Think of Spain and what images come to your mind? A beautiful white beach? Ice-cold jugs of sangria? Handsome young men in shades? Okay, that last one might just be me, but the others will be there, along with, of course, a bright, shining, full-of-heat sun.
At the risk of annoying the Spanish Tourist Board, I have some bad news - in winter, there is no sun. Well yes, it’s there and occasionally teases you with giving off a small blast of warmth, but from November until March you can forget the usual images – at least in Madrid.
After freezing like a very dumb guiri for the last few winters, this year I decided to take action and got my mum to make me a nice, wooly scarf with matching gloves and hat (yes, I have stepped into that age bracket that puts functionality above fashion. But that’s the great thing about living in a foreign land - you can get away with wearing things you would never wear in your homeland. Honest, no matter what you don, you are always going to be strange and exotic. With perhaps a little more emphasis on the strange. There is a woman who lives next to us who always remarks how you can tell a guiri because their high heels “tic-tac” along the street in the way Spanish shoes don’t. It doesn’t matter to her that all my clothing is now from Zara and Mango and Sfera and so on!).
Armed with my protection against the cold - God bless you, mum - I suggested to Ged that perhaps the time was right to embrace Spanish football. Back when we first arrived, we’d tried to find a new team, eventually plumping for Atlético Madrid. But there was never that spark so vital in supporting a team. We watched them on TV, but going to the Calderón stadium never happened and my heart was never in my mouth the way it was with our beloved Hibernian back in Edinburgh.
But over three-and-a-half years, Ged had got to grips with all the intricacies of the Spanish leagues and come up with a possible choice - Rayo de Vallecano, a team in many ways like the Hibees: small, community-based and with a chequered past. Even better, their strip had once featured a giant bumble bee on the front of it. I mean, you’ve got to love that, haven’t you?
Remembering those chilly days in Edinburgh’s Easter Road, I got fully prepared for the visit to the Teresa Rivero stadium: thermals head-to-toe, check; jumper and jeans, check; thick socks and boots, check; and finally, hat, gloves and scarf - all checked and put on at jaunty angles.
It was on the metro that I first noticed a few looks at my clothes. I paid them no heed - as I said, foreigners are always noticed and I now wear my guiri-ism with pride. The excitement grew as we bought our tickets and headed to the stadium bar for an “aperitif” before the game (one of my favourite ways to describe having a drink in Spain! Sounds so much better, don’t you think?). It was busy, but hey, I’m a Geordie lass more than used to pushing her way through far busier pubs in the Bigg Market, so I squeezed an elbow onto a small patch of space on the bar and then manoeuvred my body in. Works every time.
Well, not this time. Every time I tried to order two cañas, a voice louder than mine wiped me out and I stood there like a goldfish. Eventually, a man wearing a bumble bee shouted my order across for me. I gave him “un mil gracias”.
“You’re welcome. Good luck for the game - although we are going to win.”
“Sorry?” I replied, but he wandered off to his fellow Bumblers.
I pondered on this as I made my way back to Ged, who was standing under a poster advertising the match and pointing at the opposition’s team strip - which was exactly the same colour as my lovely hat, scarf and gloves. My mum had turned me into the opposition.
Despite Ged’s protests that both sides in Spain mixed in the seats, I whipped everything off and hid them down the front of my jacket. I appeared six months pregnant, but at least I didn’t feel like such an outsider.
And so I still froze through the game. But it was great fun and we can’t wait for our next outing. Although I might ask my mum to get her knitting needles out before then…