Sunday, January 14, 2018

The end of Christmas, a week of breakdowns, Manchester is not in Lancashire, a surprise birthday dinner for Fátima and other stories.

Sunday 14th January 2018
At La Castafiore restaurant last night with Julio and Fátima, the birthday girl
Good morning everyone.

How has your week been? Mine has been troublesome as you will read on. In fact this week's post, unusually for me, is going to be one long whinge. Sorry about that as I am normally more positive. 

Sunday 7th January when I last wrote, was of course Russian Christmas but the end of Christmas for us. That day Eladio and I took down all the decorations which is one of the most hated tasks of the year. Everything looked so forlorn afterwards. Here is a photo of the lounge just as I was ending the dreaded task that puts a sudden end to the festive season.
Taking down the decorations that puts an end to the festive season. 
My Father was not well that day. He was breathing with difficulty and was very weak. We immediately rang the emergency services and within about 15 minutes a doctor and ambulance were here. The lady doctor diagnosed bronchitis but luckily she agreed with me that it was better for him to be treated in the comfort of his own home rather than at a hospital which may have been a more correct option but very tough for him aged nearly 99. She prescribed antibiotics and paracetamol. As I write now, he is better but the illness has taken its toll and he is still very weak. He can no longer stand up which is a huge problem as Lucy, his carer, cannot lift him alone and needs Eladio or me to help. That, in turn, means we have to be at home all the time. How awful to be old. I completely sympathise with him but at least he is very well looked after. 

It was a wet and rainy day and our walk with the dogs was not very pleasant. When we got home I had to bathe Pippa who was completely soaked and dirty. Here she is ready for her bath in our jacuzzi bath tub we hardly every use. It's mostly for her. She is never very keen on a bath as she hates getting her head wet poor thing. Isn't she sweet? "As pretty as a picture" to quote my friend Anne.
Pippa about to be bathed after a wet and dirty walk
It was raining here but in many parts of Spain it was snowing and snowing hard. The snow caught a lot of the returning Christmas holiday traffic. The AP6, the toll motorway from La Coruña in Galicia to Madrid, was heavily hit and some 15.000 people trapped in their cars overnight, many without provisions. There has been a huge hoo-ha  about it all this week with all the different authorities blaming each other. The truth of the matter though is that most motorists knew there would be heavy snow and were not prepared. Either they had no snow chains or only put them on when it was too late. The other truth of the matter is that Spain, generally, is not prepared for snow as are countries such as Canada or Finland. If we had been in Montrondo for Kings' Day, no doubt we would have been trapped too. What a nightmare.
Snow last weekend caused havoc on the roads
Monday was back to the "grindstone", well not really as I don't consider my work for Adamo a grindstone at all except that it would keep me extremely busy all week as next week I am organising a big press conference and dinner so there's lots of detail in organising that I can tell you.  Monday was a difficult day and the day some of  the breakdowns began. We had to take Eladio's car, our old Volvo, to the garage to be mended as there is something wrong with the ignition. Also it needs paintwork after a small accident in Alicante this summer. The plumbers came to change 4 radiators and charged a small fortune. Another one came to fix a pressure valve. We thought that was the problem with the boiler but it wasn't in the end and problems with the heating got worse as the week progressed which with the cold outside and my Father ill was not a good time for it to happen. If it had happened in August we would probably hardly have noticed it. Later in the day the boiler started leaking and we had to switch off the heating completely. I was very worried about my Airbnb guest, 19 year old Enya from the warm climate island of Guadeloupe. I lent her both a coat and a dressing gown. I also dreaded a bad review. Luckily, for her room and ours, we could resort to switching on the heat fan that is part of the air conditioning system  we have. But that wouldn't fix the lack of hot water. I went to bed with 4 layers of clothing on!!  There is always some sort of breakdown in our very large house and for Eladio, as head of maintenance, it can be a nightmare. To top it all Netflix didn't work either and wouldn't connect. The next day I rang Telefónica and they repaired some "parameter" of the router and now it does work. What a day. But it was a much worse day for Suzy who had been in Bristol on Sunday and when she came home she realised she had left her keys in the flat. Her neighbour came to the rescue and invited her to sleep at her house. She even provided pyjamas! Thankfully, the next day, Suzy was able to get another set  of keys from the owner's daughter. So no, Monday was not a good day all round.  

On Tuesday we rang my Father's GP. Unsurprisingly she was overwhelmed with flu cases and didn't come and visit him. Instead she prescribed more antibiotics which I'm not sure are the right thing. Suzy prescribed probiotics to counteract the adverse effects of the antibiotics. It was cold and wet again and horrible being without hot water or central heating. Yet another plumber came. He told us what we had suspected, that we had to change the boiler. That of course is only going to cost 4 or 5 thousand euros:-( However, he told us how to keep the heating on and use the hot water only when we were going to have showers using  the old boiler. He did warn us to watch the pressure though, less it exploded!! Eladio has now spent the whole week getting estimates for a new boiler and talking to God knows how many central heating and plumbing firms. Poor him. 

Wednesday was not a good day either. My Father had slept badly and was very poorly.  Just nothing seemed to go right that day. It wasn't only the heating that had broken down, or internet, or Netflix or the car. One of our 2 washing machines had broken down too. That I sorted out immediately by buying one online from El Corte Inglés. I bought the cheapest AEG I could find, the price of which thankfully includes installation and the removal of the old one. I would have bought it on Amazon but they wouldn't have installed it and I just don't want to see any more plumbers here for the moment hahahaha. 

I worked all day and at 16.30 had a conference call using Google Hangouts. Well that didn't work either hahaha and of course we had to resort to a landline.  While I worked, Pippa joined me as she always does. She is so sweet you can't imagine the number of photos I take of her. Here is the one I took on Wednesday by my desk.
Pippa with me when I work at my desk at home. 
It was on Wednesday that I found out that Manchester does not belong to Lancashire. If you are not English you probably won't find this very interesting, so do please skip to the next topic haha. You see, my daughter Oli, TV reporter for "Madrileños por el Mundo" will be doing a programme there on people from Madrid who live in or around Manchester. I told her Manchester was in the county of Lancashire, the one next to my beloved Yorkshire,  and she told me I was wrong and that it belonged to a county called "Greater Manchester" which, I, although I was born in Britain, had never heard of. So suddenly my Spanish born daughter was informing her British born Mother that the latter's geography of the UK was wrong. How could it be wrong I thought? So I looked it up on Google and "by gosh" she was right and I was wrong. Apparently, in 1974 the government reshuffled  certain towns and counties in the UK and Manchester became the county town of "Greater Manchester" when previously it had of course been the biggest town in Lancashire. I felt ignorant. However, I was comforted later on FB, by friends from the UK, who told me that in their minds Manchester would always be in Lancashire just as it is in my mind. One ventured to say he could hardly imagine Shakespeare referring to "Greater Manchester". I can't either. To prove the fact, here is a photo I found on Doctor Google.
Manchester is not in Yorkshire anymore as I found out this week
Thursday was another day at home, if you don't count a visit in the afternoon to the dentist. My Father had a bad day but even so insisted on  coming up to have lunch with us. However, he has lost his appetite which worries me as if he doesn't eat he will only get weaker. It makes me very sad.

On a brighter note that day I read that Spain is once again the world leader in organ donations and transplants. 5.259 transplants were carried out in 2017 exceeding 4.818 in 2016. That makes me proud of my adopted country. 

Spain leads the world in organ donations and transplants.
Spain also leads the world, only beaten by France, in the number of tourists visiting the country. It has overtaken Donald Trump's U.S. and gone up from the 3rd most visited country to the 2nd. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, a record number of 82 million people visited us in 2017, up 9% from last year and despite the terror attacks in Barcelona and the separatist issue in Catalonia. Tourism earnings rose 12% to 87 billion euros. Amazing. Want to know what they visit most? Well in the first place it's the Alhambra. The Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona comes second and the Prado Museum in Madrid comes 3rd. The top 10 most visited "monuments" include, unsurprisingly, the Real Madrid and Barcelona football club stadiums! 

The Alhambra, the most visited monument in Spain
Actually it's not true we didn't leave the house on Thursday. At the dentist I saw a promotion for a 2 x 1 dinner for two at Ginos, a local favourite, which is applicable in January from Sundays to Thursdays. So there and then, I asked Eladio if he wanted to go out to dinner, to cheer us both up and he agreed. There are no photos as I wasn't wearing anything special and had no makeup on and wasn't feeling in the mood for any. We ate comfort food, or rather I did as I ordered pasta and had ice cream for "pudding" all washed down by half a bottle of cheap but delicious sparkling rosé wine (lambrusco). On top of the promotion I was able to use some vouchers I had on the VIPS restaurant group app that I didn't even know I had and we ended up paying just 17 euros for a 3 course meal for 2. It was a good idea to go out that night. 

On Friday morning I did go out. I had an appointment or rather a coffee meeting in Madrid with the head of the Spanish Association of Communiations Directors, Dircom. Sebastian was interesting in knowing my professional situation which was really nice of him. Of course I was happy to tell him about my role with Adamo but I am also seeking other customers and he was happy to try and help. It was nice to get dressed up to go out and finally on Friday it didn't rain. 

I was home on time to make lunch or rather put the final touches to the dishes I had made early that morning.  I was very happy to see that my Father looked slightly better as he has worried me a lot this week. Just before our midday meal, Borja, my faithful Airbnb student guest from Navarra, arrived. He's attending a master degree course at the local UEM University and I think this is his 4th time with us. I gave him the green room as Enya is in Suzy's room or "suite" as he calls it. 

Lucy helped me do the food shopping in the afternoon and we came back with the car loaded with provisions for the week. What a chore. But the worst chore, at least for me, is putting everything away. The best moment of the day was dinner with Eladio as it usually is. We later watched a new film on Netflix about a Czech politician called Milada Horokova. Her story is interesting but the film was very slow and we both fell asleep.  

Yesterday I was up early at 6.15 and as soon as I had had my breakfast and read the headlines in The Times - mostly about Donald Trump - I started making bread. He really is as clown I'm afraid to say. I have been reading the sensational book about him called Fire and Fury and it doesn't paint a good picture. This week he will be remembered for cancelling a trip to the UK to open the US Embassy. His excuse is that he didn't build it and it costs a lot but the real reason is that he knows he is unpopular there and fears a hostile reception. He got a hostile reception too when this week he called some of the countries where immigrants come from to the US " holes" and then added he would prefer to see immigrants from Norway. As you will have seen the reactions have been both comical, ironic and angry. The other news this week and indeed over the last few weeks since the Catalan elections on 21st November, is all about whether the exiled and run away ex President, Carlos Puigdemont really can govern the region from Brussels by skype or similar technology.  The idea is absurd and the man is a buffoon and lives in a surreal world a bit like Donald Trump. I personally think they are both megalomaniacs. 

Disgusted with them both, I got on with my little life and made bread which always soothes me. It's so down to earth and homely. My 4 multi cereal loaves with seeds, sultanas and walnuts were out of the oven by about 10.30 and I was able to offer a few slices to Enya, our French guest, when she got up at nearly 1 o'clock hahahah. I had forgotten just  how much teenagers are able to sleep. 
The bread loaves I made on Saturday morning
It was a horrible wet day and once again we were cheated of a walk but Saturday was definitely the highlight of the week. It was my best friend, Fatima's 57th birthday and her teenage daughter, also called Fátima (confusing) had  very sweetly organised a surprise dinner for her with her family and best friends. We were to be a group of about 35 people. She created a whatsapp group for the guests which has been active all week. She chose a very special place for the dinner called La Castafiore where the waiters are professional opera singers and sing as they serve you. I wasn't really looking forward to a large  group dinner with a long table and not  knowing everyone, not to mention that the service is usually slow or that awkward moment when you don't know where to sit and end up sitting next to the wrong person. I was not sure it was my thing but I was very happy for my friend. However, I was completely wrong and it was the best dinner and surprise party you could ever imagine, except for our trip there and our trip back.

It was a horrible dark and foggy night and the restaurant is in a tiny street in the centre. There is valet parking but when we got there the valet was nowhere to be seen. So Eladio had to drive on and turn round and come back until he returned. He got lost in the process. I finally found the valet and Eladio eventually turned up, minutes before Fátima made her entrance  when most of us were sitting down. Her daughter had told her Mother and grandmother they were going to have dinner in town and made her Mother wear a birthday hat, all sorts of party gear, including a pair of wings. When she finally walked in and found us all inside she could hardly believe her eyes. She was so happy. In fact she spent most of the night with the gear on, standing up talking to all her friends and hardly eating hahahaha, as you can see in the photo below.  The photos of the evening are pretty bad because of the dim light.
Fati at her birthday dinner last night
Julio and I had wisely grabbed 3 spaces at the end of one of the tables and we were in luck as Fátima sat next to us which I hadn't expected at all. She hadn't expected what would come next either as the whole night was a surprise. She had no idea the waiters were professional singers and actually they gobsmacked us all with their amazing singing. They sang popular opera songs, Zarzuela (Spanish operetta) and famous Spanish songs of all types. 
Waiters singing at La Castafiore during dinner
Dinner was slow of course. I hadn't expected particularly good food but actually it wasn't bad at all, although what you pay for really is the singing. The waiters get you to participate too and involve all the people celebrating birthdays or anniversaries so the atmosphere they create is very special. At the very end we all  danced the conga around the restaurant and then the song "despacito" was played and people started to dance. The evening ended really late, at nearly 1 am. Eladio and I set off after saying goodbye to everyone and after about 15 minutes and still in the middle of Madrid I realised my mobile phone was missing and it was panic stations all round. I couldn't find it anywhere. I tried to ring it with Eladio's phone but there seemed to be no signal. A bit later I was able to ring Fátima who didn't hear the phone call, so I rang the restaurant. They said there was no mobile to be found and then I started imagining buying a new one on Monday and not just the cost but the loss entailed. I finally got through to Fátima who couldn't find it either. Then, once again I rang my own phone with Eladio's and guess what? I could hear it vibrating in the car. I had put it on silence while the waiters were singing. We could hear it vibrate but couldn't find it until we stopped and parked on a busy road and looked and looked until we eventually found it stuck in between the driver and passenger seats. It had obviously slipped out of my pocket and fallen. What a relief but by then it nearly 2 in the morning and you can't believe the traffic there was at that time in Madrid. We didn't get home till really late and were not in bed until past 3 in the morning. So, yes it was a wonderful night but we had a nightmare of a journey home. Eladio says I should find some system to chain the phone to my body. Any ideas anyone? 

And today is Sunday. I was up at 8 so slept just 5 hours. Now as I write the sun is shining and the best news of all is that my Father is better. He is eagerly awaiting a copy of this post. The other good news is that Oli will be back from Valencia today and will join us for lunch although that won't be until very late as she is arriving at 14.20 in Madrid.

So my friends, sorry for the whingeing. I just hope next week will be better and it looks as though it will be.

I'l sign off now, print this for my Father and start making the lunch.

Cheers to you all until next time,

Sunday, January 07, 2018

New Year’s Eve at home, first walk of the year, more Christmas dinners, the celebration of the 3 Kings in Spain and other stories.

Sunday 6th January 2018

Having a bit of fun on New Year's Eve
Hello everyone and Happy New Year to you all. Also Happy Kings' Day which is being celebrated all over Spain today. 

A week ago today was the last day of the year, New Year's Eve and we were to celebrate it at home for the first time ever. We always go to León or Montrondo for NYE but, owing to my bronchitis, we had to stay at home this year. Thankfully Olivia, very loyally, joined us. 

We were not alone as our Home Away guests, all 6 of them, were in the house to celebrate the New Year too. We had planned to be away but now we were to coincide with the guests whose whole intention on coming to our house was to hold a great big dinner that night. This meant we couldn't use our own dining room. That didn't really matter as we opted to have dinner in the TV lounge or "the cat's lounge" which is what we call it as that is where Phoebe our cat spends most of her day and out of the way of the dogs.  

It was a cold day but not wet, so we got our walk in. I spent part of my siesta re-watching "Dirty Dancing" which I still love because of the music and the dancing.

When Oli came home to join us, Eladio lit the fire in the TV lounge and we watched the TV although there was nothing of quality to enjoy. TV shows at Christmas and NYE in Spain are generally abominable and one big bore but of course you have to have the TV on at midnight to follow the chimes of the clock from the Puerta del Sol where thousands of people go to see the New Year in as they do in Trafalgar Square in London or Times Square in New York. With lots of time on our hands, I got out some Christmas props that had come with some of the crackers and Oli took pictures like the one illustrating this week's post. They made us laugh a lot.

But what made us laugh even more was a photo published on Facebook by my Yorkshire friend Jacky who also lives in Spain. This was it:
NYE in one caption
The photo summed up my attitude to NYE and Oli's too, not to mention Eladio's. We enjoyed the dinner of course but waiting from 9pm until midnight to see the New Year in was a strain for all of us. We are not really party people and as I wrote last week, New Year's Eve is not my favourite celebration of the year. The Spanish TV programmes did nothing to entertain us either. 

Dinner was to be simple but delicious. I made chicken noodle soup which we had in small bowls accompanied by little Russian pies, "perushki". They are from my mother's recipe and we always have them around Christmas. Zena was supposed to have made the pastry for them on Christmas Eve but it turned out to be a disaster so I made a big batch of them myself last week. Thanks to "Mercadona's" ready made puff pastry they turned out a treat. The main dish was to be prawn and lobster cocktail salad which looked like this. It tasted even better I can tell you.
My prawn and lobster salad that I made for dinner on NYE
Most Spaniards would have considered our whole meal as just starters and would probably have made more. They, of course, would also have a big second course, probably roast lamb, or something just as heavy, all followed by different types of Spanish nougat, called "turrón".  

When we had finished our dinner, our Home Away guests, had only just started on theirs and my goodness you should have seen how much they ate. They had lots of first courses - the table was heaving - and huge fillet steaks for seconds. They also drank tons of alcohol and I know because I counted the empty bottles the next day. Between the 6 of them they finished off 3 whole bottles of champagne. We didn't even remember to open the one bottle I had cooling in the fridge hahahaha.

With time on our hands between dinner and midnight, Oli and I persuaded Eladio to play ludo with us which is rather an achievement. He was quite competitive and wouldn't put up with Oli being a bad loser. They competed so much against each other, neither noticed I had nearly all my counters home and then I surprised them when I won. 

At midnight, on the strike of each of the 12 chimes, Spaniards eat a grape at every chime which is supposed to bring luck. Eladio had brushed his teeth and had to be persuaded to keep up with tradition hahahahah. As soon as we had eaten our grapes and kissed and hugged and wished each other Happy New Year, the 3 of us scampered off to bed. Meanwhile, Suzy, alone in London, saw the New Year in even more quietly than us. We whatsapped up with her all through the evening. She had been out the night before and even though she had various options for celebrating on NYE, preferred to stay in. Thus Jacky's picture perfectly summed up her attitude to that night too.  Needless to say, our 6 Home Away guests partied on until much later but we never heard a word thankfully as our walls must be quite thick. 

And that my friends was how we spent New Year's Eve at home. How was yours? Probably more exciting than ours, unless you were in bed too like the little dog in Jacky's picture hahahaha. 

What was exciting though was seeing and hearing lots of firework displays put on by neighbours all around just after midnight.  Both Oli and I could see them from our rooms. That was a first and rather a nice sight.  

Monday 1st January 2018 dawned, the first day of a new year. I was up later than usual at 07.30. It was a beautiful sunny day which is unusual for 1st January. Olivia wanted the traditional Spanish "chocolate con churros" (donut like fritters dunked in thick chocolate) for breakfast so Eladio and I obliged and went to the local "churrería" to buy them. As our guests were occupying the dining room, we had them in the kitchen and they were delicious. So naughty but so nice. Here is Eladio savouring his first churro.
Eladio at breakfast on 1st January
I say they are a tradition on New Year's Day and they are but usually they are eaten by people who have been reveling  all night before they go to bed at around 6, 7 or 8 in the morning which was not our case of course.

Our guests left quite early and I have to say although they filled the house, they were very good guests, tidy and polite and nice people. Luckily most of our guests are. But it was nice to have the house to ourselves again finally. Being a lovely sunny day and with no cooking to do - Oli would be having lunch at Miguel's parents house - as we had lots of leftovers, I suggested we go for our first walk of the year with the dogs to the parkland in nearby Boadilla known as "el monte de Boadilla" except that there really is no mountain (monte means mountain in Spanish). It's beautiful park land which starts by the palace and covers all the outskirts of the village. If you don't keep to the main paths it's easy to get lost. Taking the dogs in the car is always a nightmare and as it had been my suggestion, I had to sit in the back with them on the way there and on the way back. It meant I would be covered in Elsa's molting hair. Thank goodness her molting season is now finally over. It happens with labradors and retrievers twice a year and each time they shed a whole coat which takes anything up to 3 months. I think if we had known that, we would never have got a labrador. Of course it's not her fault and we love her. The dogs hated the car drive but they loved the walk just as we did. Miguel joined us and as he is our semi-official photographer, being a professional cameraman, I got him to take a picture of us on our first walk of the year, the first of about 360 or so as we hardly ever miss one unless the weather is awful.
Eladio, Oli and I with our dogs, Elsa the lab, Norah the beagle and little Pippa our miniature sausage dog on our first walk of the year on Monday. 
We walked for at least 1.5h, enough to work off the churros I hoped hahahaha. It was a great walk but didn't help my bronchitis which, although better, is still there, especially the cough. I spent most of the afternoon and night coughing on the first day of the year, despite the cough mixture, the codeine tablets and my final remedy which usually helps; boiling water with honey and lemon juice.  

On Tuesday I was up again at 07.30. My body clock may well be changing or at least I hope so. The shops were open and I wanted to change some of Eladio's presents at Primark and get him more skinny trousers. I have only just discovered they exist for men and since them I have made a younger man of him. Each pair just costs 13 euros and they look fine. He now has 6 pairs,  2 of which wiould be for his 3 Kings' presents today.  I also changed the food hand mixer Oli had bought me as it was faulty. I got a Kenwood model instead which is great. My old one will go to Santa Pola. As soon as I got home I used it to chop onions and carrots to make spaghetti bolognese which we call "spag bol" in this house hahaha and is  one of my Father's favourite meals. 

Pippa joined us for our siesta and here she is in between the sheets in Eladio's arms just where she loves to be.
Pippa getting ready for her siesta with us one afternoon this week
Our second walk of the year was that afternoon and it was on our usual route. We noticed the days are getting slightly longer as it now gets dark at 18.30 rather than at 18h. I couldn't resist baking some of the frozen perushki for our dinner that night. The batch I made is now coming to an end.
Perushki for dinner on Tuesday night (Russian meat pies)
On Wednesday I was awake at 07.15, an improvement on 6 am I can tell you. The first thing I read was a google alert on my appointment as the new Adamo Comms Director in PR Noticias (PR News). The article about my "leaving" Yoigo last year had apparently been one of their most read articles of the year. So I hope that this new article about my appointment with Adamo will also be one of the most read. As a colleague commented on Facebook very kindly, "poetic justice" has been made. That's a nice way to describe it. You can read the article here

I had lots of work to do that day for Adamo and most of this week too as I have an upcoming press conference in the middle of January. I spent all morning working, totally immersed in my new project, I nearly forgot it was lunch time and I had to make the lunch hahahaha. In the afternoon I had a conference call with some of my team members in Barcelona. They use Google Hangouts but unfortunately the fiber connection here is not good enough for a satisfactory signal. It worked on the mobile but not on the pc and in the end they had to ring me on the fixed line! So much for new technology and what a pity Adamo doesn't have coverage where we live as theirs is the fastest fiber internet in Spain. It was late when we went on our walk but still not dark. While on the walk I got new reservation enquiries on Airbnb and on Home Away earlier in the day. Things seem to be speeding up after a quiet period. As I write now I have 6 reservations from now until the beginning of March and a  booking from a Dutch family for a week in July. Every time I get a new booking I get a high. It's rather addictive. 

That night we started watching a new series on Netflix. It's French and called Glacé and I'm not sure we are into it yet or whether we shall finish it. We have seen 2 episodes and are not hooked. It's a bit slow like most French films and series in my opinion. We still miss "La Embajada" (The Embassy).  

On Thursday I did my "Reyes" (Kings' Day) shopping for presents. In Spain people traditionally give their presents on Kings' Day. These days they also give presents on the 24th or 25th. However "Reyes" is still very big in Spain. We do it the other way round in our house, giving more presents at Christmas and just a few symbolic ones for Reyes. 

That day, our 19 year old student guest, Enya, was arriving all the way from Guadaloupe, a small island in the Caribbean belonging to France. Just as she was arriving we had the plumbers here to mend some radiators, 2 of them being in both the room she had booked and "Suzy's" room which was a little awkward. In the end she's staying in Suzy's room where the leak is not so bad. Tomorrow, Monday, the plumbers will be back to change 4 radiators and mend something that has gone wrong with the pressure in the central heating. In this house there is always some sort of breakdown and Eladio, "head of maintenance" is on the alert all the time hahahahaha.  

That night we had a dinner date at Oli and Miguel's, a lovely Christmas dinner at their place which we find so cozy and welcoming. We love going to dinner there.  Miguel, her boyfriend, is the main cook and he made a delicious cod dish with vegetables for the meal that night.
Miguel's delicious cod dish
I had taken along crackers as well as some chocolate and after dinner we had fun taking pictures with the cracker crowns on. Suzy thought we were celebrating "Reyes" and I suppose it looked like that. 
Christmas dinner at Oli and Miguel's. Getting into the spirit of "Kings' Day"
The dinner was great but the combination of wine and chocolate of course gave me a headache. We were home by midnight and soon in bed. Luckily that night my cough was a bit better.  

On Friday I was up at 7. As soon as I had finished breakfast I made more bread. By 10 it was ready and the kitchen smelled delicious.
The bread I made on Friday morning
While the dough was proving, I made chicken casserole for lunch. I had a very busy morning as I had to do the weekly shopping and do it alone as Eladio had to wait at home for the plumbers. I took Enya, my Airbnb guest with me as she needed to buy provisions. Before coming home, I had one more errand to do and that was to buy 2 "roscones" (Kings' cakes) for breakfast the next day. 
Roscón de Reyes - Kings' Day cake
It is very traditional to eat this crown shaped brioche type of cake on 6th January. Many people make their own but I had no time this year and besides the ones I buy at the "Alveran" local bakery are home made. What I didn't expect to find was a huge queue and I had to wait for an hour until I left clutching one small roscón with whipped cream and one without. I was home just on time for lunch and felt as though I had been on an errand marathon the whole morning. 

I had a very restoring siesta. It was dark, cold and drizzling so we skipped on our walk. That afternoon I got another Airbnb booking, this time from 3 French students who had been before. The bookings were for 3 days at the beginning of February and 3 days at the beginning of March. Whoopee I thought!

This week there has been much news about a controversial book called Fire and Fury about Trump, his presidential campaign and life inside the White House by a New York journalist called Michael Wolff. I heard about it on the news that day and there and then downloaded a sample on my kindle which I can't wait to read. 
The book which is causing so much fury from Donald Trump and which I can't wait to read
It apparently depicts ignorance, incompetence and chaos in Trump's White House. His lawyers unsuccessfully tried to ban it but now people are queueing up to buy it.  Trump himself is furious at the book's publication which he calls a pack of lies. But even if only half of it is true it's going to make amazing reading. It certainly is causing a fury as perhaps the name of the book suggests. 

That night we had another Christmas dinner to go to. It was the annual post Christmas dinner at Julio's house where we have been going with our mutual friend Fátima ever since Fátima and I met Julio when we started working at Nokia in 2000. The dinners at his house started in about 2002 and have been held every year since then. We got slightly lost on the way as it was dark and raining and Fátima and I were talking twenty to the dozen. He had dinner laid on the table, all the usual food he serves every year: ham, lomo, asparagus, salad and potato and onion omelets made by Fátima's mother. 
Dinner at Julio's on Friday night
The dessert would be "roscón", the first I was to try this Christmas  until breakfast the next day.  We soon ate most of it and then it was time to pull the crackers. Once again we wore the cracker hats and looked like Kings hahahaha which was quite fitting as Friday 5th January was the "noche de reyes" (Kings' night). And here we are, the 3 of us in our hats.
With my best friends, Julio and Fátima, on Kings' Night at dinner at his house on Friday
After the crackers it was time for giving out the presents we had all bought. We nearly always tell each other what we want so there were few surprises that night hahahaha. By 11.30 we were all yawning - none of us are party revelers - and it was time to go. We were home just after midnight and went straight to bed. It had been another lovely Christmas dinner at Julio's, keeping up with  tradition.  

Saturday came and it was Kings' Day in Spain. Here the three Kings, called Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar bring presents to children and parades are held all over Spain. Our Kings' Day started with breakfast which would consist of our 2 roscones, some of us preferring it with cream and some without. I personally prefer to toast the one without. My Father was not very well that morning and only had a bit. We were worried about him all day. It was obvious he had a cold and we debated whether to call the doctor or not. 

He joined us for the present opening around the tree and I gave him a new shirt and some chocolate which he didn't eat and was a sure sign something was wrong. Eladio and I put on some Christmas hats for the fun of it and this was what we looked like hahahaha.
Fun on Kings' Day morning. 
I made a special lunch yesterday to celebrate, roast suckling lamb with all the trimmings except for mint sauce as I had no mint in the house. My Father only ate a bit and didn't join us in the pulling of the last crackers of the day. I felt sorry for him. They would be the last crackers we pulled this Christmas until next year. And here are Oli, Eladio and I with the crowns on in a typical selfie. 
A selfie on Kings' Day
We didn't go for a walk yesterday either as it rained non stop all day. There was much snow in many parts of Spain and it is still raining today. Oli and I decided to make more perushki both for dinner, for freezing and for her to take some home. They were a complete success once again thanks to Mercadona's ready made puff pastry. We had our last Christmas dinner in the dining room that night.  Miguel and Oli even had more roscón but I couldn't face it hahaha. 

Last night we started watching a film with Robert de Niro we had been recommended on Neftlix called "The Intern". Eladio didn't like it and soon fell asleep but I love it and will finish watching it today.

Today is Sunday 7th January and Russian Christmas. Most Orthodox Christians follow the Julian Calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar and thus Christmas for them comes 13 days later than for other Christians. My Mother used to organise Russian Christmas for us at home where we would have a few presents. 

The day didn't start well as my Father was worse. He had a temperature and felt sick so we immediately called the emergency services by ringing 112, the national number for all sorts of emergencies. The ambulance came very shortly and I was dreading him being admitted to hospital with all that that would mean, waiting around in the emergency ward for hours on end and my Father on a gurney. Thankfully that didn't happen. He has bronchitis and has been prescribed antibiotics, paracetamol as well as eye drops. Right now he is sleeping and I do hope he gets better soon and gets to read my blog today. I feel sorry for him and a bit guilty that I must have passed my bronchitis on to him. There is a lot of of going round but it's no joke when you are nearly 100 like him. He will be 99 on 1st May. 

I never like 7th January as it means it's time to take down all the Christmas decorations, one of the most depressing tasks of the year which Eladio and I will do together as we always do. As to the rest of the day, let's see how it pans out and hopefully, despite the rain, we shall be able to go for our walk with the dogs.

And now my friends I have come to the end of this week's blog post, my first for 2018. 

Wishing you all a good week ahead, it's time to sign off and publish this and get on with the day.

Cheers to you all until next week,

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Family Christmas, bronchitis, Suzy back in London, a look back at 2017 and a Happy 2018 to all my readers.

Sunday 31st December 2017
Happy New Year everyone.
Hi everyone,

Well today is the last day of the year and what a year it has been.  But first for this week, the last week of 2017. 

Last Sunday was Christmas Eve and I was in the throes of my cold. The morning felt like a master chef cooking time trial. I am the Christmas organiser in this house but I seem to do it all alone and this year I really felt tired. I was up at 6 and was soon preparing the Christmas Eve dinner. I finished making the trifle, our favourite dessert which I only usually make once a year. My Father prefers the top part with the cream and Eladio the bottom part with the jelly hahahaha which makes for difficult serving.
The trifle I made for Christmas Eve dinner
I then started on the "salpicón de marisco" (seafood salad) which was definitely the best dish on the table that night. I made quite a lot but it all disappeared. I might be making more for tonight's dinner too as it was such a success.
My "salpicón de marisco" seafood salad.
I also made more bread which the girls devour. I can't make enough of it as they finish it off as soon as it is made hahahahaha. Potato salad made with my Russian grandfather's recipe would be another main dish on the table that night and that was ready by mid morning too. I had done all the food shopping but, as is typical, had forgotten a few ingredients, so off I went to the supermarket again for last minute purchases. Then we went to pick up our Christmas morning breakfast fare - croissants, pain au chocolat, donuts, "ensaimadas", etc.  I couldn't believe the queue at the bakery. Christmas is all about food and we all seem to get very greedy about it. Once home, I placed the big parcel of croissants on top of the freezer lid on the ground floor. Later when we weren't looking, Norah got at it. She must have kicked it on to the floor with her paw but it got locked down the side between the deep freeze and fridge, thus she was only able to eat a quarter of it. Norah had done it again and we never learn our lesson. 

Lunch was leftovers and a light affair. I spent the rest of the afternoon cooking too, making bacon rolls and more salads. When all the food was ready, it was time for our walk which we would need desperately if we were to eat so much that night hahahahah. As tradition dictates, later Eladio lit the fire in the TV lounge and the girls joined us. It felt very festive indeed.

The four of us by the fire on Christmas Eve
Normally my Father would have joined us. We brought him up from his room in his wheelchair but he must have got cold on the way and started shivering. He decided he wouldn't join us for dinner which was rather sad as it would be the first Christmas Eve dinner without him. I suppose when you are nearly 99, you just prefer to go to bed quietly at Christmas.

The girls and I got dressed up for the dinner and I even put makeup on but I didn't feel well. Even so I made the effort. Zena, my Father's weekend carer who is from the Ukraine, joined us. This is what the table looked like. To take the picture Oli stood on her chair which always makes me laugh.

Our Christmas Eve dinner table.
We had to have a selfie too and this is the 4 of us with our cracker hats on to remember the moment. Suzy is wearing my new patchwork Zara dress which looked so good on her, I gave it to her.
Our Christmas Eve dinner selfie. The 4 of us with our cracker hats on
I had ordered lots of crackers online again this year and the contents never fail to disappoint I'm afraid. Whey can't they make more imaginative or better content? I wish they would. 

I tried not to eat too much but the trifle finished me off hahaha. Later Miguel joined us after having had dinner with his parents. We sat by the fire laughing and taking pictures until it was time for bed, past 11 pm.  

Christmas day dawned, the loveliest day of the year in my mind. I was up early, especially to put the girls' stockings by their bedroom doors. They are now 32 and 33 and the tradition continues hahahahahah.  My mother knitted them years ago and they are a little fragile now but the girls wouldn't have Christmas without them. The stocking fillers came mostly from Primark and Tiger.

The girls' Christmas morning stockings
Being the Christmas organiser, it was up to me to prepare the Christmas morning breakfast table too and I wasn't feeling at all well. Everyone else was asleep. Thankfully there were lots of croissants even after Norah had had a go at them!!!! As soon as the table was laid and ready for breakfast I went to wake up the girls. Normally they always open their stockings on their own together but this year I witnessed them being opened. And here is Suzy, in her room - yes one of the ones I usually rent out on Airbnb  - enjoying the moment with me.
Suzy opening her Christmas stocking and bag full of more stocking fillers which wouldn't fit in the stocking!
When I looked at the tree that morning, I realised that we must all have been awfully good this year as Santa Claus had filled all the space under and around it. Amazing!!!!
The presents under the tree on Christmas morning
But before we started on the present opening ceremony which would take at least 1.5 h, it was time for breakfast all together. This time my Father joined us.

There was more quantity than quality in the presents "Santa" brought but we loved them. In recent years I have had a photo taken of Eladio and I just before we open the presents and this year would be no exception. The exception though was that I wasn't well and didn't look very good. I prefer the one of us taken on Christmas Eve, the one illustrating this week's post. Eladio always wears a bow tie for the occasion which makes him look very dapper I think. 
Eladio and I on Christmas morning - our yearly photo together
Everyone enjoyed the session and here is Eladio with Pippa opening a parcel with some tartan Primark pyjamas to match mine hahahahahaha.
Eladio opening a Christmas present
Who did look good together in a photo were Oli and Miguel. Pippa seems to get in all the pictures hahahahaha. And here they are enjoying themselves too.
Miguel, Oli and Pippa on Christmas morning
My main present was my new Kenwood, to replace the one my Mother had bought me when we got married in 1983. While making the lunch, Eladio and I did the unboxing and it is slightly more complicated than my old model. It's also a lot less robust and I wonder if it will last as many years as my old Kenwood. Somehow I doubt it. 

After the present opening, it was once again  time for more cooking and again up to me to make the lunch, a typical British Christmas Day meal. It felt like a time trial again too but I managed it without much help from anyone.  I  made a big roast chicken, called a "pularda" here - I'm not too keen on turkey - with the trimmings we like best; sprouts, gravy, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing and cranberry sauce. I ate so much for lunch that I had to skip on dinner hahahahaha. And here is the family around the table about to start. I had to stop them from digging in, to take the photo and to make a toast hahahahaha.

Christmas lunch

We all had a very lazy time after lunch. It was awful weather so we didn't get a walk that day. In fact I didn't go for a walk since Christmas Eve  until yesterday, owing mostly to my cold. I had bought the DVD of the film My Fair Lady for Suzy who had shown an interest in it. It's funny but the girls never watched it when they were little. However, it was me who enjoyed it most. Later they went out with their group of friends and we went to bed early after no dinner, in my case at least. 

Boxing day dawned and I felt worse. Elsa had her operation that day to remove two bad teeth and Eladio took her. As soon as the local clinic opened I went to see the doctor. It didn't take much time to diagnose me with bronchitis and she prescribed a shock treatment of antibiotics. I went home and straight to bed sitting up with 4 pillows as I could hardly breathe if I was lying down. It was to be Suzy's last day at home and there I was in bed. I did join the family for our leftovers lunch though.  This time we got a selfie with my Father, something of a tradition at Christmas in the last few years.

Our Boxing Day selfie. 
The rest of the day was spent in bed. Eladio and I started watching a really good Spanish series on Netflix called "La Embajada" (The Embassy) about corruption at the Spanish Embassy in Bangkok. We have been binge watching it ever since.  

Wednesday 27th December dawned and even though I was feeling dreadful I had to work. I had to send out a press release to the media on new appointments in Adamo (the Swedish optical fiber operator) including my own which was rather funny and a bit embarrassing. If you can read Spanish, this is the press release.  I rather liked the headline I had written myself: "Adamo hires ex directors of HTC, Yoigo and Nokia. I of course am an ex director of both Yoigo and Nokia.  My other colleagues who had just been appointed were Pedro who I coincided with at Nokia and Antonio who I coincided with at Yoigo. 

New appointments at Adamo 
Very soon the press coverage began and many of the journalists I had sent the release to published the news which pleased me a lot. After all, that is why Adamo have taken me on, to get them lots of media coverage. By the next morning I had garnered 27 articles!!!!! I think Adamo was pleased too. I certainly was. 

Meanwhile Suzy was getting ready to leave. We had a last meal together, more Christmas leftovers, until Oli and Miguel would drive her to the airport. She would have a nightmare of a journey owing to the snow and bad weather in the UK. She flew with Ryan Air and her 6 pm plane was delayed. However the biggest delay was at Stansted airport where she had to wait 3 hours for her luggage. She didn't get home till 2 in the morning. However, she was lucky that she got home at all, as nearly all the Ryan Air flights to and from Stansted the next day were cancelled because of the snow.  She had been with us for just one week and it seemed to pass in a jiffy. We do miss her. Hopefully she will be back in April after which, very sadly for me, but very excitingly for her, she plans to move to Indonesia to Bali !!! Oh how far away that is. 

If Suzy had a nightmare journey to Stansted, I had a nightmare of a night, with dreadful coughing fits. The next morning, Thursday, I sent Eladio to the doctor to get a prescription for the only medicine I know that stops coughing fits, called "codeisan" which is obviously made of codeine and completely dries you up inside but it works.

Oli was back at work and would be staying at her flat this week with Miguel so the house felt rather empty and it was a bit of an anti climax after Christmas without the girls. She worked on editing the programme she had filmed for in Montpelier in France. It seems her next destination is Manchester, of all places, and also possibly Leeds. The programme producers are now looking for suitable candidates from Madrid who live there, among them the Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea. I can't believe she will be going to Lancashire and hopefully Yorkshire. I'd love to go with her. Who will probably join her for part of her trip will be Suzy of course who will drive up from London. Lucky girls!

I slept much better that night, thanks to the codeine and was feeling, if not a lot better, at least on the mend. It was on Friday that we were expecting 6 guests from Home Away (similar platform to Airbnb) and I was dreading them. I hadn't expected to coincide with them but of course we had cancelled our NY trip to Montrondo. To judge by all the communication since their reservation, they sounded like the sort to give you lots of trouble. One of them is allergic to dogs or rather has a huge phobia and it would be our task to make sure she never bumped into them. The logistics were difficult.

Meanwhile I got a new Airbnb reservation that day. A young girl called Enya from Guadeloupe would be coming on 4th Jan for 2 weeks. I had to look the place up and it is a a French island in the Antilles. Obviously she will be my first guest and probably my last from such a faraway island. She is coming to Spain on an Erasmus programme and will be attending the nearby UEM University and will be using our house as a base to find accommodation for the year.

I felt well enough to do the food shopping with Eladio on Friday morning, but not well enough yet for a walk. I also managed to make more bread. Our Home Away guests arrived just before lunch. They actually live in the centre of Madrid and were coming as a group of friends to spend NYE together. I though they were three married couples, but no they were just friends and family. They brought so much food we couldn't believe it. They totally filled the empty fridge on the ground floor mostly with booze and cooked prawns - Spaniards eat them on nearly all festive occasions. In order not to coincide with them at dinner, Eladio and I had ours early.  While we binge watched La Embajada we could hear them having dinner in our dining room. Thankfully they are very clean and tidy and the kitchen was in a perfect state the next day. 

On Saturday morning I woke up feeling a whole lot better. Mostly my energy was returning. I am such an energetic person usually and when I am ill that is what I most miss, my energy. After hosting our guests who were making their own breakfasts in our kitchen, I set about making "perushki" (Russian meat pies) for New Year's Eve. We usually have them on Christmas Eve. I had made the filling for that dinner and had asked Zena, our Ukranian weekend carer, to make the pastry and the pies. However she used yeast and her pastry turned out to be bread. We politely ate one or two that night and later I threw the rest away!!  I also prepared lunch while Lucy cleaned the house. Oli and Miguel were coming for our midday meal and I made good old fish and chips, except that I did the fish in breadcrumbs rather than in batter.

 Later Eladio and I finished watching "La Embajada". The end was breathtaking and had me sitting up tight in bed aghast at what I thought the end would be. We are now gutted it is over and that there is no second season. What a good TV series and what a great script. I also love the actors, Abel Folk the Ambassador, Luis Salinas and Belén Rueda his wife Claudia. 

Great Spanish TV series we watched on Netflix this wee
There was to be more cooking that afternoon. I made chicken noodle soup or rather the broth for it, as well as cream of vegetable soup and then more vegetables, fresh artichokes. This is what our dinner looked like on Saturday night. Again we had it early to avoid coinciding with our group of guests. Dinner together in the evening is always one of the best moments of the day.
Our healthy dinner on Saturday night
It was only when we were nearly asleep that our guests returned to make their dinner. 

And today is 31st December 2017, the last day of the year. It will be the first time we have spent New Year's Eve in our own home as we nearly always go to León to be with Eladio's family. Oli will join us as will Lucy and we will have a quiet evening. New Year's Eve is funnily enough not my favourite celebration and it never has been. I don't really know why. Somehow I think it's because I have or had great expectations that were never fulfilled and then I always get a sort of forlorn type feeling the next day, 1st January. 

It has been a topsy turvy year in many ways. This time last year we were in Cuba for Claudia and Miguel's wedding. We had a great time of course but there was a dark cloud on our horizon as I knew I was to lose my job with Yoigo. And I lost it and life was rather uphill afterwards. But somehow I landed on my feet again. 2017 was the year I started on Airbnb hosting which has been an interesting experience and of course quite lucrative. I had to find a new source of income and partly I found it with Airbnb. We have had more than 70 sets of guests from all around the world. This year too I became self employed forfeiting the dole as slowly I acquired customers for PR projects. I never looked for them. They looked for me and I am forever grateful. One of them, Adamo, has now contracted me on a full time basis. It's great to work for a Swedish company again and as it is an internet operator the sector is very familiar. If someone had told me this time last year that I would be self employed and have a new source or sources of income, perhaps I would not have worried so much about losing my job. 2017 was also the year I turned 60, not a good time to be fired, but amazing to be hired too; that's a feather in the cap of a Swedish company for you. I had a great party and many friends came from around the world too. I went to Cuba, to England with Oli to be with Suzy and I also went to Hong Kong with another customer, Genaker, my first customer and to whom I shall always be grateful for setting me on my new path. Miquel thanks!! I spent time with my cousins in France in the summer and attended Marie and Anas' wedding in Switzerland and of course I spent time with my family both at our little pad in Santa Pola and at our house in Montrondo. My family has been there for me through thick and thin and I would not be the happy woman I am without them. Eladio is my rock, my wonderful and very good looking husband and I appreciate every minute I spend with him. I have spent a lot of time too with Olivia, my youngest daughter who, thankfully, lives in Madrid. I am so proud of her in many ways. This year she started working with "Madrileños por el Mundo" and is enjoying her job enormously. We see her a lot. She keeps me young and makes up for Suzy not being here. Suzy, our darling older daughter has her ups and downs in London, never an easy place to work and be single. She spent a month with us in the autumn which was a luxury. She now has plans to move to Bali. So who knows, we may well go out to see her hahahaha. I wish all the very best for my adored family, my Father who I hope continues to be as well looked after as possible, my husband Eladio who I hope stays by my side for as long as life lets him and I wish the best for my darling daughters. Secretly and above all, I would be very grateful for a wedding and a grandchild. Maybe 2018 will bring me them if I am as good as I was this year. 

All that remains for me now is to wish you all a great 2018. You will hear from me next year, next Sunday hahahaha.

Cheers till then, Masha