A Letter Home

Dear Holbrook Family,

It’s been a little while since I saw you all. I hope you are all well and happy and in good health.
The time has flown by since we last met and, at the suggestion of my cousin Louise (hopefully she’s managed to pass this on to you as I don’t have everyone’s email), I thought I’d write with a bit of an update… I’ll try not to ramble on too much.
Family
Shortly after seeing you all at Uncle Paul’s send-off – I can’t believe it’s already been 3 years! – I left my job in London, where I had been working for a number of years as head of department at a fairly large digital marketing agency. 
 
I left because I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a travel writer. I suppose it was a bit of a risk, but I had all the skills and knew I could make it work. More to the point, I couldn’t envisage living the rest of my life doing what I was doing. 
 
I moved to Barcelona in the summer, where I lived previously for a couple of years before moving to London back in 2012. The move was very stressful. I had to put all of my belongings in a van, drive it through France to the Barcelona, drop it off and then drive the van back through France to London. I know it sounds rather elaborate, but it was by far the most cost effective way to get my (and my now ex-girlfriend’s) stuff here.
 
The cost of living in Barcelona is about a third of what it is in London, the food and wine is out of this world and the sun shines almost every day. Life is good. My job basically involves me writing about it all and helping others experience it for themselves – I’m just about to write an article for Sri Lanka Airlines’ inflight magazine, for example. It’s literally my dream job and I feel like the luckiest person on the planet to do what I love and actually make a living from it. 
 
I live with my girlfriend Rosana. She’s an incredibly intelligent and beautiful engineer (definitely the most beautiful engineer in the country!) from Asturias in the north of Spain, which is a part of the country that looks surprisingly similar to Wales. It’s Celtic and it also rains lots! 
 
We live in a spacious apartment in an area called “Sants”, just out of the Barcelona’s city centre with our three cats (Pablo, Chica and Erica)… no babies yet, but time is pushing on, so I should probably think about it! Don’t worry, I’ll send a shorter email to let you all know about that! 
 
Our street is home to butchers shops, wine cellars, fishmongers, fruit and veg shops, cafes, bakeries, an ice-cream shop and pharmacies where they wrap up your medicine in little sheets of paper. I imagine it’s a bit more like life in the good ol’ days. I like it very much.
 
The first 18 months that I was in Barcelona were quite intense as I was really determined to make a name for myself and make a career. The hard work paid off though and my blog soon became quite popular.
 
Soon I was being approached by various travel publications and companies around the world – the internet makes it possible to be freelance because it allows you to work globally – such as Ryanair and Expedia, asking me to write for them, and this eventually led on to me writing the Barcelona guidebook edition for The HUNT Guides, which is a global publishing house based in Singapore. I’m quite happy with it. It’s a very personal and little bit different to the traditional “travel guide” format. The book is now available worldwide.
 
Family life has been rather eventful too, though not so positive…
 
My uncle John, my mum’s older brother, was diagnosed with cancer. He was 65 and just a few weeks away from retirement. They operated on him very soon after the diagnosis and he woke to the news that he would survive, but that he would never walk again. It was hard for him to accept, but at least we could all raleigh around him and help make plans for the future, which is what we started doing. Two weeks later, however, he was informed that the cancer had spread to his lungs. He was in a great deal of pain and he died a few weeks later. 
 
Jack, my grandfather, had been living with bowel cancer for a little while and it was actually him that we were all worried about before we even knew John was also ill. Seemingly unable to cope with the news, his health deteriorated and he also passed away a few months later. This was obviously a very difficult time for my mum, who has always relied heavily on her father and older brother for advice and encouragement. Luckily she had recently retired, so she was able to be there for them. They had always been the main father figures in my life, and important role models, so it was difficult for me too.
 
Sadly, Alan, her younger brother, was also diagnosed with cancer just after Christmas (last year). The good news, however, is that he caught it much earlier than John and should make a full recovery. All this considered, I am so happy that I took the plunge and pursued my dream.
 
As you can imagine, it has been quite a difficult time for us and when I have flown back to the UK it has been to say goodbye to relatives or attend funerals, so I apologise that you haven’t seen or heard from me.
 
It’s made it all very real to me that life is fickle and fragile and I am trying to approach life with great gusto, to realise my dreams now and not put things off. I go cycling in the Collserola mountains that surround Barcelona as much as possible and have recently enjoyed a few longer rides (160km+) up the Costa Brava. I still play guitar a lot. My girlfriend also plays, so we often start our weekends with a a few Johnny Cash and Elvis songs, before heading down to the beach to go paddle boarding together. In fact, family losses aside, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. 
 
I could go on, but I think I’ll leave it there. I’d love to hear from you all too, so please feel free to email me. Of course, you don’t have to write as much as this. Even better, hopefully I’ll even see you in the flesh and we can have a few drinks together. 
 
With warmest regards and all of my love, 
 
Ben

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