Casa Rosales

Casa Rosales

Thursday 28 April 2011

Learning Styles.

I've been looking at learning styles - I'm not a teacher, never have been, never will be - but the concept of learning is fascinating to me and I've always enjoyed the opportunity to find out more about how people learn and how different people learn differently. When I was working in England, I was lucky enough to have an excellent training colleague (though from the very start, she was always a friend). And she was good. She is good. I know this because so many of the things we did together have really stayed in my head. And she is good because she recognises and delivers her training using a variety of methods that engage everyone in one way or another.

I am trying so hard to do the same with my students - whether it's the English learning Spanish or the Spanish learning English. I have a self-confessed 'kinesthetic' learner, with whom I go walking, shopping, to the market or to a bar for a drink as part of our Spanish lesson. It seems to be helping her.
And having always emerged on every occasion, as an 'activist' (Honey & Mumford - try this test); 'resource/investigator' or 'shaper' (Belbin Team Roles - more) - I have now discovered that I too am a Kinesthetic learner (Fleming's VAK/VARK test - here) - which isn't surprising.

On my trawl through the internet for information about different learning styles, I also found some fun material that I can use with some of my students. Things like light-hearted personality quizzes - things that will enable them to ask each other questions, formulate responses, practice speaking out loud and improve their vocabulary. And help to identify their learning styles.

As I've mentioned before in earlier posts, in the more personality-focused tests, I'm happy with my 'diagnosis' as an ENFP by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I know many people who are quite 'anti' these sorts of analyses and I raise the subject not to court controversy but to think at a personal level to understand a little better how my own personality and preferences influence my 'teaching' style. So, indulge me, it's my blog and this sort of navel-gazing - this extroverted peering at my own way of doing things - is helpful ... to me. Just writing this out is a learning process for me - I suspect I am so extroverted that at times I don't really know what I think until I open my mouth and hear the words! (Or write them down and read them. Do any other bloggers sometimes re-read an older post and think, gosh, did I write that!?)

Am I digressing....?

No. I realist that whilst I really want my students to learn, I want them to have fun whilst they're doing it - and this latter is equally important, I think, as the learning aspect. In my role at the language college, I have the luxury of focusing on fun. All the students have two classes of English a week, one focusing on grammar, writing and comprehension - which they take with Toni, who I suspect will take no-nonsense from any of them - and the other class is for conversation - which they take with me.

I will put up with quite a lot of nonsense - as long as it's in English!

With the younger ones, we sing a lot of songs - they love to sing, 'Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes'; 'One Finger, One Thumb, keep moving'; 'Old MacDonald Had a Farm' and so on - and I really enjoy singing with them. We also play 'Simon Says' and finding and touching different colours or textures. And we draw things and use colours - like 'a beautiful butterfly' or 'a big brown bear'. We make quite a lot of noise. Young children are mostly kinesthetic learners, I guess.

For the ages from about 9 up to 12 or so, we play word games like, 'I went to market' and  'Hangman' and sometimes we use a little juggling ball, passing from one to the other and thinking of connecting words. They really like my idea of getting them to draw things by giving verbal instructions - sometimes it's a monster with three heads, a hairy tummy button, spiky hair, claws, a long neck...etc. and they love creating a different monster each and comparing them - and this helps them to learn more vocabulary and demonstrate that they know what the words mean.

For the older ones, I do need to help prepare them for their exams, the format of which follows a set pattern - speaking about themselves, their families, their interests and talking about photographs for a full minute and also holding a joint conversation with another student. And this practice can get a bit repetative, hence my search for new and different methods to engage each student in their own particular learning style. I suspect that this is not something they will have covered at school - it's possibly a little bit out of the 'lesson-shaped' box that the Spanish curriculum follows. We'll see - at least I will have fun administering the quizzes!

I couldn't resist having a go at a few of the personality tests that I found (activist, kinesthetic ENFP that I am!) and quite liked doing the one that gave me a colour-coded output - called a PersonalDNA because of the stripey bar it creates. Lots of different ways to answer the questions, that's what caught my interest.

(So now I know I am a 'Benevolant Creator' as well as a Butterfly. Of course. That'll do for me - and it's so lovely and cheerful.)

If you fancy having a go - it takes about 20 minutes - this is the link to the website.

And whatever your style, keep on learning!!

Sunday 24 April 2011

Distinct lack of procession..

It has been raining here in Andalucia, causing countless processions to be cancelled. In Sevilla, most noted for its processions during Semana Santa, people have been weeping in the streets.
And I don't just mean the hoteliers and shop owners, for whom this period is usually so very profitable.
The statues that are paraded around the streets are old and priceless and so rain is seen as a very serious threat.
This year is the first that the Thursday processions have been cancelled due to rain since 1847 -
(I understand that the Civil War in 1932 and 1933 also put rather a damper on things...) - which is why tears joined the leaking skies.

Here in Alcala, on Good Friday morning, we were awoken at the crack of dawn by the sound of a band passing by. They were playing a fairly mournful tune, as you might expect, and I just caught them as they disappeared down the street.

(I need to post this picture to show I did get up to look, but I apologise for the quality of the picture - I didn't have time to put in my contact lenses and couldn't find my specs in time...I think you can tell!)
We heard them disappearing into the distance but they kept playing for a long time.. then I fell asleep again.

At about 9 o'clock, Ruy woke me up to say the band was getting closer - I don't know if they'd been playing all that time -  and as we went to the window to look we saw the penitents passing, including several carrying crosses. 

It was a strange sight, watched by very few people on the streets - and nothing like the spectacles of earlier in the week. Just penitents, tied together - moving slowly towards the church at the far end of town.

It seemed something altogether more private and personal - and very moving.

Friday 22 April 2011

Missing Chocolate

Until Wednesday, I hadn't even thought about it. When the sun is hot and the skies are blue, I don't think about chocolate - it's the wrong season, it doesn't work, you can't do it, not unless you have an air-conditioned kitchen which I've never had - so I hadn't missed it.  I don't eat much chocolate usually. I like it but it has to be really good stuff to tempt me and I haven't seen any since we were in the Alpujarras.

So no - until Wednesday, I wasn't missing my chocolate.

However, when the temperature outside dropped and the clouds began gathering (to rain on the processions), I began to feel twitchy. Something was wrong, something important was missing. Usually, just before Easter, I am super-busy melting, stirring, tempering, piping, mixing, (tasting), dipping and doing a whole host of other chocolatiering things relating to making chocolates for friends, family and for selling at craft fairs for Easter.

But not this year.

So today, I dug out my supplies, carefully packed and sealed and brought from England to Valladolid then on to Alcala la Real. Probably needing to be used by now. Unfortunately, I hadn't brought any Easter Egg moulds with me - just some little lolly moulds - owls and koalas. So I made some of those; then I dipped some strawberries; then with the rest of the tempered chocolate, I made a big slab with some crunched up cornflakes, raisins and cranberries and decorated it with white chocolate.

And I feel so much better now.

Hope everyone that usually has chocolates from me has found a suitable alternative this year (- but hope you still think mine are the best!)

Thursday 21 April 2011

Rain on the parade

It's a miserable change in the weather. Earlier this week, it was hot, sunny and more like summer than spring. But last week, my students told me that it always rains on Semana Santa.
This year, I was sure it would be lovely and we'd be out watching the processions all week.

It started well on Sunday. No parades on Monday.
We had impressive skies on Tuesday - but no parades for that day either.

And then the weather changed.

Yesterday, it was a tremulous group that set forth from La Iglesia de Consolación. They did a quick turn around the block and hopped back into the church as quickly as possible - if that is quite the right way of describing a group of people carrying an extremely heavy paso. Probably not.

Definitely a more serious affair than the procession held on Sunday. But wonderfully colourful.

This time, the two pasos shows the Virgin Mary and Christ, giving a sermon in the fields.
No one will risk getting the pasos wet - and this year, many processions all over Andalucia have been cancelled or cut short because of the risk of rain or because of an actual downpour. My students were right.

Here today, we've had the threat of rain all day - and about an hour ago, we had a tremendous downpour, sweeping in from the south.
A striking contrast to my previous skies!

Here's hoping it improves for tomorrow - but the forecast does not look good.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Appreciating clouds

We've just shared a plate of torrijas, made because we had a build up of leftover bread but then I have just  found out that they are actually a traditional Easter dish in Spain, so it was a timely build up of leftover bread.

Torrijas are made from slices of bread, about a day old (or in our case a little more than that) soaked in a mixture of milk, egg and sugar, then gently fried until golden. Known in the UK as French Toast, here it's definitely torrijas - nothing foreign or French about it.

I never ate it when I lived in England but when it's slathered in honey and still hot, it's irresistible. 

What has this to do with clouds? Well, nothing at all except that as the last torrija disappeared from the plate, I noticed how the late sun was just catching some of the rooftops on the hill in front of us and that the sky was clearing and the clouds - which earlier had been dense and damp - were scudding along in gorgeous shapes and colours.

They reminded me of the clouds at the beginning of 'The Simpsons' - they had that sort of form and clarity.
So off I went for my camera to snap the effect of the setting sun and I'm very pleased with the results.


For some really stunning cloud pictures, visit The Cloud Appreciation Society.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Semana Santa in Alcala la Real

Today sees the start of Semana Santa. This isn't a direct correlation with the Easter celebrations our family is used to in England. It is Holy Week, the last week of Lent and the week before Easter and it is marked throughout Spain by a series of processions, with Andalucia being particularly famous for its elaborate and glamorous processions. In Valladolid - Castilla y Leon province - events are much more sombre and serious. In previous years, we have stood in the streets around Valladolid, often in rain or drizzle, and watched the pasos amongst big quiet, formal crowds and listened to the slow, dirge-like music played by solemn bands. I can't say I enjoyed it very much.

This morning - Palm Sunday - a gorgeous spring day, we walked up to the town centre with our next-door neighbour and his two children in their Sunday best. (We hadn't thought to dress up...though Romy had on her lovely dress sent over by Grannie for her birthday). The streets were full of people waiting to see the paso - a big, heavy float depicting a scene from Christ's life, specifically his last few days, with life-sized characters.

Those who carry the float - which weighs a tremendous amount - are hidden underneath and walk at a given pace. This pace is set by the band that follows behind.

The whole paso sways magnificently from side to side and the pace varies - sometimes to a slow beat - DUM      DUM      DUM      DUM - and then a few faster steps as the drum beats change to DUM DUM DUM DUM. And from time to time, the carriers are required to almost run and the paso skims along at speed.  (If you get the picture...)

And then it stops for a while - I hope this is for those underneath to recover a little. It must be very hot as well as very hard to carry such a weight. When eventually the signal is given, it is hoisted up once more and applauded by the crowd as it sets off again.

Heading for an impossibly narrow street

Along with the paso, the procession is made up of penitents who wear the high pointed hats, that cover their faces, and long robes a tradition going back to Medieval times but as this is also a guise chosen by the Ku Klux Klan, it appears very sinister to more modern eyes.

We cut across the procession route and made it to the main square, where we got a fantastic, front-line spot.

And then I found out the batteries had gone in my there are lots of things I can't show you here. I'll try harder next time to be organised!

The parade today was clearly a serious affair but had none of the solemnity that coloured the Valladolid processions. It was a day to get together as a town, to watch a spectacle that happens every year, to feel part of a community celebrating their faith in their own way.

Even the statues had a softer, friendlier look to them.

And the band was excellent. Really excellent, playing tunes that made the hairs on your neck stand up and sending a tingle down the spine.

Take a chair - there's a lot to see!

Yes, they were excellent, if a little loud, especially the drums, in the narrow streets, where the sound echoed around and made your heart follow its rhythms.

Life-like statues

Narrow streets

This will be the first in a procession of blogs about processing. Andaluz-style. I enjoyed today's procession - and that's a first. And I really do think it's because I feel at home here, part of the community, taking pleasure in the customs of the town and finding many people in the streets to greet as friends.

Friday 15 April 2011


Well, I have done about five weeks of teaching at the English Academy and next week it is holidays for Semana Santa. And I will be glad of the break. It's a little milestone.

I am loving the teaching - but goodness, it's hard work. I really do appreciate the job of teachers a great deal more now - and I only do 9 hours a week! I can't imagine doing many more than that  and the thought of it being full time is mind-blowing. Well done teachers, I say!

And let's hear it for the pupils too. I have twelve different classes of students from age 7 to 18 and almost without exception, they are an engaging, lively, responsive bunch. Some a tad noisy than others, I might say; some shy, some very outgoing, all different. They have hit some milestones too in their conversation classes - and most can now differentiate the sounds 's' and 'sh' which was not the case five weeks ago.

Andalucia has a strong dialect and each province has a slightly different accent. Here in Jaen, the most obvious difference in the spoken Spanish from that spoken in Valladolid (where you hear a very good Spanish) is the absence of the letter 's' at the end of words. So 'buenas dias' (or good day) becomes 'buena dia'; 'gracias' becomes 'gracia'; 'dos' (for 2) becomes 'do' - and it's taken me a bit of getting used to, but it's also very infectious! I find myself dropping 's's all over the place - and Romy tells me off!
It even extends to names - I have one student called 'Francisco' but he says his name 'Franci'co'. So to encourage my students to practice the 's', 'sh' and 'ch' sounds, which are so important in English, we say tongue twisters such as 'She sells seashells on the seashore' and 'Which witch wished which wish'  an other difficult (for the Spanish speaker) words such as 'wasps' and 'crisps' - always with hilarious results! But it's coming! Well done students!

My children have all come home with their reports for the end of the Spring term - their first here at school in Alcala. All of them were glowing; all their teachers are really pleased with them; all three have settled in, settled down, been welcomed and supported by the other children and I could not be happier.

It is an important milestone in establishing ourselves as a family here. Well done, my lovely children.

And whilst not actually a milestone - I will just report here that yesterday I saw a house that I liked. Really liked. It's a sort of milestone in that it's the first one for a long time that I have responded to with my heart. We have seen a few in our time here that we thought could be OK but not one that we'd fallen in love with. This one feels different. However, Cesar hasn't seen it yet - he's going later on today. And he won't buy a house on the basis of falling in love with it. It's not that he has no heart, but that in choosing the right house he will only engage his head. His heart will become involved after we've made it our own and put our own stamp on it. So if he likes it today, it will because it meets his standards of building, of potential, of warmth, of space and practicality.. that sort of thing. And if he likes it, I know it will be the right house for us. Thank goodness for team work; thank goodness for that essential balance between head and heart.

(I can remember very little about the house now other than it 'felt' right. Oh, and it had a pool....which was rather nice.)

So, for teachers, students, super kids, super husbands and families and folk everywhere - whether reaching milestones or heading towards them - good on you!! 

Read what Susan B. Anthony has to say about milestones - I agree wholeheartedly.

“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these”.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

A little story of Ireland and bachelors

Today I met a lovely Irish woman who has lived here in Alcala la Real for the past ten years or so. We sat in the sunshine and drank coffee and ate tostada - toasted bread served with a range of toppings, from butter to olive oil, cheese, pate, tomato or jamon/ham - and we talked for going on two hours. The craic was good, as they say.

We talked about ourselves; how we'd each arrived in this particular part of Spain and where we'd come from. I have only been to Ireland once but in telling her about my trip there, memories came flooding back about that particular crazy week - and I have to write it down to record it for posterity.

Some names and particulars have been changed to protect the innocent. (Or if not for that reason, to avoid charges of fraud!) Otherwise, this story is true.

In a year around the mid-1990s (nice and vague) I found myself single - nay, footloose and fancy-free - and by the summer of unsaid year, had enrolled on a writing course in Scotland, where I met someone who was a freelance journalist. The writing course was very enjoyable and a jolly good time was had by nearly all who went on it. We had fantastic weather but rather a lot of midges, as I recall. But that's all another story.

The journalist and I got on rather well - so much so that not long afterwards, he invited me to join him on a holiday in Ireland. But there was a catch. He was going there to report on the Mullingar Bachelor Competition - an international annual competition for descendants of Irish families from all over the world with the proviso the competitors were male and single (hence: Bachelor...) - and had promised the competition organisers that he could get an important person from a British Sunday Newspaper to be one of the judges. The catch was that I had to be that important person - well, pretend to be - in order to spend the week with him at the expense of the Competition Organisers... I write, I feel the guilt I have been carrying all these years beginning to well up and I'm not absolutely sure I can carry on... but then it is rather a good little story so ...

I agreed. I was supposed to be a professional photographer, employed by The (unmentioned) Sunday Newspaper but on arriving at Dublin airport, realised I'd forgotten my camera. Which was probably a good thing as it would have fooled no one. Better no camera than the one I had at the time. If you're pretending to be a photographer that is.

I had a great time for much of the week with the two other judges (who didn't appear to have high credentials either as far as I could tell) interviewing and watching grown men (from places as far away as New York, Johannesburg, Edinburgh and London as well as plenty from Ireland) doing various tasks, including cooking, meeting children and riding horses for which they received marks. The culmination of the competition was on the Friday night where all were required to do a 'turn' on stage to demonstrate their singing, dancing and performing 'skills'. The audience participated in the judging on this occasion, which was rather helpful as for some reason, I'd accepted one too many alcoholic beverages from my generous hosts and after a short while, each rather awful turn seemed to merge into another. I vaguely remember my favourite bachelor - from Johannesburg - prancing around the stage with a feather boa and singing "Falling in Love Again" in a very poor impression of Marlene Dietrich. It's not an edifying memory, poor lad, and neither the other judges nor the audience were much impressed. He rode a horse well though.

In the end, things got a little chaotic.

One of the bachelors - from New York - won the audience vote. He performed a raunchy number - I forget what - but it was definitely raunchy and rather too raunchy for one of the other judges. She was extremely offended by his stage performance and she would not shift from her decision that HE WOULD NOT WIN - despite the fact that on paper, he had the most votes overall. At this point, it got messy.

As judges, we should have been ready with the results as soon as the competition was over. But the jury was out. The judges would not pronounce who the victor was. The judges didn't agree. The judges were arguing. At least one of the judges felt she had principles; the other felt that fairness was the most important. I'm not sure what the third judge thought - (perhaps we two were so principled and fair-minded that he didn't get chance to say) - I don't remember too well. 

After a while - with the world waiting agog, my friend tried to find out what was happening - remember, he was a journalist and they like to know the whole story. And so I talked to the press. I told the press that the other judge wanted to award the prize to someone who should not get it. I said I didn't like it. We considered the headline:

'Judges fix winner in International Bachelor Competition'

It could have been rather a good story. However, we then stopped and considered a possible alternative headline:

'Judge Imposter in International Bachelor Competition'

And we thought perhaps we didn't like that very much at all. Especially as I couldn't remember whether at some point, in my alcoholic haze, I might possibly have confessed my guilty secret to someone - I'm known as a truthful person and don't like pretending to be what I am not.. especially under the influence; not being a seasoned drinker; not taking things terribly seriously.. I might have mentioned something...if someone had taken a guess; someone from Johannesburg, perhaps...oh dear.

SO, I admit I went along with the other judge(s). In the end, the Scot won. It was obviously his rendition of "Donald, Where's Yer Troosers" that did it. For the gist of the song, spend a very brief moment with the YouTube link below - not too long - promise you won't listen to all of it.

And that is my little treasured Irish memory.

Good craic? You tell me!

Monday 11 April 2011

Another picnic in the pines

A tacit deal we have with the kids is that if we drag them out to view properties and they don't moan or make a fuss, we won't see a lot all in one go and we will have a nice picnic somewhere and probably an ice-cream too.

On Saturday, we had appointments to view two more houses. It doesn't matter where - we're not going to buy either of them.

After we'd viewed - both lovely and both with swimming pools, no less - we took a scenic route back towards home via Iznájar and the big embalse, or reservoir, that the town perches, rather precariously, above. (Can something perch above something else? Not sure about that but I´ll leave it for now.) Iznájar and its embalse are very impressive. As you approach from the south, the embalse - especially on a clear, sunny day - glistens turquoise blue, disappearing from view as you round the many bends in the road, only to reappear in a slightly different place. This effect is due to the many little inlets created along its shoreline, so it seems to be everywhere - sometimes to the right of you, sometimes to the left, sometimes straight ahead.  The town tumbles all the way down a hillside to meet the embalse and from the south, you have to cross a long straight bridge from which you can see a lovely beach area - and that's where we headed for our picnic.

View of the lake from our picnic spot
Set with pines at our back, we parked up the 'trusty' Volvo and settled down for a couple of hours. The weather made it feel like June and although there were plenty families with the same idea as us, it wasn't yet a crowded place to be and I liked it very much. After lunch, the children played some wild game in the pines - Ruy emerged with a stick and seemed to have regressed to a neanderthal stage of being - he stayed in character all the way home and even now, Monday, I caught him hunting a fish in the corridor of our apartment.
Looking down on the lake from Iznajar town

After ice-cream and coffee, we set off again via the scenic route, which took us into the province of Cordoba and the natural park of the Subbetica - new territory for us. It was a stunning and beautiful route and when we stopped briefly at the side of the road to have a little leg-stretch, I took what I think are some of the loveliest pictures of Ruy and Romy that I have ever taken. It was a bucolic spot, with the sound of hens and lambs in the distance and I felt that if we found a house just there, I couldn't be happier. (I'll have to look!)

We returned to Alcala from the west - a lovely way to come home as you have the view of La Mota for a good few kilometres, looking magnificent in the setting sunlight. And the town was very festive when we arrived home, with all the children (or a great many of them) playing in the plaza, jumping in and out of the fountains and generally enjoying the balmy evening. And yet again, it felt good to be home


Friday 8 April 2011

A year of blogging

Today is the first anniversary of my little blog.
I really never dreamed - when I took my first scary and hesitant step into the world of blogging - that it would come to mean so much to me and become such an integral part of my life in the way it has.
I do believe it has made me watch and listen to the world more closely and to hear and see things that I might otherwise miss or ignore. Whilst most of what I write is about me, my family and what we are doing, I am conscious that every experience we encounter is potential blogging material. The children often say "will you put that on your blog" if someone does or says something they find amusing or interesting so I know they are conscious of our little patch of cyberspace. And whilst initially very sceptical about the process and the product, Cesar is warming to the concept and has even suggested a couple of subjects for me to include.

Yes, the blog is part of our lives.

But it has a life of its own too because it changes and grows - it really does feel like a thing alive. Each time I open it up, I can be surprised, delighted, amused and heartened by things I didn't write. I suspect this feeling will never dull.  I read a lot of other blogs and without doubt, it is the comments that others leave that makes blogging so very special and exciting. Contrast my initial fear of being read when I first published a post, compared to how I feel now, when I check my statistics and see that as well as the readers (who are people I know) in the UK, the States, Australia and Spain, I now have readers I don't know - also in the these countries - but in countries as far away as Iran, Costa Rica, New Zealand and China, to name but a few. It really is quite mind-blowing!

And I am loving it!! It's wonderful to me - to us as a family, to my family back in England and to my close friends who want to know what we are doing - to be able to keep a record of our daily life, our big move, how we are coping with the decisions we make; to have lovely photos of all the places we've been able to visit and to have a 'place' to come when I want a bit of time to myself. All of these things would be a good enough reason to have a blog. But to have readers as well, who talk back to me, who also blog - and write wonderful, funny, sad, interesting, philosophical or just plain dippy things in their own blogs - who visit regularly... well, I guess bloggers - certainly the ones I have 'met' - are special people. All the blogs I follow are written by people who like to communicate, who see things in the world in a way that casts a new and brighter light on them, who like to share.

I was going to write about the history of blogging but it's really boring! I'll simply tell you that it started around 1997 - with the term 'weblog', which in 1999 was written thus: 'we blog' and from there, just 'blog'. In February of this year, there were around 156 million public blogs according to Blog Pulse. (Only go here if you are seriously interested in blog stats!) We do indeed blog!

I crave really appreciate your comments; I desire your readership; I welcome your advice; I want to know about your blogs. Let's hear it for blogging!

Hip, Hip, Hurray!!

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Becoming resident in Spain

Please let me make this clear from the outset:
This is not a 'how to do it' guide to registering for residency in Spain. If you found your way to my blog through searching for advice of this type, I have tried to assist by providing a list of websites at the end of this blog entry. And if you do want to register as a resident, by all means feel free to stay and read about my experience of the process - it might just help to prepare you!

I should have done this earlier - I should have registered for residency in Spain a few months ago - but for various reasons, including the need to have my house sale completed, I didn't. And nothing major has happened as a result of delaying.

As we are rarely asked for identification in England, not having a number didn't seem like a problem to me at first, but as I become more engaged in life in Andalucia, I realise that the lack of an identification number - not my passport number - meant I was being excluded from a number of things. I can't sign forms for the children to go on visits and trips because the signing parent needs to provide an ID number; I can't get my contract to work at the institute without an ID number; I can't open a bank account in my own name without one; I wasn't able to book my return bus ticket online because I didn't have one; I can't even get a loyalty card from my local supermarket with out one. These ID numbers are essential in Spain.

So, about a month ago, I phoned for an appointment with the Oficina de Extranjeros in Jaen (the Foreigners Office) - and was given one for several weeks later apparently on the earliest possible date! I have a friend who has recently moved to Spain who suggested she came with me to observe the process as her Spanish is not yet good enough to manage these things without a bit of advance preparation. We decided to go on the bus together, which meant an early start in order to catch the only one to Jaen, which left at 8.30am. The return bus was at either 1.30 or 6.30 and I was determined we could get the 1.30 despite some dire warnings from other Brits in the area who had been through the process.

So, a week or so ago, on a slightly overcast and cool day, Sandra and I settled down for the bus journey from Alcala to Jaen. The first thing we discovered was that the bus called at the village that Sandra had left half an hour earlier in order catch said bus. In fact, we might even have got there before her husband arrived back from dropping her off! (These buses don't hang around and the drivers are very experienced at throwing them around the corners with maximum disruption to the passengers onboard...)

We agreed that on the way back, she would alight here and walk home - and would bear this knowledge in mind for the future.

We made a couple of other stops, including in the rather pretty town of Alcaudete - which seemed like a smaller, sweeter and rather less dusty version of Alcala la Real.

Could you spot the difference immediately if you didn't live here permanently?

And before long - or at least with Sandra and I talking non-stop all the way there, it seemed to go quickly - we arrived in Jaen. Jaen is not an exciting place and I have nothing much to say about it other than it has a nice parador at the very top of the hill, looking down on the city. It was easy to find the Oficina from the bus station and after having a rather expensive and not very good coffee, we ventured in to the building.

There is always a lot of people waiting around in these places - and, you've guessed it - all of them foreigners so the noise level is also quite high. In my turn, I reached the one reception desk and said my name, showed my passport and said I had an appointment. I was asked to fill in a form and photocopy it, together with my passport, then bring both back to the desk. I asked where I could get a photocopy - assuming that it would be done somewhere in the office.

No; I had to complete the form, then walk around the block to a shop that offered photocopying services.

So, from duly completed, Sandra and I trotted off around the block - not too far, Sandra taking notes and drawing maps as we went - got two photocopies (cost 20c) and trotted back.

Another wait for reception - this time the queue was a bit longer.

Arriving again at reception, I handed in my forms and was given a number and told to wait until it was called. This step didn't take too long - only about five minutes passed before my number came up and I went into the office to desk C4. A very nice man asked me if this was my first visit, to which I answered yes, and then he asked for my details and tapped them into the computer. I was momentarily surprised to find that he then asked me when I had lived in Malaga! And yes, all those years ago, I had registered there but it hadn't occurred to me that my details would still be on file and certainly not on a computer - hmmm - this identity thing is a bit scary. However, there was no problem and I did need to register again but I suddenly felt the eye of authority on me and I didn't like it much.

I then watched the man fill in what looked like an invoice form with the sum of 10 euros at the bottom of it - I hadn't realised there was a fee. But there was and not only did I have to pay it but I had to take it to a bank and pay it there - no handing over money in the office. I was told to go and pay - between the time it was (11.15am) and 12.30pm - and then return to collect my certificate.

So Sandra and I toddled off to the nearest bank together and waited patiently in a queue for around five minutes before I spied someone at another desk and decided to ask if we were doing the right thing.
No. Payment for a residency certificate had to be made before 10.30am! WHAT!
I suspect my mouth fell open at this point, but I managed to ask whether there was anywhere else I could go to pay - and yes, more or less any other bank would take payment at this time - just not this bank, which was the nearest. Can this be right? Distinct ratty smell to me.

So Sandra and I toddled up the hill - Sandra making copious notes and geographical references on her notepad - to find another bank. And there, all went smoothly and by 11.45, we were back at the Oficina ready to collect the certificate.

But they weren't ready for me. Genuine shock and some distress was shown that I returned before 12.30 - hadn't I been told 12.30? - demanding a certificate. Fluster on reception desk as I said I needed to catch a bus (well, it was worth a try) and to be fair, she went and spoke to nice man on C4, who confirmed he'd said 12.30 and that my certificate was now in the system and would probably not emerge until it's allotted time. We'd have to wait - again
And then as I stood at the desk, a great deal of hugging and kissing when on with the lady on reception - lots of people came out to see her, though there was no obvious reason.. no one said 'happy birthday' or have a good, they just seemed to want to kiss her and then she left the desk. I was still standing watching - there was no queue behind me now. Kissed-Lady's replacement was a very helpful young man who actually offered some good old-fashioned (or should that be new-fangled) customer service and said he would try and hurry my certificate along.

He came out and spoke to an old, tired looking chap who was standing in the waiting room - apparently lost, maybe wandered in from a nearby asylum, judging from his shabby clothes, hangdog expression and the general impression he gave of being in the world but not of it. This man turns out to be the 'certificate stamper' - meaning that my certificate - and that of others - goes on its mysterious journey and then arrives on Certificate Stamper's desk in a yellow folder, to be checked, stamped and unceremoniously handed over to the new owner. To give him his due, he did return to his desk, look at the three yellow folders that were already awaiting his stamp, only to say none were mine. (He didn't stamp any of the three whilst I was looking - perhaps their owners were less demanding.)

By 12.10, I commented to Sandra that possibly we would be made to wait until 12.30 as a matter of principle, when all of a sudden, another man came out and spoke to Certificate Stamper, who had gone back to loitering duty, looked enthusiastically in my direction and popped back into the office. Sandra, a quiet, gentle sort, grabbed my arm and ushered me forcibly into the office, having spotted the chance to grab the certificate and leave. I saw Certificate Stamper perform his task with relish - STAMP - then he took a sheet out of the yellow folder, handed it to Enthusiastic man, closed the folder and put it on a small pile at the other side of his desk - his job was complete and he wandered off again. Enthusiastic man read out the details on the form to me and asked it if was correct - and of course I said yes. He then handed it to me with a flourish saying it was mine to keep forever, until I lost it and needed to come and get another one. He had a sense of humour, bless.

And that was that. I now have a number to identify me as a foreigner - which starts with the letters XX - and a certificate of residence. My employer was happy to get a copy and I now carry it around with me in case anyone else wants to see it. Thus far, no one has but I live in hope!

Links to residency in Spain.

Introduction to Residency in Spain
Just landed guide to residency in Spain
EU residency in Spain

I'd give you more but fear you'd just get more confused! My advice is make an appointment first - it has to save at least a bit of time - and take a friend. Good luck!!