Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The week running up to the festivities and our Christmas Part One 2010.

Our Christmas Eve dinner, I'm afraid Oli's not in the photo as she took it.
 Hi again this cold and rather flat Monday 27th December, two days after Christmas and just a few days before the beginning of the new year which I hope will be at least as good as 2010. So how was your Christmas? Ours was as good as always, but then we all love celebrating it and enjoy every moment of all our traditions, both Spanish and English of course. Before I describe our Christmas, however, let me tell you about the run up to it.

Monday was spent on more Christmas shopping but I also had a visit to the dentist which I actually nearly forgot. Thanks to the calendar reminders on all three of my mobile devices I had 15 minutes to get there and I managed it just on time. I am up for two implants and this visit was just for an x-ray, so no need to suffer on my behalf this time.

Monday evening was the Yoigo employee Christmas party to be held at the Real Madrid Bernabeu stadium at the Real Café Bernabeu with amazing views of the floodlit football ground. The buffet cum dinner party was themed on the famous Spanish lottery (El Gordo) which has the biggest prizes in the world.

The girls working at the Yoigo Employee Christmas party, themed on the Spanish El Gordo Lottery

Believe it or not I won the main prize, a trip for 2 people for 2 nights (hotel and air ticket included) to London. The presenter, my friend, Sergio Sauca (the TVE news sports’ presenter) couldn’t believe it either. There were over 180 people there so my chances were slim. Normally at employee events I don’t participate but the girls from the agency persuaded me to, telling me I was also an employee and had a right to take part. Even so winning was a bit sweet and sour.

My winning lottery ticket at the Yoigo Christmas party, a weekend for 2 in London!

The big surprise of the night after the lottery and prize giving awards was the “mad hour” where serpentine and confetti erupted from a machine continuously whilst mad hats were given out to everyone and balloons were blown up by jugglers and men on stilts. What’s known as a batucada, a very noisy Brazilian type of samba, took place at the same time to add to the fun and general “madness” of the night.

Me at the Yoigo employee Christmas party last week

One of the smaller highlights of the night was the chocolate fountain.   I didn't go near it of course but Olivia enjoyed herself tremendously and indulged in the amazing mixture of melted chocolate and fruit as you can see in this picture.
The chocolate fountain at the Yoigo Christmas party for employees was a huge success.  Needless to say I didn't try it.

Very unfairly I had a terrible night as well as a pretty bad migraine and the next day I felt dead but had to go into the office for the last Management Team meeting of the year. I say “unfairly” as I hardly ate anything and only drank tonic water and so should not have felt unwell. It was probably the release of tension after working so hard on the event. But there was to be no respite for me as I had one more party to go before I could rest and enjoy my own Christmas in peace.

Wednesday the 22nd December was the day of the Spanish Christmas El Gordo lottery but I wasn’t as lucky as at the Yoigo employee party I’m afraid. Eladio had bought lottery tickets for 250 euros and actually won 240 euros back. You can see the moment he found out in this picture with Olivia. Many people were celebrating though all over Spain as this year’s “gordo” prize of 3 million euros was spread across the country.

Eladio's small win on the Spanish Christmas lottery which you can read about above.

Wednesday was also the day I had a little odyssey with Eladio in the morning. He had gone with Olivia to get the “new” (or rather second hand) Seat Córdoba we were buying for the girls and I went off Christmas food shopping with my Father. Just as we had left the first supermarket Oli rang to say we had to go and pick up Eladio at a garage in Boadilla where he had taken the new car to have the tyres changed. Ah and that he had left his mobile phone with her when she rushed back home to study. That was where the complication started! My father and I made our way to the garage but Eladio was nowhere in sight. I then received a phone call from Olga, our home help, to say Eladio had rung from a fixed phone to say that we should now pick him up at a petrol station nearer home. So off we went to the petrol station and once again Eladio wasn’t there. Feeling rather frustrated we returned to Boadilla where there was no sign of him and then back to the petrol station. At that point I gave up, left a message at the petrol station for Eladio and got back in the car to drive to the next supermarket and continue our shopping. Once I had driven a kilometre or so towards our destination, there I spied Eladio very obviously walking home. Of course I was cross and rightly so as I had been driving round in circles for the greater part of an hour, absolutely mystified as to my husband’s whereabouts. If you are a woman and are reading this I am sure you will sympathise. If you are a man, no doubt you will understand my husband’s motives but I still do not.

Wednesday was also the day of my last party, the Yoigo children’s Christmas event at the office premises in the late afternoon. 120 children of all ages were coming so chaos was guaranteed. We had many activities prepared for them but the biggest surprise was the live nativity crib we had in store for them. Last year we had brought a real reindeer and this year we had to do something different. And different and original this certainly was.

The live Nativity crib at the Yoigo children's party last week.

You probably know that I adore animals (at least the four legged type) so I enjoyed the scene probably more than anyone. In the mid afternoon 4 lorries arrived with 2 donkeys, a mule, 4 goats, a piglet and a duck but sadly no lamb as they had all been slaughtered for Christmas! The people in charge of maintenance nearly had kittens (excuse the pun) as I hadn’t told them much, fearing my project may be endangered. Setting up the whole scene was very exciting and people from the office and offices around crowded around the animals in sheer disbelief. Whilst the Nativity was being set up, it was pouring with rain and someone exclaimed that it felt like Noah’s Ark!

I enjoyed the animals as much or more as the kids at the Yoigo children's Christmas party
The children, and I must add their parents, adored the live Nativity scene and the children also got to ride one of the donkeys. I couldn’t resist the temptation and remembering with nostalgia the times when I used to ride donkeys as a child at the seaside in England, I decided there and then to get up on one..

You can see  photos of me on the donkey and all the others I took of this great party here on Facebook.

So on Thursday all my parties were over but I had a heavy day ahead of me as we had to go to León in the north west of Spain to pick up my Mother-in-law who was coming to stay for Christmas. It is 350km away and about a 3 hour drive. We drove in snow, sleet and rain with freezing temperatures. The sun was shining though when we arrived which is unusual because León is famous for being one of Spain’s coldest cities. As we parked outside Eladio’s sister, Adela’s house, we were greeted by his smiling younger sister Pili and her daughter Paula. We were to have lunch at Adela’s after what we were to be joined by Pili and her husband Andrés for coffee before leaving again for Madrid.

A happy lunch at Adela and Primo's when we went to León to pick up my Mother-in-law for Christmas.
Before leaving however we went to see Andres and Pili’s new “baby”, the nearly brand new BMW X3 they had bought the week before. Eladio remarked that Andrés loved it so much that he would have liked to take it to his bed if it weren’t quite so big. I’m looking forward to their coming to visit us in January on its first long drive.

Andrés and Pili's new "baby", a BMW X3

We had a long drive back to Madrid once again in nasty weather conditions and just as we were nearing Madrid we got a phone call from Olivia. It was to tell us that the results had been published for the RTVE exams. It was sad to hear that after all her efforts she didn’t get one of the 5 prized places. We heard the next day that she had come 9th out of 85 which is an excellent position, something she should be proud of. We also learned that the 5 places went to the candidates with more initial credits or points than the others. Oh well, it was not to be. On the other hand I am sure she will still have a brilliant future as she is a star at what she does. I know I am biased because I am her Mother but then I have had evidence over and over again of her excellent journalistic skills. Good luck Oli for the future.

On Friday, Christmas was finally here. It was Christmas Eve. The Christmas Eve dinner in Spain is more important than the Christmas Day lunch in England but being an Anglo – Spanish family we celebrate them both. On Friday morning I went to do some last minute food shopping for the meals I was finally going to be able to eat without dieting after 3 months of complete sacrifice. I woke up that morning and weighed myself and was delighted to find I weighed just 65.7 kilos, 12 less since I started in September this year and an amazing 21 less since September last year. I had decided to break my diet from Christmas Eve in the evening till Boxing Day night and I felt a little nervous about the prospect.

The girls with their Grandfather on Christmas Eve.

We had dinner early at about 8.30 and shall I tell you what we had prepared? We always have just one course but a spread of things to choose from and some of them are always the same. The food we always make for Christmas Eve is perushki (small Russian pies filled with minced meat, chopped onion and rice), bacon rolls (stuffed with mushrooms, onion, egg and bread crumbs – an English recipe), potato salad (my Russian Grandfather’s recipe: potato, egg, onions, carrots, peas, tuna fish and home-made mayonnaise). We also had a prawn and smoked salmon salad with avocado pear and lastly vol au vent with tuna spread. The dessert was a cream and jam filled sponge cake made Suzy who is turning out to be a little cake expert.

After dinner we had Spanish champagne “cava” and too many chocolates in the lounge. When the oldies (my Father and my Mother-in-law) went to bed, we ourselves fell asleep over the film “The Doubt” with Meryl Streep which was rather disappointing. To be fair, I don’t think we gave it a chance.

The girls and I on Christmas Eve
I love Christmas Eve but I love Christmas Day even more because it was the celebration I was brought up on. Christmas Day at our house is identical to how I have celebrated it always, at my Grandmother’s house and my parents’ house when I was a child and a teenager. We wake up early and the girls have a stocking full of small presents to open. I got most of them at the “stocking filler” section on Marks and Spencers online store. Then we make a special Christmas breakfast. The table is laid with English china, our wedding present, and the fare we eat is a variety of croissants, Danish pastries and other pastries. You can see Olivia here at waiting for us to come to the table.

Oli at the Christmas breakfast table
Once everything has been cleared away, the highlight of the day takes place, the opening of the presents which have been placed under the tree by all of us during the past 2 weeks. The tree was groaning with attractive looking packages because we go more for quantity than quality and the ceremony lasts a long time. Whilst we open the presents, we eat delicious chocolates, preferably Cadburys, of course but we also like Lindt.

My Father on Christmas morning
I was very happy with my presents this year which I am going to record for posterity. I got a pair of brown leather flat boots with laces and elegant long brown leather gloves from Eladio, some short suede fur boots from the girls, from Zara, the type which Grannies used to wear but which are in fashion now, a colourful Desigual thick cardigan/coat from my Father and a long pink woollen dress from H+M (to note size S/XS!!) from Ernestina my Mother-in-law. I also got the wonderful Spanish cookery book called “1080 recetas” (1080 recipes) to replace the one I gave Phil in the summer. I should add here that the person who chose and actually bought most of my presents was Susana who did the work for all the others who would not have had a clue what to get me. I am very fortunate as Susana knows exactly what I like or need or want. Thanks Suzy.

I think everyone else was happy with their presents too. My Father always enjoys the session and gets lots of chocolates which are what he likes best of all.

Eladio and my Father during the present opening session on Christmas Day, one of the happiest moments of the year.
Once the present ceremony is over and everyone is enjoying them, I have to start making our typical English Christmas lunch. Instead of turkey we had capon this year. The trimmings are always the same: brussel sprouts, peas, sage and onion stuffing (thank you Paxo), roast potatoes and gravy, garnished with cranberry sauce (thank you Ocean Spray). Eladio always stuffs the bird and sews it to stop the stuffing coming out when it’s roasting. Dessert is always Christmas pudding with sweet white sauce but this year I burned the pudding because I left it too long in the microwave! I must not forget to mention the importance of crackers at both meals. They can now be found in Spain but I actually ordered them from Marks and Spencers. They contain silly little gadgets but we always love the jokes and read them out at the table.

The rest of the day was spent going for a long walk to work off some of the calories, enjoying the open fire in the TV lounge and watching second-world war films. After so much food and drink, I was worried I would have bad nights and headaches, but very luckily for once it didn’t affect me. This goes to show that I don’t have to rule wine out of my life completely and that is good news.
Our wonderful open fire which always adds cheer at Christmas.
Yesterday was Boxing Day, only celebrated in the UK and Commonwealth countries, I think. So of course we celebrate it here. Nothing much happens apart from continuing to eat the same food that was left over from Christmas but of course you can carry on eating more chocolate and watching films. I went shopping in the morning with the excuse that I needed a petticoat for the pink woollen dress. I got it of course at the El Corte Inglés deparment store but I also indulged in a pair of Armani Jeans, size 42 for the record! I had heard that they were a good fit and I can confirm that. I think I have never had such a good pair before. Suzy joined me there for even more last minute Christmas shopping for Julio and Fátima and we had a nice cup of coffee together at the Hagen Daz café. I should admit we also bought our favourite flavoured ice cream for lunch, strawberry cheesecake and chocolate to have at lunch.

What made Boxing Day special this year was that it coincided with Julio’s annual dinner for our family, and our friend Fátima. Grandpa used to go too but not anymore because he prefers to stay at home in the evenings. Oli, however, chickened out this year and neither Suzy nor I were happy with her for not coming with us. Despite this, we had a great time as always. So once again we were eating and drinking, pulling crackers and opening presents, a bit like a mini Christmas Day.

Eladio and I at Julio's on Boxing Day

Julio and Fátima at Julio's dinner on Boxing Day
And now Christmas is practically over after so much effort and weeks of preparations. But then it is always like that. Of course today is flat compared but at least we have the New Year celebrations to look forward to.   I am back to my Dukan diet of oats, yoghurt, fish, meat and eggs which certainly adds to the flatness I am feeling today.

Meanwhile I wish you all a good week. I also wish you a great 2011 as my next post will be after New Year in January which again I always find flat and difficult to get used to. Don’t you?

Cheers for now, Masha
PS, here is the album of all my Christmas photos

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas social events and shopping, a taste of England, Spanish (Ibérico) hams, another new toy, oh so cold, Norah's new coat and other things.

Norah in her new coat to protect her from the cold.  Isn't she cute?

Hello again

Well it’s less than a week to Christmas now and you know what? I’m nearly ready. The whole week seems to have been dedicated to this year’s Yuletide. On Tuesday I went to my second Christmas event, the Dircom (Spanish association of Communications Directors) annual dinner held at the Museo del Traje (Costume Museum). It was very well patronised and we had the honour of the company of distinguished guests such as the Minister of the Presidency, Ramón Jauregui. His speech was a little disappointing as it was all about the crisis, something I wasn’t too keen to hear about at a Christmas dinner. There were lots of things raffled but I only won a box of water in fancy bottles and believe it or not a device to measure electricity consumption. It is sitting under the tree as one of Eladio’s presents. He’ll be delighted as he’s always telling us to switch off lights, hahaha. The food was great and once again I did not break my diet. You will be happy to hear I intend to do so only on the 24th, the 25th, perhaps Boxing Day and of course on New Year’s Eve. I’m doing very well on that score with just 2 kilos to go.

The invitation to the Dircom Christmas Dinner.

Thursday was my PR Agency, Ketchum’s Christmas lunch which was held at a very fancy restaurant called Ramón Freixa at the Hotel Selenza, a 5 star boutique hotel in the centre of Madrid. The lunch was for Ketchum’s clients and I sat next to my counterparts from Nokia (yes the girl who succeeded me), Ikea and ING. We had lots in common as you can imagine, as we all do the same sort of job. But can you believe that neither the Communications Director of Ikea or ING are into Facebook or Twitter? I suppose I find that strange as I'm such an addict.  But then you know that. The food was even better than at the Dircom event but once again I did not give in to temptation. I took a photo of the tantalising chocolate concoction served as a dessert but did not even touch it.

The wonderful chocolate dessert I didn't eat at the Ketchum Christmas lunch this week

We were about 25 people round a very long table and the lunch went on till past 5 which is rather typical in Spain. You can see a photo here. I am sitting in a red suit on the side, but I actually presided the table but moved places for the picture. The red suit is a story in itself. I bought it at least 10 years ago and have been waiting to fit into it. It is made of thick red felt and has a chic black velvet collar and I love it. I felt a million dollars wearing it to the Ketchum lunch this week as you can imagine.

The Ketchum Christmas lunch this week.  I am in the red suit which you can read about above.

I’ve done a lot of my Christmas shopping online via Amazon.co.uk, Marks and Spencers Online, as well as great little website that sells mobile phone accessories, called Octilus. On Thursday I finally got down to going and buying a Christmas pudding a very essential ingredient for any English Christmas. I went to Pozuelo nearby to an American shop called Taste of America which actually belongs to some friends of mine. That’s where I usually buy it but they had run out. There was a very helpful English lady in the shop who suggested I make my own. When I told her I really didn’t want to she suggested some English shops in Madrid but then suddenly remembered there was one nearby in Pozuelo called just “The Shop”. So I charged off to find it. Remarkably it was there in the middle of the main street, Avda. De Europa. I couldn’t believe my eyes, an English shop in Pozuelo, how convenient. It used to be very difficult to get English products in Spain but not now. When I first came in the late 70’s you couldn’t even find Kellogg’s cereals. I was very lucky to be able to buy the very last pudding they had. Ah and I also got some Mr. Kipling minced pies for my Father who since then has been enjoying one every day. It’s good to know now that not only do I have a “Taste of America” nearby but also a “Taste of England”.

The English shop in Pozuelo where I bought our Christmas pudding, a great little find.

Christmas pudding and minced pies are a staple part of seasonal fare in England but certainly not here. The most favoured corporate gift to receive here is actually a leg of cured ham and there are hams and hams, some good and some bad called Jamón Ibérico. They can cost anything from 80 euros a piece to literally thousands of euros.  Many companies give their employees a hamper or a ham and on Monday I was happy to pick up the Yoigo ham together with 3 bottles of lovely Muga wine. That was the first ham of the week. Susana very proudly brought the second one. She was amazed to be given one at work as she is only a trainee. And blow me when we opened the box we saw it was “pata negra”, the very finest kind to be had. I was lucky enough to receive yet another one from one of our suppliers, so now we have 3 hams at home which will certainly tide us through and past the season. Thank goodness ham is one of the allowed foods on the Dukan Diet.

One of the 3 hams we have received for Christmas so far.

On the subject of corporate gifts I must tell you about the gift I have made from Yoigo this year.  I got the idea from Belén who brought me back from London a box of biscuits in the shape of the typical London monuments, buses and taxis.  There and then I vowed to do the same with the Yoigo dolls for this year's gift.  So with a lot of help from my wonderful events agency QuintaEsencia, this is the end product.  Deliveries started last week and so far I have had nothing but glowing comments.  They look delicious but of course I haven't even tried one.

The Yoigo Christmas biscuits, this year's corporate gift.  
Not only did I shop online and at the English shops, I also went on a serious Christmas shopping expedition yesterday with the girls. First we went to Xanadu and then to Tres Aguas. We had a great morning together, including a coffee break at Starbucks who I think serve rather disappointing coffee. That’s because they gave me a “latte” when I ordered the stronger Spanish version “café con leche”. At Xanadu I finally got to visit the newly opened Apple Store in Spain. Unfortunately I had already bought most of my iPhone accessories online which were not original and I could have kicked myself for not waiting. The store is great but looks like a little corner shop compared to the flagship store we saw near Central Park in New York. After yesterday’s serious Christmas shopping I am now nearly ready with this year’s purchases and have only some minor things left to acquire. Our tree is now groaning with presents as you can see in this lovely picture.

Our Christmas tree groaning with presents and still more to come.  Oh how we love Christmas!

Not only do we have an indoor tree but also one in the garden. Eladio finally put the lights on it this week, so now both the house and garden are festively decorated. Here is a picture Eladio took the other night which should give you an idea of how it looks.

Thanks to Eladio we now have a tree in the garden with Christmas lights

It’s not Christmas yet but I got a new toy this week and I feel so lucky. Last week I told you about the wonderful Samsung Galaxy Tab I was given. Well this week I ordered the mobile phone version, the Samsung Galaxy S and I am loving it. I have always been a Nokia fan and more recently a devotee of the iPhone and I was worried I wouldn’t like the Android (Google) operating system but it’s heavenly. It is better than any Nokia phone I have ever used and certainly on a par with the iPhone. It took me a while to set up as new phones always do. I had to synchronise my Outlook contacts and calendar and download all my favourite applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Spotify and many more and voila it’s up and working. Here you can see both of my new toys, the Samsung Galaxy Senior and its junior counterpart, the Samsung Galaxy S.

My new toy, the Samsung Galaxy S next to the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I am more than equipped now.

The week has been full of Christmas preparations and activities but other things have happened too, so let me tell you about them. One piece of good news is that Julian Assange has been freed on bail, albeit in rather strict conditions. He is now worried he will be extradited to the United States. Let’s hope pressure from the rest of the world will stop that from happening.

Meanwhile here and in most parts of Europe it has been very cold. We haven’t had snow like in England but the temperatures have plummeted. I left the house very early on Wednesday morning and the thermometer on the car marked -4ºc. A bit further away on the road between Boadilla and Pozuelo it was even colder and registered -8ºc as you can see in the photo I took as I was sitting in thick traffic.

It's really cold here this week.  The thermometer on my car registered -8ºc on Wednesday, quite a record.

I have been meaning to buy a coat for darling Norah who sleeps in her kennel just outside the kitchen door. I finally found one for her size (45 cm from neck to tail) on Friday and she took to it immediately. In fact she loves it. And I love her in it. Doesn’t she look cute in this picture that illustrates this week's blog post?

The weekend has been busy with all the shopping of course. Yesterday Eladio and I went out to dinner to La Vaca Argentina, an Argentinian restaurant in Las Rozas and one of our favourites. It was full which is not that usual. I had rung De María in the morning and they were fully booked. So where’s the crisis I ask myself?

La Vaca Argentina where we went for dinner last night, one of our favourite places.

We have our own little car crisis at the moment as the old Alfa Romeo died on us. Since then Eladio has been on the lookout for a second hand car for the girls. It may seem a luxury, 4 cars for 4 people but where we live it is a necessity. He nearly bought a Seat Ibiza this week but the seller suddenly disappeared off the map. This morning he rushed out to go and see a red Seat Córdoba. Very soon he was back with the owner and the car for us all to see. Suzy’s boyfriend, Gaby, who knows lots about cars, was at home and certified the vehicle was in great shape. Eladio made an offer which the man, called Urban, accepted, so, hopefully, the car will be ours sometime next week. Here is a picture of Eladio with the Sea Córdoba outside our house this morning.

The Seat Córdoba Eladio will be buying for the girls this week to replace my old Alfa Romeo.

Whilst Eladio was out, Suzy and Gaby had another little crisis in the kitchen. I don’t how it happened but when I walked in, I found wine and broken glass all over the kitchen floor which took me at least half an hour to clean up as it had got everywhere. In Spain when wine spills, people have a habit of saying “alegría” which means happiness. So let’s hope this spill brings us some more happiness.

A wine and glass crisis in the kitchen this morning.

I should hardly ask for more happiness really as we are fortunate to be a very happy family. That was what I was thinking as we had a lovely family Sunday lunch afterwards where we were joined by the girls’ friend, Juli. Juli is a little sad as he was not really brought up to celebrate Christmas and always finds this period of the year rather difficult.

Next week when I write Christmas day will be over, so in the meanwhile let me wish you all a wonderful Christmas.

Cheers till next week


Sunday, December 12, 2010

December bank holiday, a VIP flying trip to Valencia, Christmas is coming, I need your votes please and lots of other things.

The highlight of my week, the pre public trip to Valencia on the AVE high speed train with Dircom.

Good afternoon my friends,

It’s Sunday again and here I am writing from my lovely desk, trying to get my thoughts together on the run down of this week.  Eladio is clearing the autumn leaves in the garden and my Father is having his siesta.  The girls have gone for a Christmas lunch with Suzy’s University friends.  I must include a photo below of the lovely cake Suzy made for the occasion.  As she’s on my diet, the Dukan diet, she won’t be eating any of it I’m afraid. 

The cake Suzy made today to take to a Christmas lunch with her University friends.

Today is a quiet day for me but not for Kattyand her family who have been in my thoughts all day as today is the day they are leaving the UK to live permanently in New Zealand.  I wish them a good trip and a very happy life there.  I also refuse to believe we will never see them again.  As I wrote on my cousin Katty’s FB wall this morning, their visit to us last month has left a lasting impression and created a bond between the two families that will remain forever.

So yes the week has been quiet.  I left off last Sunday and that evening we went out to dinner with our friends Roberto and MariCarmen to La Vinoteca in nearby Boadilla.  Monday and Wednesday were holidays which actually made the week a bit boring for me especially as we didn’t go away for the bank holiday.  So what did I do all week when I wasn’t working?

On Tuesday I went to have my eyes tested to see if I am suited for an operation.  I am far sighted (hyperopia) but also have presbyopia (the scientific name for losing eye sight as you get older).  I went through 2 hours of tests at the Clínica Aver in the centre of Madrid, including dilating my pupils.  The good news at the end of the tests is that yes I am suited for the operation.  The bad news however, is the cost, the astronomical amount of 5.500 euros.  Had I known the cost beforehand I probably wouldn’t have bothered going.   For the meantime, unfortunately, I shall have to continue to wear my varifocal glasses.  Friends say they look good on me but I hate depending on them so much.

On Wednesday Eladio and I did our first Christmas shopping and chose to go the Centro Oeste shopping centre in Majadahonda.  He really surprised me when he said that both he and my Father had already bought my presents.  Neither of them ever have a clue about buying presents, so unless they got some advice from the girls, I very much doubt that their surprise or surprises will be appreciated.  Just in case, I was able to persuade Eladio to buy me some fashionable laced brown boots which I later wrapped and put under the Christmas tree.  
The Centro Oeste shopping centre in Majadahonda where Eladio and I went Christmas shopping this week

Friday was the absolute highlight of the week as it was the day of the long awaited pre public ride on the new high speed train (Ave) to Valencia and back organised by Dircom, the association of Communications Directors to which I belong.  The train which will come into operation next week takes 1 hour 40 minutes to Valencia, some 391km from the capital.  It certainly has brought Valencia nearer to Madrid.  The downside is the price which people predict to be 80 euros for a single trip.  We left at 12.05 and were in Valencia just after 13.30h.  The Diplomatic Corps in Spain were also on the train and were greeted by the Mayoress of Valencia upon their arrival, the larger than life Rita Barberá.  From the Joaquín Sorolla train station we got onto coaches to take us to the wonderful Hotel Arenas by the Malvarrosa beach.  I had stayed here with Eladio in the summer and have only good things to say about this marvellous hotel.  Lunch, hosted by the hotel, was in the Zeus lounge overlooking the sea and here I had a dilemma. Was I going to break my diet and eat forbidden food, including the tantalising paella?  I debated the idea but soon threw it away and only ate the protein and vegetables leaving the delicious looking rice untouched on my plate. 

Me at the Hotel Arenas in Valencia during the Dircom trip on Friday. It's a great hotel.

At 16.15 we were back on the train, in club class of course, as the occasion determined.  The trip and event were great, the only drawback being I didn’t know anyone.  That’s probably because I don’t go to many of the Dircom events but I think I’ll be going to more in the future, especially if they are as good as the trip on Friday.  We arrived in Madrid at 18.45 and I felt I had been in some sort of dream. Had I really gone to Valencia, had lunch at the Arenas hotel, and come back in such a short space of time?  It really was what one could describe as a flying VIP trip and I’m sure people will prefer the train to the plane once the new Ave starts this  route.  I know I will.

On Friday I did some more Christmas shopping, this time all for me, hahaha.  Before going on the trip I stopped at the Spanish department store, El Corté Inglés, to buy some accessories for my iPhone and new toy (Samsung Galaxy Tab).  They didn’t have everything I wanted but I managed to get a usb hub and card reader for my pc and a car charger as well as an extra pc cable and charger for my iPhone.  Later in the evening I bought the rest online at a wonderful page called Octilus.  Here I ordered a new case for my iPhone and a case, a screen protector and car charger for my Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I have been searching for these accessories for some time so am mighty pleased with the purchases I made on Friday.  I now have a drawer in my desk full of accessories.  I for one, when I look at them, think there could be huge demand for universal accessories.  I wonder if the day will ever come.

If Friday was the absolute highlight of the week, Saturday was definitely the most important day for this family.  Yesterday Olivia took the most crucial exam of her life in an internal promotion with http://www.rtve.es/.  There are just 5 places for reporters and nearly 100 aspirants; so pretty difficult to be one of the lucky people.  The lucky 5 people will get a job for life with Spanish TV.  She has been studying for weeks for this incredibly difficult 5 hour long exam.  The questions were all about general knowledge and the news and were really tricky.  There was a practical part too.  I wish her all the luck in the world.  Oli has always been a good student but the odds are not in her favour.  Meanwhile cross your fingers as her future will be decided by the outcome of this very important exam.  Good luck Oli, “whatever will be, will be” and if it isn’t to be, I know you have a brilliant future ahead whatever the outcome. 

Whilst Oli was preparing for her exam in the morning, Suzy and I went off to Tres Aguas shopping centre.  The excuse was to accompany Suzy who was going to buy two Christmas presents for an “invisible friend” party.  Eladio’s famous last words were “don’t spend anything”!  Well of course I didn’t obey and we went into lots of the shops.  I was very pleased with myself when I tried on a striped long cardigan at HM which looked great on me.  When I looked at the label and discovered it was an “s” I was pleased as punch.  I cannot remember buying an “s” for a long long time.  We also bought tights and leggings, the latter being a first for me.

And finally Christmas came to our home yesterday.  Whilst poor Oli was slaving over her exam, we got Eladio to bring up the Christmas stuff and Suzy and I spent a good part of the afternoon decorating our home.  We think it looks lovely.  It’s very us, a mixture of styles, but very Christmassy.  Now my Father is sitting next to the tree enjoying his cup of tea after the siesta.

Christmas finally arrived at our house yesterday.

As Christmas was arriving at our home, Eladio was out car hunting for a “new” second hand car for the girls.  He fell for one he saw and rang us to say he was coming with the owner to show it to us.  So out Suzy and I came into the street in our “at home” clothes to see the red Seat Ibiza TDI 1.9.  We didn’t have a choice in the matter as he had already made an offer which Ruben, the owner, had accepted.  Suzy and I took it for a short spin and very soon agreed that Eladio had found a great car for the girls. If everything goes ok, it should be theirs by the end of next week.   

Saturday, a very full day, in many ways, was also the social highlight of the week for us.  We had a dinner date with Elena and José Luis.  Elena is my special friend and neighbour to whom I have given lots of moral support in the past two years when she was looking for a job.  Our dinner last night was to celebrate her new position as Communications Director for Thyssen Krupp Europe, Middle East and Africa.  They came to pick us up and we drove to El Plantío where we had dinner at “El Descanso”.  The company was great and the food excellent so I look forward to strengthening this new friendship with more dinners out together in the future.

Lots of things have happened in the news of course.  I was especially interested to read about the Peruvian Spanish Nobel Literature Laureate for 2010, Mario Vargas Llosa’s time in Stockholm to receive the most prestigious literature prize in the world.  It seems he had a whale of a time and was accompanied by friends and family and thoroughly enjoyed the whole event.  At one stage though he fell when asked to pose in a difficult position for a photograph and on the day of the banquet he lost his voice.  Apparently he thinks he has the body of a young man and the strain of the week and especially the cold took a toll on him.  However he was all smiles throughout but also shed a tear or two, during his lecture, something which even surprised him.  His speech was wonderful, as apart from a great writer, he is also a fantastic orator as I well remember when I organised his Doctor Honoris Causa at the Universidad Europea de Madrid.  In his academic slecture about the importance of fiction for society, he also had time to mention his wife, Patricia and here is where he cried and the rest of the world, including myself, with him.  He had not allowed her to read the speech beforehand, and of course, when she heard what he said about her, she understood why.  And this is what he said (in Spanish)."Ella hace todo y todo lo hace bien", administra la economía, pone orden en el caos, mantiene a raya a los periodistas y a los intrusos, defiende mi tiempo, decide las citas y los viajes, hace y deshace las maletas, y es tan generosa que, hasta cuando cree que me riñe, me hace el mejor de los elogios: 'Mario, para lo único que tú sirves es para escribir".  Roughly translated this is: “She does everything and she does everything well, she looks after the money, she keeps the house in order, she keeps the press and the undesired away, she defends my time, decides what appointments and trips to make, she packs and unpacks the luggage and is so generous, that even when she tells me off, she makes the best compliment possible and says “Mario, the only thing you are capable of doing is writing”.

Mario Vargas Llosa who made a wonderful speech for his Nobel Prize in Literature.  The words about his wife brought tears to many people's eyes, including his own and mine.  What a charismatic man!

The other news of great interest this week also has to do with Sweden.  You will have been following the WikiLeaks affair I mentioned in last week’s blog.  Julian Assange, the founder and editor, was not only wanted by the US authorities but he was also wanted by the Swedish judiciary for apparent sex crimes committed in Stockholm in the summer.  On Tuesday he was arrested in Great Britain and is now sitting in Wandsworth prison.  So what is his crime you may ask?  I asked myself the same question and found the answer in a very good article in the Daily Mail describing exactly what happened.  Apparently the sex he had with two Swedish girls was forced but read on here and judge for yourselves whether you really think he deserves to be sitting in prison.  I certainly don’t.

And in the news here in Spain, here is something which affects my work and for which I would ask for your help.  It is a survey in http://www.eleconomista.es/ to find the best CEO in each sector.  If you click on this link and scroll down to the bottom you will find a section entitled "¿Quién es el mejor directivo del sector de las tecnologías y telecomunicaciones?" (Who is the best boss in the technology and telecommunications sector).  All you have to do is vote for Johan Andsjö by ticking his name and pressing “votar”.  Thanks my friends!

Now I have come to the end of this week’s blog post. Christmas is now on its way and this week coming I have two seasonal events to attend.  You will be able to read about them and other things next Sunday.  Meanwhile I hope you all have a great week.

Cheers Masha

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Reunions, an anniversary, a new toy, a metro hero, Spain in a state of alert, the story of WikiLeaks and more.

With Javier and Xavi (pink shirt) at the Motorola Christmas dinner this week

Hi again,

Well yes it’s Sunday again and, in Spain at least, the beginning of a very long bank holiday to celebrate the Constitution and the Immaculate Conception. Suzy has gone off to Asturias with Gaby in a fun red jeep his boss lent him.
Suzy and Gaby off to Asturias in a red jeep yesterday. It was a surprise trip for Suzy

It was a surprise overnight trip for my daughter who only knew where she was going when they got on the motorway. And it was to Asturias in the north of Spain to a small village called Langreo in Ciaño, at least a 6 hour drive. They stayed at a charming little hotel called Peña L’Agua. If you look in the website you can even see the room they slept in called Las Mimosas.
The hotel Peña L'agua in Ciaño Asturias where Suzy and Gaby stayed last night

We have stayed at home, unusual you will say, but then we can’t always be travelling and it’s nice to lounge around at home and get rid of the week’s stress. In actual fact it’s quite a good thing we didn’t buy air tickets to go anywhere as we would have been grounded because of the wild cat air traffic controller strike which held the country to hostage on Friday and Saturday, but more about that later. We went out to dinner last night to De Brasa y Puchero in Boadilla on our own. I thought it was going to be with Elena and her husband José Luis but mixed up the dates in my diary. So I have a dinner date with them next week now to look forward to.

My week was full of reunions and an anniversary and I love reunions. Also we had the visit of my dear brother-in-law Andrés who came to see two second hand BMW X3 cars. His visit  on Monday coincided with the Barça Madrid derby league match which disappointingly we couldn’t watch as it was only on pay TV. It was probably a good job actually as Barcelona beat Madrid a humiliating 5-0.

The first reunion was on Tuesday  when I had lunch with my ex Nokia girlfriends, Susana, Jill, Zenaida, Ana, Fátima and Juana. We went to De María, a great place but getting a bit pricey, in Majadahonda. Of course we all gossiped about how the company and our ex colleagues were doing and exchanged juicy rumours. It was great to see you girls, you are looking great!

Reunion Christmas lunch with my ex Nokia women colleagues this week

My second reunion was with another ex Nokia colleague whom I hadn’t seen since I left the company. It was great to see Carlos L.A., now Apple Iberia Country Manager for iPhone business. I couldn’t think of a better person for the job. Well done Carlos. It was great to see you too on Thursday. There is a lot of life outside that inferno as many of us have discovered.

The last reunion was a long planned Christmas dinner with my ex Motorola colleagues at Viancco in El Zielo shopping centre in Pozuelo. It was snowing on the way as it has been a lot in Spain this week but it didn’t settle. I got there at 9 on the dot and greeted other early arrivals, Nacho, Ignacio, Ruben and three Javiers, if you count Xavier. People were still arriving after 10 and we didn’t sit down to eat till very late. The restaurant was Italian and there was hardly anything I could eat on the menu so I ordered a salad and some meat which never came. I recognised nearly everyone but was sad not to see some missing people. Fátima who had promised to come never turned up but then that is not unusual in her. I sat next to Xavi and Javier and on the other side were Nuria, Juan Luis and Ruben. Most of the night we were laughing about early day Motorola episodes and could hardly believe 20 years had passed since we all started at our school of mobile telephony. Of about 30 of us at the dinner on Thursday only 3 still work for Motorola which tells a story in itself. Nowadays most of us are still in the sector, some of us at mobile phone operators and others at different mobile phone manufacturers. When we worked for Motorola it was the biggest brand in mobile phones. Today it is a shadow of what it was. The sector has transformed dramatically since we all started in the early 90’s. Here is a photo of me with Xavi (in a pink shirt) and Javier. I was feeling and looking great with my improved figure and wore my new Desigual t-shirt for the occasion. Here is the link to the rest of the photos of that great night.

One of the many fun moments during the ex Motorola Christmas dinner this week.

1st December was Yoigo’s 4th anniversary and we all went offsite to celebrate but also to present the staff with the results of the Yoigo 2015 project which will go live at the beginning of next year. The management team did 4 presentations in teams of 2. I was paired up with Juan Manuel and we had the exciting topic of values, mission and vision to present. We did a dialogue style presentation and had some pretty zappy slides, thanks to a lot of external help from Bea and Cristina. Thanks girls, the effort was well worth it. At lunch we were visited by our Yoigo “muñecos” (dolls) who brought on the giant birthday cake. Again they caused a sensation as they are very spectacular. Here is the group photo of all us outside the Hotel Rafael together with the “muñecos”. Ah by the way, that day we all learned a new word: “effisimplarency” which has a lot to do with our future. We registered the word in Wikipedia but unfortunately it was turned down.

The Yoigo employees on 1st December, our 4th anniversay, together with the Yoigo dolls (muñecos)

At the event we were all given a new toy, a Christmas present from Samsung, the new Galaxy Tab, the iPad rival. We were also given a free internet connection, the idea being to become more familiar with data. It didn’t take me long to unpack it and get started and I am now hooked. It’s smaller than the iPad but it has a big plus, it’s also a telephone.

My wonderful new toy, a Christmas present from Samsung to all the Yoigo employees.

Me at my desk at home.  The first picture taken with my new toy, the Samsung Galaxy Tab

So lots of events, but I’ve been good with my diet as I have been from the very start at the end of September. I’ve now lost nearly 11 kilos since then and have only 3 kilos to go!! When I am motivated I have the will power to do anything. My worry is will I be able to sustain it? I sincerely hope so and will definitely try harder this time, although Christmas will be a challenge. Meanwhile I am enjoying my new figure and am forever buying clothes at the little boutique near here; lots of woollen pinafore dresses which are so in fashion and also warm for this cold weather. I also bought some great flat heeld black Wonders boots to wear with my pinafore dresses. Instead of thinking about my next meal I now think about the clothes I am going to wear the next day. Suzy says I’m obsessed. Maybe, but it’s working and I’m so happy.

Whilst I was having my encounters a lot of things happened in the world. On Thursday the FIFA announced the countries to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, Russia and Qatar respectively. England and Spain were competing and were upset to lose and I was too for them. It is evident, but not in the rules, that the countries which have never hosted the event have more chances of winning. In a sort of sour grape attitude, the press here and in England said it was oil and petrol money which had been the winner. Maybe, who knows?

The piece of news I liked best this week was one of heroic action. It happened on Friday at the Puerta del Angel metro station in Madrid and the whole episode was caught on the security cameras and has now been viewed the world over. A man lost his balance and fell on the rails. People were in alarm and of course a train could have come in any moment. Suddenly a man jumped to the rescue and pulled the victim away to safety just as an incoming train was about to run him over. Later we heard that the hero was a young off duty policeman called Angel who didn’t think twice before he jumped. He has only been in the police force for a couple of months but explained that he was trained to act like that and that he jumped to the rescue instinctively. He will be awarded a medal but I wonder who the victim was and why he lost his balance, or rather why he didn’t try to get up when he fell over. Was he attempting suicide? Eladio remarked to me today that you never read about suicides in the media here and that there is probably an unwritten agreement not to report on them. I wonder if that is true. You can see the video of what happened here, if you haven’t already seen it. It’s breathtaking.

The heroic rescue at the Madrid metro on Friday

That was the piece of news I liked. The news I didn’t like was the wild cat strike of the Spanish air traffic controllers which halted practically all air traffic in Spain from Friday evening until yesterday afternoon causing havoc. Air traffic controllers work only 30 hours a week and can earn between 200.000 and 1.000.000 euros a year and are becoming famous in Spain for their discontent and consequent disruption. “There is not a lot of sympathy for them in a country with 20% unemployment” to quote the Daily Telegraph correspondent in Madrid. The government had to take very firm measures and unbelievably declared a “state of alert”, literally militarising this group of people. In a state of alert if they didn’t work they could have been sent to prison. So they had no option but to be marched back to their posts and get on with it. The wild cat strike started at the beginning of the bank holiday stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers. I feel very sorry for all of them but thankful that for once we were not travelling anywhere. Things are gradually getting back to normal but this is an episode which won’t be forgotten easily.

The Iberia fleet of planes grounded this weekend because of the air traffic controllers wild cat strike

On an international level, the episode which will never be forgotten and is the biggest news item in all media is the story of WikiLeaks and how Spc. Bradley Manning, described as a 22 year old “public homosexual activist” downloaded and released classified information to the now famous website, as a a way to get back at the United States military over its policy regarding homosexuality. WikiLeaks (the site may not be available anymore but you will find it on Facebook) then released the more than 250.000 copies of the U.S. diplomatic cables with candid assessments of world leaders and secret details of nuclear and antiterrorism activity to the world’s leading newspapers. Politico.com says this “represents the most embarrassing and potentially damaging disclosure of American diplomatic material in decades”. The editor and spokesperson of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is in hiding, as probably the most wanted person in the USA. He is not just wanted for the releasing of the documents. To make the story even more film material and juicy, he is also wanted in questioning for sex crimes. I would not like to be in this man’s shoes at the moment.

Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor and spokesman

I have now come to the end of this week’s blog. I have a quiet week ahead with a holiday on Monday and Wednesday. Despite the bank holiday, or “puente” (bridge) as it is called here I’ll be working because I have a lot of preparations for the Yoigo Christmas activities. As for our own Christmas preparations, it is still early days.

That’s it for this week then folks. Hope you have a good week and have enjoyed the post,

See you next week,