I call it my magic forest. From my office I can see the former hunting ground of King Fernando VI, now better known as Casa de Campo de Madrid.
Over 1,700 hectares of holm oaks and umbrella pines tower over a carpet of emerald grass, providing a natural habitat for 140 species of birds and 21 different mammals, including many red squirrels which are almost extinct in the UK.
On a stuffy house-hunting mission in 2014, this was our last visit of the day. As soon as we parked outside the front door, I saw the treetops swaying beyond the garden and knew this was the one.
The fact that this 1980s architectural horror looks like a prop for Darth Vader in a Star Wars movie, was quickly overlooked as the concrete-less skyline behind more than made up for the brown-tiled monstrosity for hire.
My husband for once agreed that we should take it straight away although I rather think his decision was influenced by our heavily endowed Cuban neighbor swaying towards the communal pool. I rushed to find one of these ingenious tankinis with a clandestine corset at El Corte Inglés.
This is my fourth trip to Spain and every morning I drink the fresh air of this forest while stomping along listening to the suave tones of Emma Barnett in Woman’s Hour or Joe Wicks, aka The Body Coach, which inspire me to go the extra mile. .
A far cry from my first move to Spain during my gap year, when, armed with 2,000 pesetas (€12), I stormed into Chamartín station because my father refused to pay the excess baggage charge from Iberia for my three suitcases, much to the chagrin of my traveling companions in our jewel sleeper compartment. I figured if I couldn’t lift them, no one else could, so I ditched the trio of bags on the platform and left with my fourth and most prized item, a ghetto blaster. the size of a Shetland pony looking for a cab.
I naively expected the taxi to pass whitewashed one-story houses, not the orange high-rise buildings so ubiquitous in 1980s Madrid.
Despite an A level in Spanish, my weak language skills relegated me to the photocopying closet on the first day of my internship in an advertising agency. By the time they realized I was more of a guillotine operator than a photocopier, cutting the heads off most of the documents I was supposed to copy, I had acquired enough colloquial Spanish to be allowed to follow some directors. Especially in the famous bars of the capital.
Office attire for women at this time was very conservative and included any pantone variation of olive green or biscuit beige. Completely oblivious to any fads, I showed up in an array of rainbow Benetton outfits and a well-worn dinner jacket from Camden Market. Colleagues joked about having to put on sunglasses every time I walked down the hall. However, I soon took to cotton and the following year I went to Newcastle University decked out in Zara’s latest imitation Chanel brown jackets with shoulder pads – a novelty in a city where tops are not worn even in the depths of winter.
Homemade Spanish food baffled me for the first few months.
Always keen to spy on what my host family had eaten before my turn in their kitchen, I once pushed back the lid of a large saucepan to reveal an ebony-colored stew with little balls and various bones floating in it. . This, apparently, was Cocido Madrileño, a slow-cooked stew with a generous helping of morcilla black pudding that had dyed the chickpeas black. Luckily my taste buds have since broadened their horizons and I now gobble up all the Spanish bone broths and legumes with an appetite, much preferring the Burgos Morcilla to the oat-based variety my Scottish grandmother served us. for breakfast at Sutherland. Although I always maintain that nothing beats a good piece of Macsween’s haggis on a Nairn oatmeal cake.
Since joining the EU in 1986, Spain has become much more cosmopolitan. Its registered foreign population has increased from 0.63% in 1986 to 11.6% in 2022 according to the Instituto Nacional de Estadística. Once as elusive as toilet paper during lockdown, American-style burgers now adorn most menus across the country and soy sauce is a permanent fixture in every supermarket.
All the more reason to continue my daily jog in the magic forest.
Now in her fourth home in Madrid, London-born Susannah has seen the city flourish since the 1980s. In retaliation for countless family holidays in the frozen wilderness of northern Scotland, Susannah has caught up with time ( and the sun) lost while traveling in more than 86 countries. A wordsmith at heart, she is fluent in 5 languages and is fascinated by people and cultural particularities around the world. After a 12-year marketing career in the wine and spirits industry, she now devotes herself to writing and publishing.