Month: July 2014

Happy anniversary Mallorca

window crop

Ten years ago last weekend I drove a mini metro through France to Barcelona, got lost, couldn’t find the ferry port, almost had a nervous breakdown, found the ferry port with 2 minutes to go, and arrived finally in Mallorca with two cats and a car full of equipment for my new business to join my then boyfriend, now husband, who had moved a couple of months earlier when he’d been offered a job. I can look back on that day, and still remember every single event in it: including the egg sandwich my mum sent me off with at 6am from her house in France, and the hyperventilating cats that didn’t stop complaining for the whole 48 hour journey from London to Palma.

Ten years on, and what has changed? Well, the signposts for the ferry off the Barcelona ring road haven’t improved by all accounts, my spoken Spanish still leaves something to be desired, and I have yet to actually lie down on a beach for long enough to get a real tan (it’s all tanning fakery if you ever see me any other colour except “pale blue with freckles”). Mallorca is still as beautiful as it was when I first fell in love with the place, and I am still friends with some of the people that I first met when I arrived. Some have fallen by the wayside, moved on or away, but this leaves room for new friends and new experiences: this something I had to learn to cope with, the transience of island life.

It’s not always easy to live in Mallorca, but I still love it. I love living here and watching our daughter grow up in a beautiful, natural way, speaking three languages, playing in the sunshine and in the sea, getting a great education in a nice setting with her school in Port Andratx and the fabulous people at Kip McGrath. Our daughter is developing into a young person with her own ideas and opinions, something which makes me very proud. My husband and I have been through business success, and failure, and success again, and we’ve become part of our community here on the island, trying to contribute in the best ways that we can. Sometimes we’ve thought about going back to the UK ourselves. We left behind good jobs with great prospects to move to an island where we’ve had to fight for everything we have, nothing has been easy to get. What about the future, where will we be in another ten years’ time? I haven’t a clue, but wherever we are I hope we will be living our lives to their fullest capacity and enjoying ourselves, challenging and pushing ourselves to do more things. When you see what you can do in difficult circumstances it certainly gives you the courage to keep trying to do more.

Does that mean we’re proud of what we have achieved? You bet your life it does.

English speaking volunteers sought by schools


Last September state school teachers in Mallorca created upset and controversy with their strike tactics over the proposed introduction of English as a third language into the school syllabus. Almost a year on and things have definitely progressed.

Any change is difficult to introduce into such a large machine as the Balearic education system which has 400 schools and approximately 15,000 teachers, and it is for this reason the Regional Ministry of Education Culture and Universities has decided to introduce the role of “voluntario linguistico” to help the teachers and students make the transition.  This process started a few months ago with a meeting between representatives of local English associations and the Secretary General Guillem Estarellas (see photo). Now the unions have signed their agreement to the scheme, and it can go public.

What does this mean to us? It’s an opportunity for native English speakers with a couple of hours to spare every week to volunteer in their local school. Volunteers will be asked to give verbal support to teachers in the class; it will not require any preparation or even a good level of spoken Spanish or Catalan. The initial goal is to have volunteers starting in a limited number of schools across the island at the beginning of October. This is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in your local community and really help children to develop their communication skills.

If you would like to be put yourself forward then please email Kate Mentink as soon as possible on

A Magaluf Miracle


Cabbie 134

Cabbie 134

Like the best of us, I lose things from time to time, and forget things, and worst of all, I am late, for most things. Deadlines, meetings, school drop offs, school pickups. Ironically I was taken to my wedding by a very enthusiastic carriage driver who delivered me to the door an embarrassing twenty five minutes early. That was almost worse than being late, but that’s another story.

Last weekend I went out: that’s a rarity, I went out for no other reason than to have fun with my friends. We went for dinner (I was late) and then out out. Out as in, Magalluf out, also very rare. Drink was taken, dancing happened, and then when the time was right a cab was found and I shared a ride home with my friend Jonny. Sunday passed in a fog of what we like to call “wine flu”.  My husband, who has been working extraordinarily hard recently, was very patient and didn’t complain about my temporary self-induced disability, and by Monday morning everything was back to normal. Everything except the slow realisation when I was out working that I had lost my wallet. I couldn’t find it anywhere, and I also could not remember where I had last seen it. Surely it was at home, so when I arrived back in the afternoon I searched the place from top to bottom. Nothing. I turned the office over, the lounge, the bedroom, the kitchen, the car. Nowhere. It’s then that I started to think about all the things in my wallet which I wouldn’t know how to replace, or if I could be bothered. That very old residency card which has my photo on it which is now illegal but everyone still accepts, that UK driving licence card which I shouldn’t have any longer because I should probably have got a Spanish one by now, those health cards which took four trips to the health centre to get, the hand written reminders of CIF numbers for official receipts, the pointless loyalty cards which I still hopefully proffer to a variety of supermarket workers, wondering every single time what I actually get out of them, and last but not least, actual bank cards and money.

Then the process of coming to terms with the loss, whilst secretly hoping perhaps that it will show up. The long, yearning, hopeful glances around the room, looking again and again in the same place thinking “maybe it will show up here after all”. At midnight the thought struck me, of course, why hadn’t I thought of it before, the CAB! But that was two days previously, and the middle of the night. I had to admit that it was a very unlikely that my wallet was going to show up after this long, but Tuesday morning I rang the Calvia taxis office and asked. Incredibly, my wallet had been found in the back of the cab, and driver number 134 safely delivered my wallet back to me, completely intact with all of its pointless pieces of plastic which would have been so tiresome to replace. So, there you are: miracles do happen, thank you driver 134!

The three language conundrum…

Julie with her Spanish teacher students

Julie with her Spanish teacher students

Jay Hirons, Julie Staley and their team tutor at the kip McGrath Education Centre in Palma, specialising in teaching maths, English, Catalan, Castilian, business studies, and sciences to the bi and trilingual children in Mallorca. They offer classes outside of regular school hours and have established themselves as an important cornerstone of education for many of the island’s children who are studying at state and private schools. Now Kip McGrath has thrown open its doors to other teachers in order to help them to prepare to teach in English as well as Castilian and Catalan.

The Balearic Government created quite a stir in September 2013 when it initiated TIL, the decree which insists that students of the Balearic Islands’ compulsory education are taught in three languages, Catalan, Castilian and English. The intention is that the introduction of English as the third language will help Balearic students to communicate across Europe and will empower them to succeed internationally which although a noble aim is quite a demand to make.

Kip McGrath Mallorca, tutoring, private lessons Teachers went on strike in protest to this compulsory introduction asking how a Government could expect teachers to learn to teach in a third language in such a short time and with no support or training.  That’s a pretty good question and Jay, Julie and Martyn at Kip McGrath decided that it was time to show solidarity with their colleagues and lend a hand.

At the end of last year Kip McGrath launched a language scholarship programme designed specifically for their fellow school teachers in Mallorca, and the results have been fantastic. “We wanted to give back to our community so we deliberately reached out to the schools to offer our help. We didn’t know how we would be received but we are very pleased to say that we are currently educating a dozen educators” said Julie Staley.

The teachers who come from a mixture of primary and secondary schools are extremely dedicated, coming to lessons after their own school days have finished and settling down with the Kip McGrath teachers for language practice. Catalina Peňafor Valcaperros who teaches Contemporary History and History of Art at San Caetano in Palma is adamant that it’s worth the work: “Learning to teach in another language is a lot of work, but we do it because we love our job.”

It’s not as simple as just learning a language either as methodologies have to change with the language. Cristina Pons Anglada who teaches history at Arcangel Sant Rafel brings up a very good point: “Is the goal that the student learns the subject or the language? That’s the question that we have been wrestling with”.  Whereas Joan Ginard who teaches Technology and Physics at Aula Balear thinks that having to learn how to teach in another language is honing his skills. “I think being made to present my lessons in another language has made me a better teacher”.

All of the teachers who are studying with Kip McGrath are making progress. “We are tutoring them to Cambridge English First Certificate level. Some of them are already ready to take the examination and others will take longer to get there. But they are all improving” said Martyn.  And they are full of praise and gratitude for the generosity of the Kip McGrath tutors for committing time and resources to helping them. “It’s important to us that we participate and we know that children who we teach at Kip will also directly benefit from their school teachers have improved levels of English, so everyone wins in the end”, said Jay Hirons.

The process is not a quick or easy one though as Catalina wanted to point out. “Right now I can go to a class with only a piece of chalk. The transition period for me to teach in Spanish to teaching in English is going to be slow and difficult. We don’t even have the text books in the right language yet”.

You can contact them at

Suzie Black, Dave Vegas, Shambhala Foundacion, Photographer Vicki McLeod

 A fresh coat of paint 

Graffitti art in Palma, Shambhala Foundation, photographer, Vicki McLeod

Young people in Majorca face dismal prospects, in fact many of them have moved abroad to be able to start and further their careers. They are seen as the lucky ones by the contemporaries that they leave behind, at least they have the option to look to other countries for opportunities. What about the youth who have not yet passed their final exams or have such poor school records and low self-esteem that a lifetime on the dole and living with their families. With little education and without basic qualifications, opportunities are limited. In despair many youths turn to a life of drugs or crime as they don’t see any other way of earning a living. The realisation of this sad fact struck one woman so profoundly that she decided to do something about it. Suzie Black, who has teenage kids of her own, couldn’t bear to see these young adults with no prospects and set about organising a project to help them.

“I couldn’t stand the idea that these young people would not have the chance to shine,” so a year ago, Suzie decided to create a project which would intervene and support the young people who were struggling in order that they could finish their exams and develop their self-esteem and find their way in life.  So she gathered together certified trainers and teachers, a psychologist, and a martial arts expert and started to offer sessions with a private tutor who took the young people through their lessons and a martial arts teacher, between them they have instilled a sense of determination and confidence which was previously lacking in these young people who society had left out in the cold. She called it the Shambhala Foundation. “I think that not only do we have a responsibility to our youth, we also have a responsibility to protect the island from any further decline”.

But this kind of project isn’t cheap. Suzie admits that she has been on a very steep learning curve in the last year as she has faced head on some real and urgent problems in our society here in Majorca and found apathy and paperwork where she hoped she would find real enthusiasm and help. “I need a committee to help me fundraise, I need people who are able to get together and do events which will attract the kind of sponsors we need. I know that I can get orchestras involved for example but I physically don’t have the time to do that as well as keep the project on the go. I am hoping for some funding from the Spanish government or maybe European, but I’m going for private funding as well. We are a registered charity and every penny that is raised goes directly towards the costs that we incur to help to improve the lives of the youths in the programme. I want to expand it this year to include more people.”

You have to have a vision in order to achieve this sort of dream but you have to be tough as well, and sometimes Suzie has had to face some difficult choices. She won’t let a youth continue in the programme if they aren’t respecting it and she has asked a couple to leave.  As the project has developed so it has become apparent that they needed to move from the original gym they were based out of in Santa Ponsa into Palma which is where Kem Vegas comes in. Kem Vegas (or Dave to his mum) has a sister living here in Majorca and that is how the connection was made. Suzie was introduced to him and an idea emerged that perhaps when he was next over visiting his sister Petrina that he may spend a day with the youths working on some graffiti art for the new gym. And so a plan was hatched and on one (very) sunny Sunday they found themselves in the Can Valero industrial estate with quite a lot of paint.

Vicki McLeod, photographer

Kem for his part grew up in the seventies as graffiti art was emerging as a way to protest and to express oneself. Kem was a very shy young boy and there was something about the anonymity of the process of graffiti art which appealed to him. “I started writing (graffiti) after seeing some skinheads and their drawings. It gave me a kick to see other people appreciate my stuff but they didn’t know who had done it. It felt very powerful to be able to do that”. As he got older and more experienced and grew in confidence he slowly began to take credit for his art and eventually went public. As was the way (and still is) graffiti can also be seen as defacement of private property and more or less all of his friends got into trouble with the police but he managed to stay out of trouble (a fact his mum is probably very happy about).

Vicki McLeod, photographer

It seemed fitting that an older, wiser artist visited Majorca and led a day of painting and art for the Shambhala Foundation. “In reality painting a wall is superficial, it’s just a fresh coat of paint, but the process of painting the wall is more profound than that, it’s about staking your claim on something, saying I was here, and we ARE here, still trying to make a difference. I know the project works, we have had good results with the combination of private tutoring and the discipline of martial arts for the young people”.

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But the project won’t be able to continue or to grow without more people helping Suzie to make the difference. “I need help, I can’t do it all on my own, I’ve managed to keep it going for a year on private funds and lots of coffee, but now I have to get other people involved who want to change lives for the better as well.”

You can email her at

Kem is available for private commissions and can be contacted on


After posting this blog post our friends at IbizaSummerVillas reached out to offer their support in raising awareness about Suzie and Kem and have featured them in their monthly news letter. Cheers! What could YOU do to help out?

Photos and text by Vicki McLeod