Sunday, November 28, 2010

A cold week in November, lunch with Alex, an invitation, a mistake, North Korea attacks South Korea, and other things

The AVE, the Spanish high speed train.  I have an  invitation for a premiere ride on the new Madrid Valencia route

Hi again

Another week has passed and it is now just a month till Christmas. I have felt a bit flat since the lovely Kiwi family left. I have a nasty cold and the temperatures are pretty low at the moment, although we are not expecting the snow falls that have hit the British Isles. I continue on my drastic diet and have had good news and bad news on the scales. However I now look much betterand feel happy with my new shape and receive compliments wherever I go which motivate me to continue. And continue I will although I must admit I’m a bit fed up of only eating oat flakes, skimmed milk, eggs, ham, chicken, steak and yoghurts with vegetables only every other day. As a fellow Dukanian Marta said, “this diet makes a tomato feel like haute cuisine. Today I can eat vegetables, hurray!

The week has been normal with very few highlights. One was lunch with my dear ex colleague Alex Good at El Buey on Wednesday and whom I hadn’t seen for maybe 4 years. We go back a long way, to the Motorola days in the early 90’s and both learned our trade and profession there with a host of other wonderful, and some not so wonderful, colleagues. We talked about them all of course, who is doing what, who has just lost a job or who has got a new one. We reminisced too about some of the memorable events we experienced together, like getting blind drunk in Almeria during a cycling race or staying up all night in Milan after a Champions League match, touting extra tickets at another Champions League match in Dortmund and many etceteras. Alex was definitely one of my favourite colleagues. Next week I’m going to the ex Motorola Christmas dinner and look forward to seeing many more of my old colleagues although unfortunately Alex can’t make it.

The other highlight was a lovely invitation from Dircom (Spanish association of Communications Directors). I get lots of boring invitations from this association but this one was different and I accepted immediately. None less than the Chairman of Renfe (Spanish railways) had invited us to a premiere ride on the new high speed train route from Madrid to Valencia and back which officially opens on 18th December. We leave on 10th December at 12.05 and arrive at Valencia at 13.40. From there we will be going for a “Valencian lunch” (oh dear probably paella which goes against my diet rules) to that great hotel, Arenas Spa resort, where I stayed with Eladio in the summer. With the opening of this new route, Spain apparently is the country with the most kilometres of high velocity track, or so the Spanish Minister claims. For a nearly 400 km distance, 1.5h is very fast. The only downside about the AVE (the name for the high speed train) is the cost which in many cases is higher than travelling by plane.

The invitation I received from the President of Renfe to take a premiere ride on the Madrid Valencia high speed route

Apart from these highlights the week has been busy with preparations for the Yoigo Christmas activities and other things. I went into the office 3 times, quite a record for me. At home we continue to go on our lovely walks but more often in the mornings if we can because it gets dark so early in the evenings. I must share with you this amazing photo I took last night from my balcony. It was just after dusk and the sky was remarkably red. You probably know the expression, “red sky at night shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning shepherds’ warning” which I learned from my Father when I was a child and have never forgotten. True to the adage, this morning the sky was sunny and we enjoyed a wonderful crisp and cold autumn walk. I must add, though, that we had to change our route a bit as there were hunters shooting for rabbits on our usual path and we did not want to get shot.

The beautiful red sky as seen from my balcony yesterday

Norah adores our walk but gets very excited if a vehicle, be that a bike or a car, comes past, especially a motor bike. She even barked at an extremely old lady as we walked up the hill this morning. Norah is a very excitable beagle dog. She has turned two this month. Finally she has come to relative peace with our frightened cats, Joe and Phoebe. I couldn’t resist taking this picture of all three of them the other day on the terrace outside the lounge in which the cats are begging to come in to have their food whilst Norah looks on. If I leave them outside too long, they both begin to jump up and down. Phoebe’s acrobatics especially amaze us and I think she could win a competition for the heights she reaches against the glass French doors, desperate to get in.

Our 3 pets finally tolerate each other, Norah our dog and Joe (black) and Phoebe (white) our cats

On the personal side I think I made a mistake this week. I had an appointment with the hairdresser to dye my roots and cut my hair. The girls advised me very strongly to change the colour of my hair from very light blonde to a couple of shades darker, to my own colour. I have had it light blonde for many years so thought it wouldn’t hurt to take their advice. However, when I saw the result I was most alarmed and really didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I was told the more I washed it the lighter it would get so I have washed it now nearly every day and it has got a bit lighter but only a bit. I can’t get used to the colour. Some people say it makes me look older and some say it makes me look younger. The former is probably true, therefore next time I go I think I will return to the previous colour. So yes, I made a big mistake this week which I rather regret.

On the news front, the most important happening of the week was when North Korea attacked the South Korean island of Yeonpueong. Both countries who were at war in the 50’s have never signed a peace treaty so Monday’s attack was quite worrying to the international community. communist North Korea which has one of the strictest regimes in the world, claimed its neighbour had provoked them by carrying out military manoeuvres near or in their territory. The world will be watching closely and will be further worried in the knowledge that communist North Korea is now a nuclear threat.

The attack by North Korea on the South Korean island of Yeonpueong was big news this week.

The weekend has been quiet too but has also had its highlights. Yesterday, Saturday, the girls and their friend Juli had a cultural morning visiting Madrid’s museum of modern art, the Reina Sofia which had an open doors event over the weekend to celebrate its 20th anniversary. Here is a picture of Oli enjoying one of the exhibits.

Oli yesterday at the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art in Madrid
Both girls at the Reina Sofia, Suzy on the left in grey and Oli on the right in brown.

Whilst they were returning I was driving to the Kinépolis Cinema centre in Pozuelo to go The Phone House annual convention where Yoigo would be presenting a really great fun video for the 400 or so shop managers attending. We took along our Yoigo giant “muñecos” (dolls) which caused an absolute sensation with people taking lots of photos. I must admit they are very impressive. At the convention I was happy to meet up with two more ex Motorola colleagues, Carlos Grima and Carlos Cortés both of whom work for The Phone House, and see other familiar faces. Both of them will be at the dinner coming up next week.

With the Yoigo "muñecos" (dolls) at The Phone House convention yesterday.  They caused a sensation.

I had another social event afterwards in the evening, dinner at José Antonio and Dolores’ flat in Madrid, where we used to live of course. For clarification sake, although I’m sure you know, José Antonio is Eladio’s next brother down. Sara was there as were Juan and his girlfriend Cristina. The only person missing from the family was Miguel who was alone in Montrondo with their dog Nuba. We hadn’t been to their house for a meal since February, far too long ago if you consider how close we are. It was great to be together again. We must do it more often. But then that’s easier said than done I’m afraid.

Who will be finishing a very exciting weekend is the world's number one tennis player, Spain’s Rafa Nadal. He is playing at the ATP Masters’ finals in London and has won all the matches so far.   Today he meets his eternal rival, Roger Federer, always a tough challenge, at 18h in the final of the "finals". I hope he wins of course.

Nadal at the Masters' finals in London this weekend.  Today he meets Federer in the final.  I hope he wins of course.

Spanish sport will be in the headlines tomorrow and the next day too but this time because of the Barcelona vs.Madrid league match, often called “el clásico” here. Their encounters generate enormous interest not only here but in many parts of the world and I heard the other day that the match had even been publicized in the United States. It is being held tomorrow Monday instead of today because of the Catalán local elections taking place now. If I’m frank, and I think I’m not alone in saying this, I’m more interested in the results of the match than in the elections but then I never really was a fan of politics as you probably can guess.

Next week is going to be busy. I look forward to an ex Nokia girly lunch on Tuesday and the ex Motorola dinner on Thursday. We shall also be expecting the visit of my brother-in-law Andrés who is coming to Madrid in search of a good second hand BMW X3. It will be fun to see him as it always is.

And that, my friends, is it for this week.

Hope you have a great week. All the best


Sunday, November 21, 2010

A family reunited, farewell Katty, Tony, Luc, Sam and Ruby. We will never forget you.

Luc, Ruby in the flamenco dress and darling Sam, Katty and Tony's children, our new found family

Hi again

This week has been truly memorable for us and for my Father and I especially because this week we received the wonderful visit of my cousin Katty, her New Zealander husband Tony, a quantity surveyor and their delightful children, Luc (9), Sam (6) and little angel Ruby (2). But before I go into detail let me tell you about the run up to their visit, so as to keep a chronological order as I always try to do in my blog. After all this is supposed to be a diary.

On Wednesday I went away with the Management Team to a small hotel tucked away just outside the village of Roa near Burgos in the prestigious wine making area Ribera del Duero. It’s about 2 hours away from Madrid. We stayed at the Raiz Hotel owned by one our distributors which can only be described as the perfect location if you want to get away from it all.

The Raiz Hotel in Roa, Burgos, a great place to get away from it all.

Here we were looked after by Myriam Jimeno Calleja, a young and successful sommelier who served up great food that because of my diet I was hardly able to taste. So no delicious suckling lamb or fried pig 's ear for me I'm afraid. The hotel also has a great winery called Páramo de Guzmán where we were given a fantastic wine tasting session at the hands of one of Spain’s best sommeliers, Luis Miguel Martínez. I would have loved to drink all the glasses put in front of me but just couldn’t because of my diet but also because wine no longer seems to agree with me which is awfully sad. The get away with the team was great and very productive but it was rather frustrating not to be able to enjoy any of the local gastronomy.

The wine tasting session which I couldn't enjoy:-(

We returned the next day after lunch and I was very eager to come home because Katty and her family had already arrived the night before in my absence. I had left them in the capable hands of Eladio and my Father but I was just dying for us all to be together. As I drove home I began to feel the emotion of meeting up with my newly found family and that emotion remained throughout their visit as we all bonded, each and every one of us on both sides of the family. It was amazing.

You probably know I don’t have much family. On my Father’s side I only really have him now. On my Mother’s side I have 4 cousins who are dispersed around the world and one of them is Zuka, Katty’s Mother who although she was born in France now lives in England. Zuka is the daughter of my Uncle Kolya (Nicholas), my Mother’s beloved younger brother who after the war lived and died in Paris where his wife, my Aunt and Katty’s Grandmother, Valya still lives. I had seen Katty twice in my life only and this visit to our house was to be the third occasion and the occasion we would become firm friends and family for life. My Father on the other hand knew Katty much better as she would often visit him and my Mother when she was young. Katty was very much attached to them both and was extremely happy to see him again as I’m sure he was too. The sad thing is that Katty and her family who have lived in England (Bolton in Lancashire) for the last 7 years are now returning to live permanently in New Zealand. Before they left however they wanted to see more of Europe, so 4 months ago they embarked on an incredible adventure. They bought a second hand camper van and took off with their children to visit places like Belgium, Holland, Germany, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Spain. When they reached us this week they were on the last leg of their journey.

Katty and Tony's wonderful camper van in which they have travelled round Europe for 4 months with their children

When I walked into my house on Thursday to meet them I immediately recognised Katty as she looks just like her Mother Zuka. Luc and Ruby also have similar traits with the same smile and teeth as my dearest Dydya (uncle in Russian) Kolya. They all called me "Aunty Masha", a true honour for me and something that felt really good.  Aunty Masha for me was my Mother's adored sister and it was nice to be called the same as her.  Katty and I immediately made a cup of tea and sat down and quickly tried to catch up on our lives and both of us were very soon in tears telling some of the sadder stories: the death of her dear Father Bruce, the death of my brother George and then his sweet and sad Serbian wife Sanya. We cried many times over the weekend but we also laughed and had an intensely happy time together. This morning when Katty and I went food shopping for their departure, we managed a last cup of coffee together and vowed never to lose touch. I also told Katty that I recognised myself in her in that we have very similar personalities and an identical joie de vivre and she totally agreed.

Katty and I, happy cousins reunited.

So let me tell you what we all got up to. On Thursday night I managed to organise a family dinner with no one missing. We even had some extra guests as Olivia and Susana’s newly-wed friends, Merce and Josema from Yecla in Murcia were also staying. That meant we were all of 11 for dinner. Olga made a massive meal so I think no one went hungry. The chatting round the table was fantastic with so much to talk about. I brought in the fruit and realised I was serving my newly found “Kiwi” family kiwis which made us all laugh. The children, the boys at least, are amazingly well brought up or at least we thought so as we were probably comparing them to the average typically badly behaved Spanish children. So when Luc and Sam asked if they could leave the table we could hardly believe our ears.  They repeated the request after every meal and the words were a joy to hear. 

The families reunited

On Friday I took the day off and accompanied Katty, Tony and little Ruby to Madrid to see the sights, or at least that was the intention. The boys preferred to stay behind watching dvds and chilling out in the big house which must have been a nice change for them after so long in the caravan. We left the car at the train station and took the metro into Puerta del Sol.

Katty and Tony with baby Ruby and her inseparable doggy toy on the metro going into Madrid.

I managed to show them the Kilómetro 0, the centre of the country where all roads are measured from in Spain but that’s about where the tourism ended as clothes shopping seemed to be high on their list of priorities.

The Kilometre 0 in Madrid at Puerta del Sol.  The centre of Spain and where all roads are measured from.

Well I didn’t mind at all as I’m game to buying lots of new clothes for my now slimmer figure. Tony didn’t seem that keen but soon got into the swing of it at the men’s section of Zara. Ruby on the other hand got rather tired, unsurprisingly (well she is only 2)  as you can see in this photo of her asleep in the dressing room.

Ruby flat out in the Desigual changing room

Our next stop was the Catalán designer store Desigual and we happened to enter the biggest one in the world in Plaza Callao. Here both Katty and Tony had a field day. After probably 2 hours there I had to drag them away to lunch nearby at De María with a promise to return afterwards. They had discovered Desigual in Barcelona before coming to stay with us and now Katty is seriously thinking of setting up a franchise store in New Zealand where Desigual still hasn’t landed. All in all I think we spent 3 hours in the place. Here you can see them coming out of the shop with all their purchases which now have to fit into their camper van!

Tony and Katty leaving Desigual after 3 hours shopping there!

Determined to show them something of Madrid we walked up the Preciados street (the most commercial  one in Spain or so they say) to Puerta del Sol again. The place had livened up enormously and was full of people buying and selling the “El Gordo” Christmas lottery tickets. There were street bustlers of all kinds and even a live Mexican Mariachi band. From here I dragged them to the Plaza Mayor past all sorts of fun living statues until we came to the beautiful square. Once again shopping prevailed and rather than exploring the square we went into a souvenir shop to buy football t-shirts for the boys and more importantly a wonderful flamenco dress and matching red and black shoes for little Ruby. She would not take them off after trying them on and was thus an immediate hit with our fellow travellers on the metro back.

Ruby in la Puerta del Sol in Madrid this weekend.

Once home, Eladio was waiting to take Tony to the Barber’s. Katty and I had our own plans, a little bit of clothes shopping at the small boutique near home where I always seem to find lovely pieces for a song. Here Katty and I had our own field day and found lots of things we just loved. We even bought the same dress, just as Kathy and I had in the summer. That night I wore it for our dinner at La Txitxarrería in Pozuelo, again the same place we took Kathy and Phil.

My happy cousin with her lovely New Zealander husband Tony at La Txitxarreria with us in Pozuelo on Friday night.

On Saturday morning we had a bit of added fun when 2 beagle dogs visited us. The gate was open because Katty and Tony were clearing out the camper van, so in they walked. Norah was utterly knocked out which had us all in stitches. It happened just as Merce and Josema were leaving. It was a kind of nice bedlam moment you don’t often experience. Poor Norah felt a bit left out of all our fun actually because the children were rather frightened of her. However towards the end some sort of reconciliation took place and soon she was walking through the kitchen to her favourite place, the cats’ food bowl and the kids didn’t even notice her anymore.

A bit of bedlam happened when 2 beagles visited Norah.  She was a bit stunned.

We had a great family day yesterday. After the beagle visit, the boys went off to a games arcade and we girls went shopping (yes shopping again!); Katty, Ruby, Oli, Suzy and I. We went  to the nearby Tres Aguas shopping centre where we all seemed to be concentrated on buying boots. There was also time for a coffee and for Ruby to go on all the kiddy attractions in sight. After a super speedy lunch for 10 (thanks Olga again) we all went off to the zoo, recommended to me by Juana where we hadn't been for years. We wanted to go out with our lovely new found kiwi family and of course we all love animals so the zoo was a great idea all round. Well I love four legged ones but  I’m not keen on birds and fish and absolutely detest reptiles and insects. November is not the best month to visit the zoo but thankfully the sun shone. We were limited by time because it closes at 6 but it also gets dark then. So Eladio and Olivia grabbed the zoo map and we charged behind them to follow the African route which we all thought has the most important animals; the lions and the tigers, the leopards, etc. 

We couldn't resist this photocall at the zoo.

Of course we made a detour at the Chinese section to see the zoo’s main attraction, the twin male panda cubs which were born in September after artificial insemination. I think they are the only panda cubs to be born in captivity outside China. They are still in an incubator but were a lovely sight.

The attraction of Madrid's zoo, the twin male panda cubs born in September.

In the evening we had a final dinner together and again we had 2 extra guests; this time Rocío and Juli. Dear Rocío brought us a beautiful red Christmas plant and Juli did most of the washing up so their contribution was much appreciated.

And today we had to say our goodbyes after a very long morning of preparations. I couldn’t persuade them to stay any longer, mostly because Katty has a doctor’s appointment in Biarritz on Wednesday. I spent a lot of the morning on my computer downloading and copying photos for them and did something dreadful by deleting half of them permanently. I then had to download some software to recover them. All of this took me ages as well as  precious time  from being with them which was quite frustrating. Equally frustrating is that all the photos I took of them just before they left are unreadable for some stupid reason. This now means I don’t have the family portraits. Hopefully Katty can send me the similar ones they took on their camera.

The goodbyes were very emotional but a bit of fun too as at the last minute Oli had the ingenious idea of getting out some of the wigs we have in our fancy dress chest. You should have seen Ruby in green wings and a pink curly wig! The fun could not last as they had to go. Both Katty and I cried which got dear Luc crying too. I had a huge hugging session with both Luc and Sam and made them promise never to forget us. I am not their Mother so can openly say that Sam was my favourite. He is such a special sensitive child with the most beautiful little face imaginable. Just before he left he gave Oli a little toy vehicle and said it was for us never to forget him. How could ever we forget such an adorable little boy?

Sam who captured our hearts so much.

Just as I am writing this I have received a text from Katty on their way to Burgos to say they have left behind Ruby’s “essential accessories”, her doggy soft toy and blanket, both of which she cannot sleep without. I will be sending them to Paris but hopefully meanwhile she can be persuaded to live without them.

And so the lovely kiwi family who came to see us, departed in equal haste and we have all been left in a very empty emotional state. The family with their children had filled the house with joy and it feels now so  forlorn without them.

Now we have been reunited it seems so unfair to be separated again and New Zealand is so far away; a 36 hours flight they tell us! We shall just have to save up and go and visit them one day in the not too distant future before these charming children grow up. Thank goodness for Facebook through which I can keep up with their lives, albeit at a very virtual distance.  I wish them a wonderful future and will carry them forever in my heart. Goodbye darling vivacious beautiful Katty, Tony, Luc, little Sam and princess Ruby. Thank you for touching our hearts.  Please don't forget us either now that we have found you.

Au revoir

PS Here is the full selection of photos of their visit (minus the ones which are unreadable) and also a charming video of the 3 children.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Another holiday, Morocco in the news, a hand written letter, the Alfa Romeo died, dinner at El Viejo Almacén de Buenos Aires, friends in Bombay and the world rejoices at the release of San-Suu-Kyi

Dinner at El Viejo Almacén de Buenos Aires this week with Gerardo, Irene and Tomas.

Hi again my friends.

From this week’s title of news, you probably think we have been on holiday again. But that’s not the case. I was actually referring to the Bank Holiday this Tuesday celebrated in Madrid in honour of the city’s patron saint, La Almudena. Many people took Monday off also to make what Spaniards call a “Puente” or bridge - a sort of long bank holiday.

I didn’t though and went off site inspecting in Madrid with the girls from my events agency, QuintaEsencia. We were looking for a venue for the Yoigo Christmas party. They took me to see a few discotheques but truth to say I hate them and so challenged them to look for places with a view or at least some windows, not an easy task as most places are already fully booked for Christmas events. Finally we came up with the Real Café Bernabeu which overlooks the  impressive Real Madrid stadium and thus will do a football themed  party for Christmas.  We had lunch there to try out the food and it was good.

The Real Madrid stadium as seen from the Real Café Bernabeu

But Tuesday was of course a holiday for me. The highlights of my day were taking more clothes to be made smaller (that makes me so happy) and picking up my M+S parcel  from the post office with the stocking fillers for the girls that I had ordered. Tuesday’s main news on the international front had to do with deadly clashes caused by Moroccan forces as they tried to break up a Western Sahara protest camp against Moroccan rule near Laayoune; a disputed region in the area. Laayoune is a city in Western Sahara founded by the Spanish in 1928. It has been administered by Morocco since 1976 and is claimed by both the Polisario who call it the “Occupied Territories” as well as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic party as their capital.

Laayoune in Western Sahara, scene of great violence this week.

At least 5 people were killed and probably more as well as dozens injured. Little news has been able to come through because the Moroccan Government will not let the press in and are making it especially difficult for the Spanish journalists. Of course it is big news here in Spain because of the heritage of the area. Furthermore there is huge criticism of the Government for not denouncing the violence. Most probably this is because it prefers to keep the already tense relations with this neighbouring country from worsening.

The Western Sahara clashes this week between the extremely violent Moroccan forces and the Saharawi protesters

In my lunch with Marta on Wednesday, our conversation did not focus on this issue, but rather on catching up on our own news. Marta and I coincided at Nokia in the early part of this decade but have never lost touch completely. This lunch was a real reunion though as we hadn’t seen each other for nearly 2 years. Marta wanted to ask my advice on communications and events, topics she now heads up at Aegon, the insurance company she works for. My new figure caught her attention and when I explained how the Dukan diet worked, she obviously got inspired as she later went to buy the book and has already started the diet. Suzy, my daughter, also started it on Wednesday and lost 2 kilos in 3 days! Now I have an ally at home to follow the diet and compare notes. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked well for me this week, despite a huge effort and the scales today told the same story as last Sunday. Oh well, all I can do is persevere.

Wednesday was what you could also call a “red letter day”, in that I received a beautifully handwritten letter and post cards from my ex school friend Kathy. Her handwriting is so clear and neat, she could win a prize in this category. My Father who is an ex school teacher remarked it was the best handwriting he had ever seen. I don’t receive hand written letters often, a sign, of course of our times, so it was a lovely surprise when Kathy’s parcel arrived enclosing some Rioja brochures we had lent them in the summer. The post cards were from Kettlewell, a delightful village in the Dales, and Norwich, that town in England which means so much to me because of our stays there summer after summer when I was a teenager and accompanied my parents and Aunty Masha to the Norwich Russian courses. Thanks Kathy, it was lovely to receive your parcel and beautiful letter.

It was lovely to receive a beautifully hand written letter and post cards from Kathy and Phil this week
Thursday and Friday were not good days in many respects and mostly because of cars. Eladio had taken my old Alfa Romeo for its MOT, the one I inherited from my job with Motorola and the car that Olivia uses these days. It is 14 years old and didn’t pass so Eladio took it to the garage to mend. On Thursday we got the bad news that it was not worth repairing anymore. Thus we heaved our shoulders knowing this meant we would have to buy another car; probably a second hand one. We now have 3 cars for 4 drivers which may seem a luxury but isn’t if you know where we live, far from the city and tucked away in the suburbs. and we all need our full mobility independence. Olivia therefore had to use Eladio’s Volvo S60, my old Nokia car that Eladio loves so much and had the misfortune of crashing it on Friday whilst trying to park in our garage. As the Volvo is only insured for third parties, that will probably mean a hefty 1000 euros to repair the damage, which of course is more bad news for us. This happened just as we were getting ready to go out to dinner last night. To top all the bad news I then went and dropped the nail polish I was using and it splashed all over the bathroom floor. It was probably the nerves of the moment but that sort of finished me off for the day.

Luckily I had to put on a good face for the dinner and we were able to make light of our misfortunes over the table at the Argentinian restaurant, El Viejo Almacén de Buenos Aires, with our friends Gerardo, Irene and Tomas. There we had a great dinner together, including live singing and tango dancing. I have to confess I broke my diet and drank a glass of wine. All would have been well but misfortune struck again as I woke up with a huge migraine at 4 in the morning and was sick over and over again until there was nothing left inside. me. I have had a few of these episodes in the last few years but never learn that wine can have that effect on me. The next morning I made a vow not to drink wine for a long time. I consulted “Dr. Google” later about the migraines being caused by red wine and it seems it’s because of the additives, such as sulphite. Friends on Facebook have recommended organic wine. I will certainly try it.

Dinner at El Viejo Almacén de Buenos Aires with Gerardo, Irene and Tomas this week was a treat

On Saturday while we were at home, our dear Indian friend Sumit was hosting my colleague, Belén and her partner Rodrigo in Mumbai. I hesitate there as I was brought up to call it Bombay. Belén and Rodrigo are touring India and probably loving it. One stop was in Mumbai and I arranged for them to meet Sumit who I knew would be the perfect host. They went out to dinner together and judging by the pictures posted by them on Facebook they had lovely Indian food. Here is a picture of the three of them together. Thanks Sumit for looking after my friends in India.  I would have loved to have been with you.

I would have loved to have dinner with Belén and Rodrigo who were hosted by our delightful Indian friend Sumit in Bombay this weekend.

The biggest news yesterday came from an area not so far from where they were. It was the release of the Nobel Peace Laureate San-Suu-Kyi, after 7 years of house arrest in Myanmar, Burma. As she stepped out, she greeted thousands of supporters and promised to continue to fight for human rights and democracy in the military ruled country. Previously she had been imprisoned for many years and it is thanks to continued international pressure that she has finally been released. Many people rejoiced yesterday at the release of San-Suu-Kyi, sometimes called the Burmese Mandela and I was one of them.

The famous Burmese activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate San-Suu-Kyi who was finally released from house arrest

Today is Sunday. The girls have had their own agenda as usual. The weather has been awful but we bared it to join Eladio’s ex colleague Marivi in San Lorenzo de El Escorial where she has recently bought a second home. We were accompanied by her friends Isabel, a fellow teacher and Teresa, a physiotherapist. Lunch was at a lovely old inn called La Fonda de Genara where the food was delicious, quite cheap and served very quickly. The weather wasn’t good enough to enjoy the surrounding countryside so we walked quickly in the rain to visit Marivi’s new residence and of course enjoy after lunch coffee together. It is located right in the centre of the old town and even has a view of the very imposing monastery built by Philip II. It’s a treasure of a place and no doubt we shall be returning often, but probably when the weather gets better.

Lunch in San Lorenzo de El Escorial today with Marivi, Isabel and Teresa at La Fonda de Genara

It was not a good day for Fernando Alonso, the Spanish F1 driver. He was leading the general classification but had to drive his very best at the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi today to win it. Unfortunately he came in 7th and lost the overall classification and came second to Sebastian Wettel of Germany who has now become the youngest driver ever to win the Formula One. Red Bull’s Marc Webber will be equally disappointed as he lost all his chances too when he had to withdraw during the race. You can see the full results here.

And now I’m at the end of this week’s blog post. Before I sign off I must wish a very happy 40th birthday to Juana today. I hope you all have a great week ahead of you. I will be going to Roa in Burgos to a winery which is very ironic if you have read my latest experiences with wine above. And on Thursday or Friday we will be having some very important visitors. My second cousin, Katty (Zuka’s daughter – Zuka being the daughter of my Mother’s brother Nicholas (or Kolya) will be coming to stay with all her family: husband Tony and small children Luc, Sam and Ruby. They are travelling all round Europe in their camper van before finally returning in December to Tony’s native land and Spain’s antipodes; New Zealand. We very much look forward to having them and of course you will read all about their visit in next week’s post.

This week we look forward to hosting my cousin Katty, her husband Tony and children Luc, Sam and Ruby

Meanwhile, all the best


Sunday, November 07, 2010

A confession from Felipe González, a quiet week, remember remember the 5th of December, an air crash in Cuba and remembering Aunty Gloria. A Papal visit, a Bahai wedding and a dog that adopted a piglet.

Aunty Gloria, my wonderful Aunt who died so tragically in an air crash with all her family in 1971

Hello again

I am writing to you this sunny Sunday morning in November after reading the papers and being astonished by the confession made my Felipe González in an interview with El País. He was the charismatic longest serving Prime Minister of Spain from 1982 to 1996. In the interview he admitted he had the opportunity once to blow up the ETA terrorist leaders. He said he didn’t do it in the end but is still not sure his decision was correct. I wonder too as they are still one of Spain’s major problems. It is a suspected fact that the German government did blow up the leaders of their terrorist group, Baader Meinhof, and I am sure Felipe González had that in mind when he was faced with the decision.

Felipe González, Spain's longest serving Prime Minister

The week as you can see in this week’s headline has been very quiet, a bit too quiet for my liking. It has been a bit uphill in many ways probably because of a lack of anything much to do. Plus the Dukan diet I am following is proving difficult. Finally though today the efforts of this week have paid off and I have now lost a total of 7 kilos. You need an awful lot of discipline and above all an iron will power to succeed with this diet. It’s no easy task I can tell you.

The excitement of the week came with an invitation to Oslo in mid December for a Communications Team Meeting. I haven’t been there since I was a teenager on inter rail and I don’t remember much. I am hoping Eladio can join me and we can spend an extra couple of days together. It will be cold but Christmassy and I much look forward to it.

Some Christmas excitement came too with the delivery of my latest Marks and Spencer online order of 6 boxes of 12 crackers each as well as wrapping paper and present labels. Good old Marks and Sparks, that’s probably one of the main things I miss from not living in the UK. I am not so happy though with Recently they announced free delivery to Spain for orders over 25 pounds and promised deliveries would take from 3-7 working days. I immediately took advantage and ordered 6 books (including the Dukan diet book) on 16th October. I have been waiting for them eagerly only to see yesterday on the site that they haven’t even been despatched yet. Rather disappointed I tried to find a number to call them. It’s well hidden on their site but then only works for UK customers. Further agitated I tried leaving comments on their FB and Twitter sites to complain but there has been no reaction yet. Obviously their customer care service is very lacking and I for the moment am a disappointed customer.

More excitement came from my visit to the dentist but this time the excitement was not pleasant. Dr. Garralda extracted two roots from my mouth where eventually he will be putting in two implants. The timing was not good either as it was just before lunch on Thursday meaning I could only have cold liquid food for lunch and dinner! But thanks to gazpacho and yoghurt I survived. Luckily I am responding well and was able to have lunch out with the girls on Friday when we went to De María in Majadahonda and I was able to get one side of my teeth into a nice piece of steak with salad.

Actually Friday was the most important day of this week. In the first place it was 5th November, the traditional English Guy Fawkes day, something I also miss from not living in England and something I haven’t celebrated since I was a child. My friend Kathy reported on FB that they had baked potatoes with melted butter, steeped peas, sticky sausages, pork pies with mint sauce, I imagine with fireworks in the garden. I would have loved to have been there as I have fond memories of Bonfire night, as it also called, when I was a child in Bradford. In those days we didn’t celebrate Halloween, just Mischief Night on the 4th November (the night Guy Fawkes was caught implementing his plot to blow up the British Parliament) but the big celebration was on the 5th. I love the rhyme which I have never forgotten and which goes like this: “Remember remember the 5th November, gun powder, treason and plot, I see no reason why gun powder, treason should ever be forgot”.

Bonfire Night in England, a tradition I sorely miss

Funnily enough this year, the Indian Diwali festival (5 day festival of lights) was on the same day as Guy Fawkes and I thought of our Indian friends Sandeep and Sumit. Last year the girls were in India, staying at their home town of Chandigarh and were able to experience this amazing festival first hand. This year my friend and colleague, Belén and her partner are there right now and will also have witnessed it first hand. Great thanks go to Sumit for accepting to be their reference point when they visit Mumbai where he works as a script writer for Bollywood films.

The Diwali Festival of light was on the same day as Guy Fawkes day this year.

On Friday there was a terrible air crash in Cuba killing all 68 people on board. It was flying from Santiago de Cuba to Havana and 28 of the passengers were foreigners, probably tourists, including one Spaniard.

Every time I read or hear about an air crash I remember our own personal tragedy. I think I have only written about it once so now is the time to record it properly. On 23rd May 1971, my own family, Aunty Gloria, my Father’s only sister, her husband Uncle Derek and their children, my cousins, Jackqueline (aged 12), Michael (aged 9) and Anthony Orchard (aged 7) perished whilst landing in former Yugoslavia, in Rijeka (Croatia) on a Russian Tupolev aircraft having flown out from Gatwick airport. It was a terrible tragedy, a whole family gone in one sweep. We heard the news on the television. We knew they were going there on holiday, their first trip abroad together but we didn’t know when. Of course my Father rang them but got no answer. The next morning, I heard later, my Father received a phone call with the terrible news. My mother told me later that when he put the phone down he said: “now I only have you left”. My grandmother had just died a few months before and ironically Aunty Gloria and her family were actually able to go on holiday because they no longer had to look after her and probably because they had inherited some money.

They chose Yugoslavia, or rather the Island of Krk, because that is where they fell in love. As the papers reported, cuttings of which my Father gave to me only very recently, “Derek Orchard met and fell in love with his wife Gloria, 14 years ago, on the sunny island of Krk. They died taking their three children on a “second honeymoon” to see “daddy and mummy’s island”.

My cousins were amongst the many children who died in the aircrash, Jacqueline, Michael and Anthony Orchard.

With their death my Father had lost his whole family. First he lost his fun loving and mechanically able younger brother Raymond who died of polio when he was just 15 in the 30's.  He lost his equally fun loving and charismatic Father, my grandfather, an English canon, John Lloyd, who died of a stroke after a fall on his walk when he was only in his early 70’s. Then after his Mother, Dorothy Gertrude Lloyd, died in 1970 in her 70’s too he was to be met one more terrible blow with the death of his adored sister Gloria and her family in that terrible air crash in Yugoslavia 37 years ago.

My Father's brother Raymond just before he died aged 16 of polio in the 30s. 

I dearly loved Aunty Gloria and my cousins. They were our closest family and we would spend every Christmas with them in Ickenham where they lived. We would go on lovely outings together to places such as Burnham Beeches, Windsor or to the city of London. In the evenings we would have English tea with jam sandwiches in their very English dining room and later we would play monopoly. I always remember their address: 18 Ivy House Road. We would travel to London, to Kings Cross by train from Bradford and then take the metropolitan tube line to Ickenham. From Ickenham station it was a short walk and you could see Ivy House Road from a distance as you walked towards their house. I will never forget how we all (my Father, my Mother and my brother George) took that journey for the last time, to their funeral and how walking up the road, somewhere in my mind I hoped they would still be at their home in Ivy House Road but they weren’t.

I will never forget either the funeral at St. Giles Church in Ickenham. The place was absolutely packed and I could hardly find a seat. I know I must have cried all the way through. Aunty Gloria and her family were very active members of that church and it was a big part of their social life. They were to be missed of course but also their death was a big event in the life of the small town of Ickenham in Middlesex, just outside London.

St. Giles church in Ickenham where Aunty Gloria and her family are buried

After the funeral we went into the empty house and I walked upstairs to Jackqueline’s bedroom, my closest cousin. I was 14 when she died and she was just 12 and it felt so unfair that she would never live her life through as I thought I would. I saw her hairbrush and took some hair from it which I kept in a locket around my neck for many years. I know that my Father stayed on in the house on his own for many hours that night and it must have been terrible.

I went back once to visit their grave.  It was in May 2001 when I was in London for my own brother George's funeral.  I remember searching all over the St. Gile's churchyard together with Eladio desperate to find the little plaque which had been overgrown with moss.  Finally I found it and bent down to look.  At the time I did not remember the exact date they had died.  I looked and saw 23rd May 1971.  The day I looked was 23rd May 2001, exactly 30 years ago to the day.  It was very uncanny.

In amongst the file of letters and newspaper cuttings, I found the last letter Aunty Gloria ever wrote to my Father, one I will keep forever. Here is last side of it where you can read how they were frantically preparing for that fatal trip to Yugoslavia. I carry them in my heart and have missed them over the years, missed my cousins growing up with me and wondering what they would have done in life if they had lived. But most of all I miss my wonderful Aunty Gloria who I looked up to so much when I was a teenager. She was small and of slender stature, dark haired and a very no nonsense sort of person. She was very active, had a sense of fun and was very practical. She played the piano, played tennis and was in the ATS (The Auxiliary Territorial Service)  in the Second World War where she was a chauffeur to high up military staff. She had the sort of family values which seem to be dying out these days and above all I loved her and wish I had known her better. This is my tribute to her. The Cuban air crash brought back the very vivid memories of this tragedy, one I will and cannot ever forget.

Aunty Gloria's last letter to my Father before she met her tragic death with her family in Yugoslavia in 1971

Aunty Gloria, a practicing member of the Church of England, would not have been very interested to know that Pope Benedict XVI was visiting Spain this weekend. He landed in Santiago de Compostela yesterday and today is in Barcelona. I myself feel a little indifferent to his visit. I find the man very uncharismatic compared to  Pope John II but also cannot relate to the Catholic Church in a positive way after the issue of child abuse at the hands of poedophile clergy in Ireland and other countries and which has still not been resolved properly. I find the paraphernalia around his visit rather disturbing, the huge security needed and of course the cost involved somewhat indecent in these unstable financial times. I read somewhere that people who lived around the cathedrals he will be visiting had to have passes to go into their own homes, something I find quite unacceptable. Other people, of course will be delighted, which I fully respect.

The Pope in Spain today consecrating Gaudi's Sagrada Family unfinished cathedral

And from the Papal visit, the next topic of my blog reports on a Bahá’i wedding that took place yesterday. Olivia’s close school friend Miad, of Iranian origin, got married yesterday and Olivia was invited. In fact she was also invited to read this lovely Bahá’i marriage prayer which I helped her to practice before leaving. The marriage took place at an estate in Aranjuez in the south of Madrid. Not really knowing what a Bahá’i wedding is like, I looked it up on internet and was surprised to read that it is very simple. There are only 3 things to be respected and everything else is up to the bride and groom’s imagination. These are 1) permission from the parents to marry, 2) a short vow: "We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.", 3) this vow must be taken in front of two witnesses. I was happy to read too that Bahá’i marriages are founded on the equality of women and men. During the wedding yesterday, Miad’s father, who is a violinist in the RTVE symphony orchestra, played some lovely pieces, accompanied by a piano including one of my favourite Russian songs, “black eyes”. Otherwise the wedding was not very different from other weddings. Olivia did remark though that there was no alcohol, something the Bahá’is do not drink. Gosh, imagine a wedding without “booze”.

Oli and Begoña with Miad (in purple) in Israel last year.  It was Miad's wedding yesterday

Whilst Oli was getting ready to go the wedding yesterday, Suzy was packing to go to Lisbon with her boyfriend. They will be there until Tuesday which is a holiday in Madrid, to honour the Patron Saint, “La Almudena”. I love Lisbon and haven’t been for many years. Maybe that could be one of our next weekend break destinations. Who knows?

I am now at the end of this week’s post. So before I end, let me include a piece of news I found very amusing and also rather tender this week. It was reported on Spanish television and the BBC picked it up too. In Extremadura, in the west of the country where most of the good Spanish ham comes from, there was a story about a piglet called Bingo who must have lost its mother to the slaughter house. Amazingly it was adopted by the farm dog Diana, and joined its litter of puppies. You can see the incredibly video here. I couldn’t find any photos anywhere, so took a shot from the video to illustrate this part of my blog. Fascinating and cute don’t you think? Well certainly it is unusual.

The Spanish farm dog Diana who adopted an orphan piglet in Extramdura this week

Well that’s it for this week folks. Hope you have enjoyed the post.

All the best till next week