sense of my suddenly cancelled ‘shagathon’ and newly impending solo city break.
I read the long message that followed, scrambling to brush my teeth and, check I had my passport for the 5th time in a row. A boring work excuse, which I chose to believe; it was easier. Jay said he might be able to get away and join me but his boss was being really difficult. I decided not to hold my breath...
...Why do people at airports pretend it’s not early? Struggling with my luggage and the online boarding card app, I tried to coherently confirm that I’d packed my bags myself, whilst gulping my triple shot flatwhite. I’m never out of the house before 6am and I’m really not good at it. But now I found myself faced with two options: Crying into my coffee or I buying a guidebook.
Leaving WHSmiths I was sure I’d make much more use of Google but it seemed like the right thing to do. Next, sat in duty free, I checked Timeout Barcelona and the weather forecast. Previously most of my plans had been indoor, but now an itinerary according to weather and museum opening times was necessary. The Picasso museum and Park Guell booked, I downloaded a data package onto my phone and started to read about the Gothic Quarter, where my extremely humble Airbnb was situated.
Then I remembered Sam! I had one friend in Barcelona.
Sam worked for an Erotic Film company in the city and was guaranteed to be brilliant fun. I sent her a few tweets letting her know I’d be around the next few days and prayed she’d see them by the time I landed. Alone was fine, but a night out with a local who happened to work in the erotic film industry screamed fun. I wasn’t getting laid: I needed fun.
I boarded the plane, smiled at the overweight middle aged woman next to me, bulging into my own cattle class seat, and after checking it for the bizzilionth time, I switched off my phone.
Four hours and five storeys, of lugging my suitcase to the top floor of my apartment block later, I arrived at a very rustic/chic Catalonian apartment. The bathroom lock was a chopstick and hole in the wall. My bed was thin mattress on a few planks of wood. And there were approximately six other people sharing the lofty little space. But I was in Barcelona and about to find out that I'd be staying in the heart of a very cool city.
My landlord for the week was a short Italian man, named Guilliano, age around 50, BMI approximately 35. He spoke few words of English, but his smile said everything, as he offered to take me out for ‘wine tasting’. On this occasion it was fortunate that I’m actually allergic to most wines. I declined with classic British awkwardness, swung on my back pack, and headed out to tick off the first point on my itinerary: Get lost.
Before I arrived I had an idea that the Born District and Gothic Quarter of the city would be made up of quirky side streets and back alleys. I had romantic notions of market stalls, cobbled streets and balconies. Correct!
I resisted the urge to turn on Google maps and walked. Within the first two hours I'd found THE BEST hot chocolate in the world! A weird boutique sex shop, an English book stall, the museum of modern art and countless vintage clothing shops. I was in the Aladdin’s cave!
That night, I had in mind paella or seafood, but what I found was steak burgers and mojitos. Dinning alone has a number of advantages: You can order exactly what you want, eat all of it and, there’s no small talk. I devoured my burger, three mojitos and because I had no plans to publicly take my clothes off for the next few days, a large slice of cheesecake.
The rest of the trip continued in this vein. I wondered around, listening to podcasts and audio books, vaguely consulting my guidebook and stopping as often as possible to eat.
Compared to London the city is surprisingly cheap and easy to get around. The second day I woke early. I no longer needed to factor sex into my itinerary, however I had a burning desire to get the most out of my three days. And to eat some pastries. Something no one tells you about Barcelona, it has the best patisseries! Forget Paris or Copenhagen, Barcelona is wheat porn!
Full on cake, wandering around the Picasso museum trying to look serious about the art, my phone pinged. Jay.
This prompted a series of messages I couldn't quite bring myself to read in the gallery whilst school children filed past me. I rolled my eyes and switched my phone back to aeroplane mode.
From impressionism, to sex toys, I found myself in the Erotic Museum. Watching one of the first pornos ever to be filmed in Barcelona my phone pinged again. This time it was Sam. She was free the following night. We arranged cocktails as I hoped we would and I set off to Les Ramblas (a street that is basically an elongated version of Leicester Square – although worth a visit none the less). Tipsy on Cava I ate the most beautiful sea food then weaved my way through the food market, picking up essentially, desert on a stick.
Walking back to the apartment for an early night I realised this was the first time in perhaps a year where my schedule had been all mine.
I’d been juggling a job in a bar, with freelancing in journalism and, trying to break into a permanent position on a features team. I’d been dating guys who just didn’t like me enough. Knocking myself out, trying to head home at least once a month, to keep up with friends who mostly seem to be on an entirely other planet. I’d lay awake worrying about rent or deadlines or whatever crappy date I’d just had. But walking alone back to my apartment I could breathe.
Somewhere near the best hot chocolate shop in the world I began to cry. I hadn’t felt my chest so easy in a long time and all that relief was now streaming down my cheeks.
Touristing is exhausting, so at 11pm I curled up on Barcelona's thinest mattress and closed my eyes.
Of course it was Jay. I switched off my phone and slept.
The next morning the sun was bright and I headed to Park Guell, a beautiful spot high up in the city. I left my phone on aeroplane mode, switching on TedRadio hour and listening to a podcast about creativity. I used my phone as a camera and relished taking pictures, which beyond uploading into a Facebook album, I would probably never look at again. The day drifted into evening. My final night.
Dress, heels, but no bra. My night with Sam was a satisfying blur. Our friendship largely hung on the fact I’d interviewed her boss on feminist erotica, but now mojitos in hand, it was like we’d known each other for years.
As I turned on my phone to show her my Park Guell photos a message pinged up onto my screen. Not Jay, but Guilliano.
Oh God! I’d barely seen him my entire stay, doing my best to tip-toe around his bathroom routine and avoiding his wine tasting and tour guide proposals.
Sam and I fell into a fit of giggles. I begged her to stay out with me for a couple more hours, so I could adequately out British myself and, avoid my host for the final time.
Many cocktails later, back at the apartment, I found every creeping step up to my room hilarious. I somehow packed, in what I like to think of as mostly silence, and snuggled down for a few hours sleep before my airport pick up at 7:30am.
I felt surprisingly okay boarding the plane at 9am. The idea that I was still drunk was extremely amusing and impressive at the same time. Back in cattle class, opening up a container of Pringles and popping a mini bottle of Prosecco, on which I'd spent the absolute last of my euros, the whole trip felt amusing and impressive at the same time.
Sure I'd been majorly stood up in a foreign country, but feeling that familiar prickle of hangover creep up my spine, I knew Barcelona had been worth it.