Monday, May 26, 2008

Visits to Madrid, driven out of the house, robbed of a walk, fancy dress party, La Señora, dinner with friends and Oli finishes University this week.

Hi again

Just a few lines to record what I have been up to this last week and since we came back from Montrondo.

I seem to have been into town quite a lot recently. You may think that’s nothing special but we live out in the country and going into Madrid is always an effort. On Wednesday I had a consumer press event at a pseudo Scandinavian restaurant called Olsen which I can actually quite recommend. I was back on Thursday night for an event which this time I was invited to and which was held at the Penthouse terrace of the Me Hotel, one of my favourite places in Madrid. The views of the Madrid skyline are terrific.

And this morning I returned as I had to visit possible locations for 2 events I am organising next month. Eladio was in town too, renewing his national identity card, and we were able to enjoy Madrid together; despite the rain.

We have had terrible wet weather for weeks now but I shouldn’t complain as Spain is very short of water. The rain, however, robbed us of our walk on Friday. On Friday we were chased out of our house too as the girls were having a super mega fancy dress party to celebrate Oli’s birthday. So where did we go? Yes, you guessed right, La Alpargatería.
The fancy dress party
I simply must tell include here our fascination with La Señora,a Spanish melodrama set in the 1920’s. We have been watching it every Thursday night since it started a few months ago and are so hooked that often we have skipped events to watch it. I missed one episode in the UK and last Thursday came back early from the Penthouse party in order to watch the end. The final episode is next Thursday but meanwhile there were 2 summary marathon sessions this weekend on Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 6 which had Eladio and I glued to the TV. The story revolves around the impossible love of a beautiful rich girl, Victoria Márquez and a poor village boy, Angel, who is forced to join the church in order to separate them. There could be nothing more romantic. The setting, a coastal village of Asturias with glorious sea views, the story of the servants, again with a love story entwined, all remind you of a sort of Spanish “Upstairs Downstairs”. Unfortunately it finishes this week.

The weekend ended with dinner at La Vaca Argentina with our friends, Roberto and Maricarmen with whom we seem to plan a trip each time we go out. This time it might be to San Sebastián or to Montoro in Córdoba to the delightful country hotel called Molino de la Nava.

This week is very important for my family, as our youngest daughter, Olivia will be finishing her University degrees this Friday. Fancy! There will be many events to celebrate, the first being a family dinner out on Friday. To come will be the graduation ceremony at the University and on 21st June we will be holding a big party at home for her friends from all the different stages of her life and for the family. And who will be organising that? You guessed right, me, of course. Yes, I am going to be busy.

But more about that and other things next time,


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Goodbye Henry

Henry at home in the garden

It is fitting and right that Henry, our elegant, stylish, peaceful and loving cat - as far as cats can be loving - be honoured by an obituary in my blog upon his disappearance last week.

Henry is our longest surviving cat and we have had many but none of them have had happy endings I’m afraid to say.

He disappeared, never to return, a week ago today and we are all a little sad. But saddest of all is Phoebe, our other cat; that most beautiful sweet but rather distant creature, at least with us, who lived and depended on Henry for nearly everything.
Henry and Phoebe, forever together and now parted.
Farewell Henry, you were a very special cat and we will miss you dearly.

Masha and the family

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The grand old age of 23

Today is my youngest daughter Olivia's birthday and she has reached what she thinks is the grand old age of 23. Happy birthday darling.

Next week she wil be graduating with Triple Honours in Media studies, PR and advertising and Audiovisual Communication and the world will be hers to discover, challenge and conquer. I wonder which way it will take her and wish her all the luck in the world.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back from England and off to Montrondo

Hi again
I had just come back from England and was off again to Montrondo, my husband’s family’s home village for what was to be the 3rd anniversary mass to commemorate the Father’s passing away. It’s funny how Antonio carries on uniting the family long after he has gone. He was quite a patriarch and not a person to be forgotten easily.

My return was full of emotion from the centenary celebration of my school and it must have taken me a good 4 or 5 hours to summarise it all in my blog. I still have Haworth in my mind and would love to return some day soon. I even bothered to send a write up to Trip Advisor on the lovely guest house we stayed at: Trip Advisor Ashmount House review.
The 15th May was a Spanish bank holiday for San Isidro and as it was on a Thursday this year, we also had the Friday off. It is a date I shall never forget as it was when my brother George passed away, now 8 years ago. So my Father and I exchanged the odd knowing glance that day. But, happily, it was also Eladio’s youngest brother’s birthday: happy birthday Isidro from these pages.

On Friday, we left the girls behind to enjoy the house on their own (I imagine they will be having the odd party) and set off to Montrondo where we were to be staying with José Antonio and Dolores in their newly built house next to the old family one. The rest of the family was coming the next day, Saturday when the mass was scheduled. We took the trip in our stride, leaving early and stopping for lunch at the Parador in Benavente. The forecast wasn’t very good but actually when we arrived the sun was shining.

The obvious thing to do then was to go on a long walk and enjoy the wonderful scenery Montrondo offers. And this is just what we did with a walk to Murias de Paredes and back.

The 3 men on the walk

José Antonio, Dolores and Eladio on the walk on the first day
Thus we returned with quite an appetite and prepared a delicious dinner of Spanish tortilla with eggs and potatoes from the village.

We slept very well and in the morning I couldn’t resist taking a few shots of the view from our room which is actually the old family home.
The view from our room in the morning - the family house
Soon the rest of the family was here. When I say the rest of the family, I mean, Eladio’s Mother Ernestina and the other 4 brothers and sisters: Adela, Alejandro, Pili and Isidro with their partners as well as Marta and Roberto (Adela’s “children” – well they are in their 30’s!) and their spouses. So, all in all we were 18. At midday it was time for the mass and off we went down the well trodden path to the village church.
Walking to the church, Eladio, José Antonio and Isidro
Marta, filling a bottle with water from a stream on the way to the church.
But first we visited the cemetery which reminded me very much of the opening scenes of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Volver”. If you have seen the film, you will understand when you look at this picture. Cemeteries are much more cheerful places in Spain than they are in England.
The very Spanish cemetery
The mass was extremely short and exceedingly boring; no reading, no sermon, no music; just a monotone sounding priest who was totally uninspiring. I’m afraid to say I hardly listened and spent the time planning Oli’s up and coming graduation party in my mind.

Lunch was going to be in Murias de Paredes at theHolandés Errante and to work up an appetite most of us walked there.
The hostal in Murias, El Holandés Errante.
Here we were fed on local fare, the best dish being lentils. Oh, they were delicious. The Holandés Errante is actually a small guest house run by a Dutchman and his Spanish wife. My father stays there in the summer and I must say it has been built and designed with excellent taste.
Lunch on Saturday in Murias de Paredes
We walked back to work off the lunch and the afternoon was spent differently by different members of the family. Some had 2 hour siestas, some relaxed and spent the time chatting and others worked as you can see from the photos here:

Yoli and a friendly cat.
José Antonio getting ready to cut the grass!
Me relaxing and enjoying the company
Pili ready to treat the woodworm in the cow shed (now our dining room!)
The day was soon over and the family, except for us and José Antonio and Dolores, had to return to León. Before they went, however, I grabbed the opportunity of having the 6 brothers and sisters together to take a picture of them with their Mother.

The day was still long enough to get a late walk in and that we did, to Murias again, otherwise we would not have been able to face dinner, even the small left overs from the night before. We got back at 10 o'clock at night and amazingly it was still light.

Unfortunately the next day we were driven away by the rain. We woke up to heavy drizzle and we knew it was going to carry on like that all day. So there was no option but to pack our bags and leave. We had had a lovely time with José Antonio and Dolores, not least because of the more comfortable accommodation they offered us so we may well be going back soon.

And here I am at home now writing up my blog but a little sad as Henry, our cat, has been missing since Friday. Keep your fingers crossed he turns up.

Cheers till next time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An emotional trip, England again, St, Joseph’s College reunion, my childhood revisited.

Hello again

I am writing from my desk at home in Madrid now that it is all over. It has been an intensely emotional trip and as we did so many things and saw so many people, this post is going to be quite extensive.

Amanda picked me up and I was delighted to encounter excellent weather in England with temperatures in their mid 20’s. Ironically it was raining in Spain and did so all through my stay in England. Who said, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain?

We drove to their lovely English style country house in Surrey and immediately got out our laptops. I did have work to do but must admit I am a bit of an addict and cannot stand to have one e-mail unread!

Amanda's house
Soon we had to go and fetch Jake. Jake is Amanda’s youngest son and the only “child” living at home now. Cordelia, his older sister, is studying music in London and Andy’s kids are also away; Jonathan in his final year at University and Jane at boarding school. So the house was a bit empty. Jake is wonderful; funny, sweet, loving and probably charismatic. Right now he is a proper teenager as you can see from the picture he allowed me to take outside his prestigious school. Love you Jake.

After a long day on the plane and waiting around, a walk was in order and Amanda took me on a lovely one. The English countryside was looking its best with flowers in bloom, everything green and the sun shining. There was quite a lot of fauna around too which had me snapping my camera away at horses and rabbits all along the route.

Amanda on the walk
Andy was back after a very long day and very cheekily for us, he made dinner; well grilled the great M+S steaks on the barbecue. What a great dinner, all washed down by a bit too much wine I’m afraid and which I was to pay for badly the next day.

Yes the next day, the day of our journey to the North for our school reunion, I woke up with a headache which got worse as the day went on and which at one stage I thought might mean cancelling the Centenary dinner; but it didn’t. We arrived in Haworth, that picturesque dark Yorkshire village of the Brontë sister fame and made our way to the Weaver's Restaurant where we had a lunch reservation. My headache was so bad I thought I couldn’t eat but funnily enough a bit of food actually helped.

We then checked into Ashmount House which really impressed us. This had been the village doctors’ house before and the names of the rooms were called by the previous inhabitants. The house, a 5 star guest house, met up to our expectations. It was so Brontë period and very well kept as you can see from the pictures. All bedrooms had four poster beds, the house was spotless with superb furniture and the garden which was very well kept was full of spring flowers and even had hens whose eggs were served at breakfast!! Breakfast of course, was top class, as were the dining rooms.

Ashmount Guest House

My four poster bed which I had to enjoy alone

The dining room at Ashmount House
We had a couple of hours to spare so decided to have a quick look around the village and take a long walk to further clear my headache.

Haworth has not changed at all and never has in all the time I have known it. It seems to have stopped in time since the Brontë sisters died. It has many many tourists visiting; many from Japan and the USA but remains unspoilt. One thing has changed though and that is obviously the age of mortality. When the Brontë sisters lived there in the early 1800’s the average age of mortality was 29, worse even then the worst London slums at the time!!!

The main street in Haworth
We walked around the steep and narrow cobbled streets but concentrated our visit on the Parish Church where the Brontë sisters’ father was the Parson – funnily enough he outlived all his children and died in his 80’s – and on the streets around the The Bronte Parsonage Museum which was, of course, their home.

The Church

The Brontë Parsonage
We ventured behind the Parsonage and into the countryside outside the village, past sheep riddled fields and through kissing gates and onto the moor, the one we would have liked to think was the one from Wuthering Heights but which actually wasn’t. And in our minds was what it must have been like for Anne, Charlotte and Emily when they lived there.

With our minds relaxed and my headache diminishing we made our way back to our lovely rooms to get ready for our much looked forward to Centenary Grand Dinner for St. Joseph’s College past pupils (girls catholic school in Bradford) taking place at the The Bankfield Hotel in Bingley nearby and starting at the unearthly English time of 7pm!

There we were to meet up with 2 friends from school with whom we were once very close and whom I hadn’t seen for 18 years and whom Amanda hadn’t seen since we left school; Brenda Maher and Ellen Byrn. Brenda and I were very close at school. She was my neighbour who lived in Redburn Drive and we often used to study together at her house –well actually we spent more time having butter fights or playing the Ouija board!!

The dinner was attended by about 140 people including staff from the past too. The oldest past pupil was 90! We sat on tables of our years and ours was 1975 the year we left. On our table were other “girls” from our year: Mary Drake, Geraldine Appleby, Jane McEvoy, Catherine Breen and Beverley Chivers.

Our table, Maureen O'Connell, Mary Drake, Geraldine Appleby, Beverley Chivers, Catherine Breen.

Ellen Byrne, Amanda (Sharon)Leonard, Brenda Maher and Jane McEvoy
The person we most wanted to meet was Miss Fair, our Geography teacher who later went on to become the headmistress. She was a real blue stocking but with a lot of character and quite serious and strict. Today she must be 80. We remember pearls from her when she came back from a field trip to Chile: “It’s rather chilly in here girls” was one which we sniggered at. Another was when the M62 was built and which she described as “a marvellous feat of engineering”. Worse was to poor Ellen Byrn: “Why are you doing A’ Levels? I thought you were more interested in your eye shadow! The latter spurred Ellen on in life as after her children were born she decided to take a degree and take her revenge on Miss Fair. Today she is a successful infant school teacher.

I was devastated that Miss Fair didn’t remember me at first (she did later when I reminded her that my Mother had taught Russian at the school and my Father had been a teacher at BGS); not even for being naughty which I was. In contrast she gushed at Amanda who had been to Oxford. I would like to remember her as a sort of Miss Jean Brodie but I’m afraid she was nothing like that, not particularly friendly either.

Group photo with Miss Fair

Amanda and I, an official photo taken at the dinner
We also met Miss Jackson who had taken us to Paris when we were 14, Father McCarthy, our Chaplain, and the eternal Mrs. Plunkett Jones who is part of the school furniture but very much alive. I remember as a child causing havoc. It had snowed heavily and I spread the rumour that we were having the day off which we weren’t. So the girls started leaving, walking up the steep hill of Cunliffe Road. Mrs. Plunkett Jones desperately called out to them: “Girls come back, girls come back”. But they never did. I wonder if she ever knew it had been me?

The next day we were up early (well I was up at 7 instead of 8 as I hadn’t changed the Spanish time, silly me!!) to enjoy our English breakfast and to visit the Brontë museum before going off to the School Open day for past pupils which was to start at noon.

I must have visited the Brontë parsonage a dozen times in my life but it always impresses me: the Father’s study, the room where the girls wrote, the kitchen where Emily propped up her German verb book whilst kneading bread, the children’s bedrooms and their clothes. I can remember it vividly. It’s a haunting sort of place. We also visited the museum shop and I bought some lovely memorabilia, such as the famous picture painted by their brother Branwell. It will grace my walls at home and I know it won’t look tacky. I also bought a copy of the first book written by Charlotte, The Professor and look forward to reading it after my Father.

The Brontë sisters, the only known painting of them together, Anne, Charlotte and Emily
Soon it was time to set off to Bradford, our childhood home, that very northern, ugly and depressed, industrial city in England which I always hated as a child and never wanted to live in. Bradford has become even more Asian than when I remembered it and even then 1 out of 3 in a population of 300.000 were from Pakistan. Today the ratio must be higher.

Ugly Bradford

Asian Bradford!
I was born in Cambridge and lived in Lincolnshire from parents who were not from Yorkshire either (that’s for another story as you probably know the origins of my Mother, a Russian aristocrat born in Rome but a citizen of the world, and my Father, that very English gentleman born in Tamworth but another citizen of the world). We moved to Bradford when I was 7 because my Father got a job as a teacher of languages (Russian, German and French) at Bradford Grammar School and they bought a marvellous house at 6 Heaton Grove, where many a party was held when I was a teenager as some of my friends from those times will remember.

So I have mixed feelings about Bradford. I always had problems with my weight and I felt I never really fit in. I didn’t have the local accent and I didn’t want it as I felt I was only passing through. I was not a good student. I misbehaved abominably at school and only just got through by the skin of my teeth. I woke up in the 6th form when I suddenly realised I had to pull my finger out as I had to go to University. There was not other option in my life. Of course, there were happy times and some of those were at St. Joseph’s College.

Amanda and I had been back on a short visit in 1999 which helped to jog our memory a bit. Not much had changed from the outside. The whole event was very well organised I must say and had a very happy feeling to it.

Arriving at the school, 33 years later!

Entering - Amanda and I flanked by 2 1st year pupils.
A funny little girl selling prayer books. I didn't buy one!
The place was crawling with middle aged and old women all with huge smiles on their faces. Pupils from the 1st year and the 6th form were on hand to help us around and seeing them reminded us of ourselves at that age.


The 3 Kappa girls (Amanda, me, Brenda) in our original 1 Kappa classroom.
There was a programme to follow. However we were forever waylaid talking to people and chancing off to find our 1 kappa form or sneaking into the out of bounds teachers’ common room. We even took photos in the loos where we used to smoke!. We bumped into Sister Moya who must now be in her 70’s. Also as we seemed to take 5 photos on each occasion our programme was slowed down enormously.

With Sister Moya in the 4th form corridor.
One of the most interesting finds on our route was a room with the school photo archives next to the 6th from library. Here we found ourselves in 6th form group photos. I promptly took a picture of one of myself in 1974.

My class in 1974. I suppose you can guess who I am.
And it was in the 6th form library that we actually found some other girls who were in that same group photo, Andrea Longstaff and Anne Marie McDermott. Someone had the great idea of having an official photo taken of the girls from our year present that day and this is the result.

The "girls" from our year (1969-1975) in the official photo.
We also managed to visit the dining room where we had a snack and remembered the awful school dinners including some classics like mashed potatoes or tapioca!. But soon it was time for the memorial mass. When Amanda and I were at school we never went because we weren’t Catholic. We were actually going to skip the memorial mass as we had to rush off but our friends persuaded us to stay and I am very glad we did. It was a great end to the day to be gathered in Our Lady’s Hall where all the big events of our school years took place, to see the choir again (although ours in the famous O’Rourke days was much better) and to hear Father McCarthy’s moving sermon about our teenage years.

Suddenly it was 5 0’clock and time to go. Brenda, Amanda, Ellen and I just had to visit a couple of haunts, including the 6th form common room, before we left and to sit on the bench outside the 4th form corridor just as we used to in the breaks. Wow, that was 33 years ago. And time has indeed passed.

Bradford was not over for me yet. That day we also had to visit our old neighbours and then have dinner at Amanda’s brother and sister-in-law’s house, Simon and Gill who live in Sowerby Bridge.

The next stop was 6 Heaton Grove where I took a quick photo of what had been our home since the mid 60’s until 2004. I knew my Father would love to see it. We parked outside number 6 but walked into number 5 to see the Wrights who have lived there far longer than us. Margaritte, the Mother is 100 this year and Susan her daughter is now 74. But neither of them look their age, more sort of eternal. It was a lovely reunion with just enough time to catch up on the gossip, all mostly related to their Pakistani neighbours and to Mr. Nawaz the man who bought our house and whom Susan “hates” so much!

6 Heaton Grove, my childhood home.

Margaritte and Susan, our lifelong neighbours at Heaton Grove.
From the Writes we made our way to Morrison's to get some wine to take to Simon's. It was here I found my wallet was missing. There were a few minutes of panic until I realised I had left it at Susan’s. So we had to go back of course making us even later. But it was well worth the effort. Simon and Gill’s house is lovely; it’s a very tastefully decorated cottage near Halifax with a huge garden and great view of the Yorkshire countryside. Simon is the perfect cook who made a great dinner including a prawn starter, duck a l’orange and chocolate mousse. I mustn’t forget to add he actually made the delicious bread rolls. I was so impressed that I took a picture of them.

After dinner and before I fell asleep in front of my hosts (terribly sorry Simon and Gill), Becky the oldest daughter who is going to read English at Nottingham University this year – my old University - introduced me to a great poem. We had been talking about films and somehow got on to talking about 4 weddings and a funeral which I haven’t seen and they highly recommend. Apparently in this film a poem by Wystan Hugh Auden called Funeral Blues is referred to and which they love. So Becky read it out and I immediately fell in love with it too. And here it is if you want to read it which I recommend you do: Funeral Blues. I just love how it starts: Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dogs from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum, Bring out the coffin, let them mourners come.
Becky reading the poem.
We had to make a short evening of it as we were both physically and emotionally pretty tired after the day’s events and the evening before so we got an earlier night in at our lovely guest house in Haworth.

Sunday was ours for the taking and after a good breakfast and packing, we were off to Bolton Abbey in glorious May weather. Bolton Abbey was a favourite childhood haunt and is a beautiful Yorkshire spot by the River Wharfe. It is here where the the famous Monk’s stepping stones are in lush green meadows with picture box Friesian cows.

The stepping stones
From here we made our way to the Strid wood that very ominous but beautiful part of the river Wharfe which has claimed so many lives in its underwater caves. Anyone who falls in never gets out and many a silly boy or girl try to jump across it at a narrow point which is very possible to do but extremely dangerous because of the slippery moss covered rocks. My brother jumped across it on various occasions and my Mother was in constant fear of the place for what I understand now to be a very good reason.

The Strid my Mother hated so much. I felt guilty being there.
However the place is one of the most beautiful in the world with heavenly flora to contemplate on the walk including blankets of blue bells at this time of year.

People were bathing and making barbecues but we had a date with one of our favourite places to eat in Yorkshire Betty’s café in Ilkley, one of the lovelier towns in West Yorkshire and very near the Dales.

This is how they serve tea at Betty's
And here I indulged in one of those things I miss most about England, fish and chips. And don’t Betty’s make just the best!

And that was the end of our marvellous trip to Yorkshire, down memory lane and to revisit our childhood and see our school and meet up with old faces. It was time to leave. We left Yorkshire with our hearts very much touched, as they still are as I write.

Home we went to Surrey to briefly see Andy and Jake before going to bed, tired but content.

Monday brought with it a day in London. Oh, for a day in London! What pleasure. We did do some work in the morning. I mean, I did have to sort out my e-mails and make a few calls. But as soon as the decks were clear, Amanda and I were off by train to Waterloo. Here we briefly met up with darling Cordelia who lives nearby. She looked enchanting.

Mother and daughter at Waterloo.
Lunch was at some marvellous place in Kensington High Street. This time we indulged in sea food and white wine; just the thing to put us in to the spirit of shopping in Marks and Spencers. There are many shops in England but it is my favourite. Here I filled my basket with underwear, swimwear, cosmetics and t-shirts for us all. Then a quick visit to Boots, that other great shop I miss so much and finally to Whittards to buy Oli a special mug for her breakfast coffee.

Happy outside M+S in Kensington High Street.
The evening wasn’t planned but it ended up with dinner in Covent Garden with Amanda, Andy and Cord. It was so nice to have dinner with them in London.

And so soon, there I was packing to leave. Packing was a bit of a hitch as with all my purchases including 3 big Yorkshire prints I had bought at Bolton Abbey, there was no way everything was going to fit in my suitcase. So we had to drive to Guilford to buy a cheap hold all. In the end I was carrying 35 kgs and had to pay for 10 kgs excess which Easyjet charge at 6 pounds per kilo!!! Wow did my M+S shopping turn out to be expensive.

Me laughing over my packing; mission impossible!
Travelling back was ok but not as exciting as travelling out. The nicest thing was having Eladio meet me off the plane in Madrid.

Then I was home and opening my huge hold all full of presents for all the family, including an English tweed cap for my Father and 2 copies of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus. It felt like Christmas!

Now it’s all over but it was great. I have already written to the other “girls” and sent them some photos. Some have replied and I think that soon, quite soon, there maybe a girly reunion, maybe in Manchester. Look out for that on this blog.

Cheers till next time