Sunday, May 30, 2010

The last week in May, storms, news from abroad and more.

The rainbow after the storm.  View from  our bedroom on Friday.
Hi again

Today is the last Sunday in May and summer is in the offing. It is hot again, although we have had thunder storms this week bringing a few showers. I never like rain but must admit I love rainbows like the one I saw from the terrace in our bedroom on Friday and which illustrates this post.

The volcano called Pacaya which erupted in Guatemala this week.
It has been raining too in Guatemala. In fact a powerful tropical storm called Agatha struck the country and added to disruption caused by the erupting volcano called Pacaya.

News from countries we have been to always strike me more than those I haven’t and as Oli was in Guatemala this time last year I was more interested than normal. She will be on her travels again tomorrow. She is going to Brazil for 12 days with her friend Cristina to be with Laura who has been travelling around Latin America for the last 3 months. I keep telling her how dangerous Brazil is and of course it is so I hope they have a safe journey and time there. They will be joined by Gerardo, Laura’s brother so at least there will be one man with them which should make them slightly safer. They are flying to Rio de Janeiro and then bussing it to Salvador de Bahía. How exciting. Brazil is the country I had planned to go to for a year when I first met Eladio and because of him I never got to go. In a way, Oli is following in my footsteps.

The news that made most impact on me this week, apart from the Spanish Parliament’s vote to pass the new bill for austere cut backs to help decrease Spain’s enormous foreign debt, came from abroad, from my old home town Bradford in West Yorkshire England. It brought back terrible memories too of the infamous Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, who lived very near our home. He was convicted of killing 13 women in 1981 over a span of quite a few years. I very well remember when he killed his last victim, a student of French at Leeds University where my Mother taught Russian. I was living in the area then and studying in Leeds and on the train back to Bradford each day I would look at the men around me wondering if one of them was the Ripper. I remember one headline warning women not to trust their fathers, brothers or husbands. Those were very frightening times.

The grim Magistrates' Court in Bradford where Stephen Griffiths was on trial this week accused of the murder of 3 prostitutes in a  case very similar to the Yorkshire Ripper of the 70's and early 80's.
This week has brought terror back to Bradford in a similar case to the Ripper’s. This time an evil man called Stephen Griffiths has been accused of murdering 3 prostitutes. When asked what his name was in the Bradford Magistrates’ Court, he answered: “The Crossbow Cannibal”, in reference to the method of killing he used. I don’t want to put his picture here to sully my blog but have decided to include a picture of the very grim Bradford Courts which also bring back not too good memories of that rather dark and depressing city. My father has fond memories of Bradford,  his 40 years in Yorkshire and his teaching years at Bradford Boys Grammar School. My fond memories are not of the city but rather the outskirts: the Yorkshire Dales, the Moors and pretty towns like Ilkley and Harrogate.

The week, for me has been quite uneventful.  Eladio was invigilating University exams all week from 08.30 to 20.30h and the house felt empty without him. At least I had Suzy to keep me company to have a cup of tea with in the afternoons. I went into the office 3 times for an interview, a very technical meeting about frequencies, a coaching session and on Wednesday for a Yoigo Morning. We hold the latter every 2 or 3 months and I organise them. They are get-togethers with the staff to update people on how the business is dong. Newcomers get the chance to introduce themselves and this time we had a guest speaker from Facebook Spain. My hidden agenda was to get more people to use the Facebook employee page and it worked. The Yoigo Morning this week coincided with the opening of our recently reformed cafeteria which I imagine will be the envy of anyone visiting who does not work at Yoigo. It has been doubled in size and includes a caterer from outside, Viena Capellanes, a fully equipped kitchen, vending machines and a leisure area including hammocks for resting, a dartboard, billiards, a wii games console and even table football. There is a chill out area too, so all very Silicon Valley and more than anybody could hope for in a company cafeteria.
The wii games console in the newly renovated cafeteria at work this week which is not unlike one you may see in Silicon Valley
Soon it was Friday and the weekend. Eladio and I had a very enjoyable dinner at Tony Romas in Majadahonda, one of our favourites we hadn’t been to for a long time. Norah is very happy we went as we brought back all the rib bones which are sitting nicely in a Tupperware in the fridge to give her as a treat occasionally.

On Saturday the girls left early for Yecla. They were going to Merce’s wedding and returning the same day. Suzy had slept just one hour so thankfully Oli drove. They were back last night very late with tales of a nice provincial wedding. They had, though, missed the church part. I think this was the first wedding of someone in their circle. It will be probably be the first of many.

Without them the house was empty. Of note on our walk yesterday we came across huge bags of rubble someone had dumped on the path. This is so typical in Spain. When I was a child there was a campaign called “Keep Britain Tidy” so it is impossible for me to throw anything in the street and I hate the way people do here. They tend to keep the interiors impeccable, i.e. their houses, because they belong to them. But no one seems to care about the exteriors because they don’t belong to anyone in particular. In England it's actually often the other way round!  I must admit I prefer cleanliness inside and outside. Eladio took a photo and later sent an email to the Town Council. I wonder whether it will do any good.

The rubbish on our walk which Eladio reported in an email to the town council.  Will they remove it?  I wonder.
Yesterday, Saturday, was the Eurovision Song Contest for which I lost any interest many years ago. It is just not the same as when I was a kid. Now there are far too many countries and the voting seems completely biased and has no credibility. Countries vote for the countries around them. Spain of course never does very well and surprisingly the UK came last this year. I used to at least like the voting part in English and French but even that has lost its magic. So I had to wait till this morning to find out that Germany had won. The singer was 19 year old Lena Meyer-Landrut and the song is called Satellite. She’s very pretty and the song nothing special. I really prefer the songs of the 70’s and 80’s to the ones contesting today.  But maybe that's a sign of my age.

Lena Meyer-Landrut, the 19 year old girl from Germany who won this year's Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Satellite".
Today has been a typical Sunday at home which I am enjoying after the last 2 weekends away in Valencia and Montrondo. Over 3 hours of it was spent making a very British Sunday roast lamb with all the trimmings including mint sauce which everybody appreciated, especially my Father. But before that I had spent an hour after breakfast preparing a picnic basket for Oli who was going to have it with her new beau somewhere for lunch today. As I prepared it I realised I was contributing to or nurturing young love, a very laudable thing for a Mother to do.

And now when I publish this I look forward to finishing my book by the pool with a cup of tea and who knows, I may even take my first dip of the year. Tonight Roberto and Mari Carmen will be coming to join us on our walk after which we will probably be going out to dinner somewhere near; all in all a lovely Sunday.

And that, my friends, is the end of this week’s blog post. I hope you all have a great week.

Cheers Masha

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Birthdays and Russian food, Puppies and a weekend in Montrondo

Oli blowing out the candles at one of her multiple birthday parties.
 Hi again.

I’m two days late with my blog and so must apologise. That always happens when we go away for weekends I’m afraid and we have been away yet again, to Montrondo this time but more about that later.

Just after I wrote my last post it was my dear friend Julio’s birthday. He won’t be reading this though as he’s not a one for blogging or facebooking and is certainly missing out on the social media revolution. I came across this link the other day and was fascinated to see the statistics.

1. Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old

2. 96% of them have joined a social network

3. Facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S.

4. Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web

5. 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media

6. Years to Reach 50 million Users: Radio (38 Years), TV (13 Years), Internet (4 Years), iPod (3 Years)…

7. Facebook added over 200 million users in less than a year

8. iPhone applications hit 1 billion in 9 months.

These are just some. The rest you can read here. As a colleague commented when she read them; “unbelievable and fantastic, it makes me feel lucky to be taking part in it”. I feel just the same but I know Julio doesn’t. I hope however he had a great birthday. We were supposed to have lunch to celebrate but it didn’t work out. Fátima cancelled at the last minute which rather annoyed me as I am such a stickler with my diary. The reason was a last minute conference call. To tell you the truth there is nothing I hate more than conference calls. I find them absolutely useless and avoid them as much as possible. What bugs me about them is so many people talking at the same time and not knowing when to interrupt or who is there. But they are the norm these days with so many virtual teams in the corporate world.

The week actually began with a bang and here I am writing something pretty personal but then again not to include it would make our family history rather incomplete. So here goes. On Monday evening Suzy announced she had broken up with her boyfriend Gaby with whom she has been going out for 5 years. She broke up with him 2 years ago but within a fortnight they were back together. But this time it seems it’s for real. I am not going to write my opinion here as this is her story and not mine. I am, though,  very sorry for him as he loved her to bits and is a very good guy. Now a new chapter starts in Suzy’s life and I hope, of course, that all goes well for her. But wow that was big news in our house. I spoke to her yesterday and reflected that maybe Oli and her see us as role models in their relationships as we are so united and they maybe want to imitate us. Possibly, possibly ....

After the bang, the rest of the week, at least for me, was pretty quiet. The highlights were lunch with a journalist from El Mundo and my boss at a great little place called El Chaflán and a meeting with the people behind Facebook Spain. That was revealing and fascinating for someone like me who is so addicted to Facebook. They have more than 400 million users in the world (about half in the US and the most of the other half in Europe) and some 10 million users in Spain. 48% are men and 52% are women. For so many “customers” they are a very lean organisation, just some 1.500 people with small offices opening all around the world. I wanted to know how to grow our Yoigo fan page (now called “like”) and hear about successful case studies.

A few years ago my dream job would have been with Google, today my ambition would probably be with Facebook. However there is no company where I would get such good work conditions as in Yoigo so I am definitely staying put and enjoying it too. It continually surprises me to see how well Yoigo is doing and growing. Every month we are the leaders in portability (people who change operators) and in the first 3 months of this year we have garnered some 47% of all new subscriptions in Spain. The other day I got a very motivating private message on Facebook from someone who works for the competition which I took as a real compliment:: “Vi los resultados de Yoigo. Quería darte la enhorabuena porque soy de los que piensa que la competencia es sana para todo el mundo. En el fondo, es lo mejor que puede pasarle a España. Un abrazo”
The Yoigo "muñecos" or cartoon dolls that are part of our image
Another highlight of the week had to do with food. It’s no secret that I adore it but then I wonder who does not. So, nothing to be ashamed about as it’s one of life’s biggest pleasures as I’m sure you will all agree. The food in question was Russian. There are some Russian dishes which I associate with my childhood and which my Mother made and bring back lovely memories, and one of these is Borsch. It is a soup made of fresh beetroot, cabbage, potatoes and meat and you eat it with smetana (sour cream) and dill. We had some recently in New York at the Russian Tea Room and so I decided to ask our Ukranian home help, Zena, if she knew how to make it. The question was rather silly as of course she does as borsch is just as popular there as in Russia. So I asked her to make some for us and along she came last Wednesday with a big Tupperware full of it plus some real smetana. I had my doubts it would be as good as my Mother’s but it turned out to be nearly as good. My father, Eladio and I ate it for 3 days running but unfortunately the girls, who have not been brought up on it, didn’t want to try what they called “the red soup” which Suzy said tasted a bit “earthy”. I loved it and will be asking Zena to make us some more another time.

Borsch.  Russian soup made of beetroot, cabbage, potatoes and meat and served with smetana and dill.  Delicious
Zena also makes pelmeni for us (sort of Russian ravioli) and so I got some out of the deep freeze to have after the borsch. Needless to say we polished that off too within a couple of days but this time just between my Father and I, as Eladio is not too keen. Pasta is not his thing.
Pelmeni, perhaps my favourite Russian dish.  A sort of ravioli cooked in butter and served with smetana and dill
The end of the week brought a nasty summer cold with it, not at all welcome and highly unusual for me. That was on Thursday so on Friday I thought I ought to see the doctor before heading off to Montrondo for the weekend, just in case it was something more. I went to a local clinic and was attended by an Argentinian equivalent of a GP who took no notice of my cold but started doing a complete check up which took me by surprise. My only conclusion is that the clinic was after my “business”, i.e. sending me off for tests in return for payment from my medical insurance company. I was furious and will not be going back and of course will not be doing the tests. I wonder how widespread this is. Luckily the cold is better now and one of the remedies came from my sister-in-law, Dolores, who gave me hot water with lemon and honey which was much better than anything the doctor prescribed me! Thanks Dolores.

Saturday brought with it another birthday, but not just any birthday. It was Oli’s 25th. Yeah, a quarter of a century! Every time the girls have a birthday I think back to the day they were born and wonder at how many years have passed by. It should make me feel “old” and it does at times. However the other day I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for many years: Pablo Antón, the ex Manager of the Once, a top Spanish cycling team. He looked at me and asked whether I had made a pact with the devil as I was looking so good. I hope he was sincere. I feel good so maybe I look good. That’s how it usually works. Who did look superb though on Saturday was my beautiful daughter Olivia whom you can’t beat for looks.
Oli at breakfast on her birthday on Saturday.  A radiant 25 year old.
She had many celebrations to mark the quarter of a century, the first being a party with her friends from work last weekend when we were in Valencia. As you can see in the photo it was a fancy dress event. I gather Norah also had a great time.

Oli with her friends from work at the first birthday celebration last week.
Her birthday was actually last Saturday and it started off with a family breakfast: churros, croissants, Nutella; all the naughty but nice things. This was when we gave her her pressies and cards.
The family birthday breakfast on Saturday.
That day she had two more celebrations. The first was a lunchtime party for her old school friends. I grabbed this photo from Facebook of the group of them, some I hadn’t seen since they left school.

Oli with her school friends who came for a birthday lunch party on Saturday. 
The last party was on Saturday night and was mainly for Oli and Suzy’s mutual friends. Here is a great photo of Suzy with Erika, her lovely half Swedish friend from school. They have both grown into stunning young women and it makes me happy to see their friendship just as strong as ever.
Erika and Suzy at one of Oli's birthday parties.
As you can imagine a lot of cooking went on. Suzy being the cake expert must have made at least 5 cakes for the 3 occasions. I also grabbed this photo from Facebook of Suzy putting the finishing touches to one of the dishes.

Suzy preparing tons of food for Oli's birthday parties.
So obviously a good time was had by all. Hopefully there won’t be any more parties for a while. Or is that wishful thinking in this house I wonder.

Meanwhile Eladio and I went off to Montrondo to attend the anniversary mass for his father Antonio. Dolores, my sister-in-law came with us which made the journey there quite jolly (what an old fashioned word!). We stopped, of course, en route at Rueda for a bite of wonderful ham and white wine at Palacio de Bornos where we always stop, come rain or shine so to speak.

On Saturday we spent the day with Dolores, José Antonio and Sara and their delightful new puppies who are an acquisition of Miguel’s. Miguel is planning on going to live in Montrondo and work from there and also try his hand as a farmer. There are plans for sheep, goats, a horse, a donkey and chickens. I fell in love equally with little Nesca, a very lively three month old mongrel and dear Nuba also a mongrel. Nuba spent two days on my lap sleeping peacefully whilst Nesca caused a riot wherever she went.

Nesca in Montrondo, one of Miguel's delightful new puppies.

Me  darling little Nuba, the other puppy Miguel got  for his new life in Montrondo.
We were joined on Sunday by the rest of the family; all the “grown-ups” and some of the “children”: Marta and Ministro, Mario, Roberto and Ana and their new baby Diana who is a darling and the centre of the family’s attention.
4 month old Diana, the newest member of the family.
The funeral mass was at midday in the church in Montrondo and all the usual people were there. Of course we all visited the cemetery and the scene below of the family placing flowers on my father-in-law’s grave looks like something straight out of an Almodóvar film.

Placing flowers on my father-in-law's grave just before the memorial mass for him this Sunday in Montrondo. 
On top of the puppies we had Trébol, Pili’s family’s latest acquisition, a wonderful six month old dalmation who along with Diana is also the centre of attention.
Some of the women in the family with Diana the new baby, Trébol the dalmation and Nuba the little puppy.
After a family lunch the afternoon was spent leisurely for some and less so for others. Some of us slept a siesta, some of us read, the dogs played and others cut the grass and even felled a tree.

We left in the evening and stopped again at Rueda to buy some nice white wine to stock up our ever growing wine collection.

Eladio loading the car with wine in Rueda on our way back from Montrondo this weekend.
You can see the full selection of photos of this weekend here.

When we got home, it was nice to greet Suzy and Oli’s friend Julia or Jules as they call her, their Austrian friend who lives in Barcelona and who they met on the Nokia N-Gage tour some 8 years ago.  Great to see you again Jules.

Oli with Julia, the girls' Austrian friend who was here this weekend for the birthday celebrations too.
We also came home to a burst pipe so had to switch off the water but of course I secretly switched it on again to deal with the washing up and have a long needed shower until our plumber fixed it yesterday.

This week has begun on a new footing. Eladio is away everyday this week as he is invigilating exams at the Uned (equivalent of the Open University). He is always here so it’s strange to face each day without him. He goes very early and comes back late. However he’s back on time for our evening walk which is now getting later and later as it so hot and of course light until nearly 10. I’ll leave you with this great picture I took on one of our walks recently with Norah and where you can appreciate the colour in the fields from the wild flowers which make them a sight to see. You can see more pictures of our walk here on Facebook.

Eladio and Norah on one of our walks recently.  The fields are filled with wild flowers which make them a sight for sore eyes.
And that my friends, is the end of this week’s blog post which I hope you enjoy. Cheers till next week.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Britain’s accidental revolution, remembering George, a trip to Valencia and good news for Spanish sport.

Arroz Señoret, a great rice dish from Valencia and one we tried in El Palmar.  Spain is the second biggest rice producer in the world after China.
Hi again

When I last wrote England had a hung parliament as none of the candidates in the very recent general elections had a clear majority. What has happened since is what the Economist termed this week as “Britain’s accidental revolution”. The conservatives lead by David Cameron had the most votes but needed support from the minority parties in order to govern. After many negotiations, a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats lead by Nick Clegg, the most popular leader of this party in recent years, was finally announced last week. David Cameron was to be Prime Minister (they youngest by the way in two centuries!”) and Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister. To quote the latter, “before we were rivals and now we are colleagues”. This is the first coalition government in 65 years and something very unusual in British politics. The new government, according to its new leaders, is to be based on freedom, fairness and responsibility. Let’s hope that’s true.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg shaking hands outside 10 Downing Street to seal the pact of the first Coalition Government in 65 years.
This duo is now being dubbed “Cleggeron, as the media, and I am sure the public at large, me for one, think both men are very alike. They are both the same age: 43, and come from similar privileged backgrounds, look alike, sound alike, have look alike brunette wives and of course wear similar suits. I have a similar feeling to one of the readers in today’s Daily Mail: “I don’t think they really want to work together, they just both want to be in power”. Let’s see how they get on and how this dual leadership deals with what Cameron termed the most terrible economic inheritance any government has ever had to face in clear reference to the legacy left by the outgoing Labour PM Gordon Brown.
Can you tell who is who?  The duo at the helm of the British Government is now known as "Cleggeron"
The news of course has had my Father glued to the BBC. In my childhood I remember my parents watching the TV coverage after voting in the general elections and we would have tea (as in dinner) in front of the “telly” as it was quite an occasion. My mother, an anti communist through and through, would be happy to hear the Conservatives have won after 13 years of Labour. Much to her chagrin, my brother George was a Labour supporter but was often too lazy to vote and I remember her letting him sleep on in the hope that it would be too late for him to get to the polling station!

We always laughed about that at home. Now neither of them is with us anymore and we miss them dearly. On Saturday 15th May, whilst Eladio was sending birthday greetings to his brother Isidro, I shed a few tears for George who passed away on that same day in 2001, nine years ago. It’s a date I can never forget. As I say every year on his birthday and the anniversary of his death, how can you ever forget your only brother, the golden and talented boy I grew up with, who, through mental illness, threw away all his talent but never lost his charm? I wonder what you would have said about this coalition George as you always used to be so interested in politics.
My Mother and George with me in the 70's in Norwich, now no longer with us. 
Saturday was not a good day for my Father and not just because he will have been remembering and mourning George but because he fell again. Unfortunately he wasn’t wearing his alarm and Suzy found him lying on the floor in the kitchen when she came up for breakfast. Thankfully he didn’t hurt himself but it is quite worrying. He fell again later going down the steps but fortunately Oli was nearby to help him together with their friend Juli. Now he has the alarm round his neck the whole time but we shall have to be more on the look-out. Also we will be taking his blood pressure to see if that is the reason.

Meanwhile Eladio and I were in Valencia. I had to go on a site inspection trip as that is where the Yoigo summer party will be this year. The weather could have been better but the trip was highly successful, much more so than last year in La Rioja, as it turns out there were more venues to choose from for the gala dinner and activities. We went on Thursday and then decided to stay for the weekend. The hotel where we will be staying is the Sidi Saler which is on the Saler beach right in the middle of the Albufera national park which I had never really been to.

Me on the Saler beach in Valencia
The Albufera fresh water lagoon (one of Spain’s biggest lakes) is the area where most of Spain’s rice is grown and I was to learn that Spain is actually the second biggest producer of rice in the world after China. The Albufera is also home to what is known as the orchard of Valencia (la huerta valenciana) and you can see orange trees everywhere.
Me on the boat ride on the Albufera Lagoon
Not surprisingly the famous rice dishes, commonly known as paella, come from this region and boy are they good. We tried a dish called “arroz señoret” at a lovely little restaurant called L’Establiment in the small village of El Palmar in the heart of the Albufera. The picture is the one illustrating this post. We liked it so much we had it again at the hotel the next day.

All I knew about La Albufera is what I learned many years ago in a book by the famous Valencian author, Vicente Blasco Ibañez, called La Barraca. I was to see the famous thatched room Barracas (village huts) for the first time at the shores of the Albufera waterways this weekend where we took the boat trip you can see in the photo above, driven by our very authentic helmsman, another Vicente, who spoke mostly valenciano (a dialect similar to catalán). It was a great experience. You can see the rest of the photos of our trip to Valencia here on Facebook.

A Barraca, the typical village construction of the Albufera region in Valencia.
Vicente, our 80 year old local helmsman on the boat ride in La Albufera lagoon.
Meanwhile this week and weekend were good ones for Spanish sport, once again. On Wednesday the Atlético de Madrid beat Fulham in Hamburg and won the UEFA Europe League. Also yesterday Barcelona garnered yet another Spanish league much to the disappointment of Real Madrid who has won neither. But my favourite sport result was learning that Rafa Nadal beat Roger Federer in the final of the Madrid master’s tennis tournament this weekend. He has now retaken the world number two ranking and who knows, if he wins the upcoming grand slam at Roland Garros, he may become number one again. I certainly hope so.
The Atlético de Madrid holding the cup after winning the UEFA Europe League last week in Hamburg.
And on that happy note, I have reached the end of this week’s shorter blog post. I hope you all have a great week. We hope to as well and the good weather we are finally experiencing now will surely help. I mean when the sun is shining and you can wear Summer clothes, life seems so much more enjoyable.

Cheers then till next week


Sunday, May 09, 2010

A bomb scare in Times Square, the volcanic ash strikes again, an economic crisis in Greece, a hung parliament and the meat in the sausage, English culture, planning our trip to Israel and Jordan, a quiet week at home and other things.

At my desk this week, notice the lovely roses from our garden, the first this season and a sure sign of Spring.
Hi again this very wet Sunday in May.

Indeed May is misbehaving on the weather front and instead of enjoying the sun outside I am at my desk with the central heating on as I write this week.  It’s been like this for a while and the forecast in most parts of Spain predicts continued cloud and rain and miserable temperatures, for this time of year, for at least another 2 weeks. You can only tell it is spring by the greenness and flowers, like these, the first lovely roses of the season from our garden this week which are adorning my desk as you can see in the photo above.

The girls were lucky though with the weather in Las Palmas in the Canaries last weekend and came back tanned and happy from their trip. They went with some of Suzy’s University friends to visit Noemi, who has opened a nutrition clinic there.

My girls, Oli in white and Suzy in green last weekend in Gran Canaria in the Canaries.
Whilst they were away there was a bomb scare in Times Square, the heart of New York and the USA when a vehicle was found containing explosive elements. Luckily it did not go off. It seems the bomb was crudely made but could have been lethal. The whole area was cordoned off and people evacuated, causing enormous inconvenience and I’m sure the bomb scare brought back memories of the fatal 11th September. Later Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, was accused of the incident just as he was sitting on a plane which would have taken him to Dubai. As we have just been in New York, I can imagine the panic and worry the incident will have caused.

Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani terrorist who planted the bomb in Times Square last week. 
Equally inconvenient has been the return of the Volcanic Ash from Iceland which has forced airports around Europe to close again this week. Many flights from the UK to Spain were cancelled yesterday but my niece Sarah was one of the lucky ones as her flight was the only one not affected although it was delayed by 3 hours.
The Iclandic Volcano, causing the air travel crisis
The volcanic ash is a damned nuisance but what is most affecting Europe and a lot of the world at the moment, is the continued financial crisis, the worst in the last 80 years to quote some of our politicians. This week has been Greece’s turn to be in the spotlight. We have all been reading and hearing about Greece’s huge national debt, caused apparently by years of unrestrained spending, amongst other things. As Greece is part of the Euro Zone area, European Union leaders have agreed to use funds (110 billion euros!!!!) from both Europe and the International Monetary Fund to help this financially-crippled country. There is now talk, here and in Europe, of the Greek crisis affecting Spain, one of the famous PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy or Ireland, Greece and Spain – awful term!), the countries with traditionally weaker economies. Let’s hope not. The Greeks, who will now have to tighten their belt with Draconian financial reforms, have been out in their masses to demonstrate against the reforms and the situation is tense there to say the least with the result of 3 people killed in the riots as well as mass destruction.

Riots in Greece this week have left 3 dead and a lot of destruction like the scene in this photo.
The biggest news, on the international scene this week has been the general elections in Great Britain. They took place on Thursday and the outcome was not clear. In England voting takes place during the week and tradition has it that it takes place on a Thursday, not a Friday which is when working class men received their wages and were more likely to go to the pub to spend it than to vote! The fight was for change after 13 years of Labour and the increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to be challenged by the Conservative’s young and moderate ex Etonian David Cameron and the Liberal’s Nick Clegg, a multilingual Cambridge graduate who is married to a Spanish woman, Miriam González from Olmedo. All the cards were shown well in advance in various TV debates and Nick Clegg emerged as the very popular and surprising dark horse.

The good, the bad and the ugly?  No the 3 candidates in the British General Elections last week, Gordon Brown for Labour left , David Cameron for the Conservatives in the centre and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats on the right.
Ok so I’m British or supposedly British (yeah, half Russian, lived in Spain for donkey’s years), so who did I want to win? I probably didn’t care too much as I have never tried to to find out how to send my vote by post. When I lived in the UK (until the age of 24) I always voted for the Conservatives under the influence of my parents. Now my feelings are more to the left but more often than not I am influenced by the person rather than the party so the candidate has to appeal to me.  Therefore I was in between David Cameron and Nick Clegg.  I know Nick Clegg could not win as the Liberal party (sorry today it is called the Liberal Democrats) has not been in power since Lloyd George in 1922 but I was impressed with his popularity as a result of the TV debates.

The British population voted on Thursday and woke up to what is known as a hung parliament. This is when no one party has an overall majority, or over half of the MPs in the House of Commons. David Cameron had won theoretically with 306 seats to Gordon Brown’s 258 and Nick Clegg’s 57, but 326 seats are needed. Thus a coalition government will have to be formed for the first time since Winston Churchill’s government in the Second World War. Right now David Cameron and Nick Clegg are negotiating just that.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, London’s larger than life Conservative Lord Mayor, insists that the Tories must be the meat in the coalition sausage, meaning that the bread and other unknown ingredients are for the Liberal Democrats. I wonder what this particular sausage will turn out to be like.

Boris Johnson, the larger than life Conservative Mayor of London who coined the phrase "meat in the sausage"
The eyes of the press have been on the UK for most of the week and there was one piece of news from Oli's website, about Britain that particularly appealed to me. It was in relation to how certain things from British culture have become universally known. They are and I wonder if you agree: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, William Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Fish and chips, bacon and egg breakfasts, driving on the left, double decker buses, Rolls Royce cars, pints and pubs, the January sales, telephone boxes, 007 James Bond, on His Majesty’s Secret Service of course, British punctuality, tea at 5, Agatha Christie, the invention of football, impossible hats to wear (at Ascot), Monty Python and the Punk sub culture.
There is nothing more British than a double decker London bus, although this model no longer exists.  How sad.
There are some things and people missing from this list and off the cuff I can think of but a few: The Queen, the late Lady Diana and the Royal family in general, the British post box, cucumber sandwiches, the British bobby, rugby and cricket as quintessential British sports along with more quaint ones such as rounders, netball or croquet, and many famous British people such as Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist, Florence Nightingale, the first nurse in the world, Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill or Oscar Wilde come to mind.

Of British origin too is Dame Julie Andrew’s who has returned to the stage this week in London more than 50 years after she started singing.
Dame Julie Andrews, my childhood favourite, returned to the stage in London yesterday aged 74 but just not the same
I adored the actress and her voice and she became my childhood hero after seeing Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music in the 60s in England. Julie Andrews and these films went on to be a part of my own girls’ childhoods and we often sang the songs together. Julie Andrews lost her voice when she had an operation to remove a polyp from her vocal chords twelve years ago and has rarely sung since. From the write ups I have read her performance was disappointing as she now uses a sort of speak singing technique. I think I prefer to remember her as she was in the Sound of Music.
Julie Andrews as I remember her from The Sound of Music, possibly still my favourite film.
On the domestic scene, life has been quiet with not much to tell – hence all the external news in this week’s post. But of course you will want to know the personal highlights of my week too.

To note I had lunch with my dearest nephew Miguel on Tuesday. He is the son of Eladio’s closest brother, José Antonio and Miguel and I get on like a house on fire. He is living at home with his parents in Madrid and working for I.G. markets, a leading UK company in CFDs (financial derivatives which I'm afraid I  do not understand) where he is considered a media star for all the interviews he gives to the local TVs and radios. His news is that he will be working from home from June and has decided to go and live in their house in the family village of Montrondo where he has recently installed a broadband internet connection, a fixed telephone and satellite television. He will also be trying his hand at being a farmer and has acquired a licence to breed sheep! Alongside the sheep he plans to have 2 dogs, a horse, a donkey and hens for fresh eggs for his breakfast, no doubt. I wish him a lot of luck.

On Thursday I had a long overdue lunch with my best friends Julio and Fátima who are my ex Nokia and Motorola colleagues. They never read my blog nor are they active on Facebook so these lunches are really important to catch up with each other’s news. They are now both working for Nokia Siemens whose main product is mobile phone networks – certainly not the easiest product to sell as I well remember. It was good to see them and we will be having lunch again soon to celebrate Julio’s birthday this month.

On the home scene, yesterday Suzy celebrated what I think will be the last of this year’s birthday celebrations with her girl friends from school. That was an excuse to go shopping with her yesterday to pick up some of the food but also to buy ourselves some new clothes. I bought the most beautiful china blue patterned jacket from Zara mostly for the material which I adore. However it has protruding shoulder pads which I thought looked funny but Suzy says they are back in fashion. Imagine?

The tea went off fine, the best crockery was used and balloons filled the lounge. I went in to say hello to Suzy’s guests who are so familiar to me from her school days. I did so just as she was opening some presents but managed to get this picture for my blog. I thought it was about time I included her friends as they are very important to her and have never been mentioned here.
Suzy's schoolfriends who came to her birthday tea party yesterday.
From left to right: Carolina, Rocío, Eriika, Suzy, Pilar and Copi.
Whilst they were having their party (which ended at another party in Madrid), Eladio and I went off for dinner to one of our all time favourites, La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas nearby for our weekly dinner out together.  The food and drink was probably the reason for this morning's unfortunate headache.  But then you always have to "pay" for pleasure don't you?
La Vaca Argentina, one of our favourite restaurants.
The week has been quiet with not much activity and no travels of course. But that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t any plans. We have been talking about going to Israel and Jordan in September and this week we took the decision that we would go after having looked at budgets and places to visit. I looked at various local agencies on internet and took the plunge with Guided Tours of Israel and Jordan Direct Tours. So I have been in constant email contact most of the week with Alon from the former and Marina from the latter. Both agencies will provide a private tour with our own driver. In Israel I have booked our own hotels with a lot of help from and in Jordan they come with the package. I have now also bought our tickets and we are flying to Tel Aviv and back on the 4th and 19th September.

We are already getting into the spirit of our trip and I have now spoken on the phone to various people at hotels. I was told by one lady from a hotel in Galilee that they were not “kosher” and that was a step in taking me there mentally. I’m sure you all know what Kosher is (the fit or proper way to eat and prepare food according to the Jewish dietary laws). I also spoke to someone called Abraham (or Ibrahim) from the St. Andrew’s Scottish guesthouse in Jerusalem (the only place we could find with a vacancy in the old town) which again made me visualise the Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. It will be funny to stay somewhere like that in the Holy City. In Nazareth I have found the most charming place possible, the Fauzi Azar Inn (a 200 year old Arab mansion) where we will be staying 3 nights and hopefully walk part of the Jesus Trails. It’s going to be so exciting and possibly one of our most interesting trips so far. I have finalised nearly everything so now all we have to do is wait but of course with something exciting to look forward to. I always say that in life it is important to have something to look forward to. I’m sure you agree.
The dining room at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth where we will be staying.
And on that note of looking forward to things, I leave you for this week. Till next time, all the best to you all.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Trip to Santa Pola, robbed, reunion with Jackie, two birthdays, Gordon Brown’s faux pas, the British elections, Mislit and a new addiction.

Eladio walking on the new wooden path to our beach in Santa Pola.
Hello again

I haven’t written for 2 weeks and feel guilty about it. It’s mostly because we were away last weekend and the week has been too busy to find the right moment (more like 2 or 3 hours) but here I am now at my pc this quiet and sunny Saturday afternoon, the 1st May and Labour Day, sitting outside by the as yet unused swimming pool. Eladio is having a siesta, like my Father and the girls are away, yet again. They have gone with some friends to what Olivia termed “The Claps”, meaning Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. What a lovely life they lead but I wonder if they realise.

So what have I got to tell you this time? Many things really and the only way to start is at the beginning. When I last wrote we were in the throes of the Volcanic ash crisis which thankfully is now over. Last week was quiet at least for us and on the Sunday Eladio and I went out to dinner to one of our favourites, La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas. I have their loyalty card and probably unsurprisingly that dinner was paid for by the points.

Of note during that week was lunch with my colleague Juan. We went to Enriich in La Moraleja near the office where the cuisine is splendid. He heads up customer care and is one of the people I work with quite closely as lots of enquiries come through communications especially on the newly launched social network fan pages.
My friend and colleague Juan enjoying his steak tartare at Enriich in La Moraleja
And that brings me to our family trip to Santa Pola. The girls were attending a hen party for their friend Mercedes who lives in Yecla which is about an hour away and we decided to go along to be their chauffeurs, to do some spring cleaning at the flat and of course to enjoy the beach. I had also arranged with my Facebook friend Jackie from my childhood in Yorkshire (don’t mention Bradford hahaha) to meet up with her and her family in the rural village they live in near Yecla.

We went by car and were joined by Oli who flew into to Alicante airport on Saturday morning as she could not get time off work. Of course we took my Father along and even though he is not as mobile as he was, he still enjoyed the journey and lunch on the way which was on him as it nearly always is (Thanks Daddy!). We stopped at a little place in the province of Cuenca called Asador Marchena where we’ve been before and which we can highly recommend if you are ever in the vicinity.

Suzy and Eladio on our way to Santa Pola
The drive to Santa Pola, some 15km south of Alicante and 420km from Madrid, was very smooth and usually takes about 4 hours. We arrived to find the renovation of the white apartments overlooking the sea still going on. They had though finished the front of the side overlooking the garden but the other side was ongoing and producing a lot of dust of course.

The finished side of the apartments

The side of the apartments still undergoing renovation
The apartment was in dire need of exhaustive spring cleaning, not least because the girls had been a lot recently. Sheets and towels had been left to mold in a huge pile on top of the dusty washing machine which of course put me in a great mood. So we put our hands to work and within 3 hours everything was spick and span. Thus we got ready to go out and drove to our favourite restaurant in the area, Maria Picola on the road to Elche. We love the place, so Mediterranean, peaceful and well decorated and surrounded by exotic flowers and then of course the food is out of this world. Suzy and I couldn’t choose so shared lots of starter dishes.

The weather was verging on rain at times and the thermometer did not rise above 20ºc. However that did not stop us going for long walks on the beach and we were pleased to see that in our absence (we hadn’t been for a year) the town hall had built some lovely wooden paths which make access to our virgin and un-spoilt beaches much easier.

Eladio on our walk on the beach
Suzy and Oli preferred sunbathing in the dunes and were lucky the sun always shined in the middle of the day.
The girls sunbathing in the dunes. 
Soon it was Saturday, the big day, our up day too and the day Oli was coming, the day we were taking them to Yecla for the hen party and the day we were meeting Jackie and her family. We crammed a lot of things into last Saturday and I remember posting a comment in Facebook to say that it was going to be a great day. Oli was arriving at 11.30 which gave us just enough time to go to the Santa Pola market to buy Eladio his annual new pair of shoes as well as freshly picked vegetables and fruit to take home.
Eladio buying his annual pair of brown Mocassins from Santa Pola market (always the same stall too)
Later I would wish we hadn’t gone as it turned out my purse was robbed and pick pocketed out of my handbag whilst I was busy choosing tomatoes, something I didn’t realise until later that day. My purse contained hardly any money but of course all my cards and, worst of all, my passport, my driving licence and my residency card. However I was determined this would not spoil the rest of the day and after having cancelled all the cards I decided to put it out of my mind until I could deal with it on Monday morning in Madrid.
The Arroz abanda (rice and fish dish) we ordered for lunch from Vista Bella
Meanwhile and with the robbery still unnoticed we rushed to pick Oli up at the airport. Her Ryan Air plane was a bit late (but who is going to complain when she only paid or rather I only paid 50 euros for the trip?) and landed at a different terminal, but soon she was in the car and we were on our way to the beach before picking up an arroz abanda (a rice and fish dish typical of the area) for lunch from another favourite little place called Vista Bella which as you can see from the photo above was truly magnificent.

Then it was time to leave after hurried preparations to get dolled up for our evenings. My 90 year old Father stayed behind. Armed with his English newspaper, cup of tea and chocolates from the English Quicksave supermarket across the road, he prepared to enjoy his peace in the afternoon breeze from our terrace whilst we were away and later the dinner I had left for him on a tray.
The view from our terrace at Santa Pola
Within an hour we had reached Yecla and dropped the girls off at meeting point from where the hen party would leave for Gandia on the Valencian coast. They had a great time sending off Merce, their friend from the Santa Pola summers in their teens. They were out all night and were having breakfast at 9 am on Sunday morning before retiring to sleep off the night’s excesses and were not up until 3 in the afternoon.

Meanwhile we made our way to Jackie and John’s house in a remote village nearby called Casas de los Frailes where they live with their sons, Rafi and Tal and John’s aging Mother. I hadn’t seen Jackie since I was young. We calculated it could well have been nearly 30 years since we last met. Jackie and her sister Gill were the neighbours of my best friend from school, Amanda. I was their friend too but hadn’t kept up over the years until we found each other on Facebook.
Jackie and John
Jackie and John have lived all over the place. As she is an avid reader of my blog I have to think carefully what I write here. They started in England where they met and then cycled (don’t ask me how) to Israel where they lived for a few years and where their boys were born. They even lived in the desert there. From Israel they moved to Cyprus, then back to the UK and some 6 years ago moved to Spain looking to build a new sort of life and they have certainly done that. They live in a house which they are renovating and which overlooks fields planted with almond trees and is very rural but extremely peaceful. John writes and cares for his Mother and does the cooking and Jackie translates, teaches English and of course helps to run the house. The boys who look completely English speak perfect Spanish of course as they go to school locally and seem to have blended in very well.

John cooked a lovely English meal for us all and I think Jackie and I, at least, could have talked all night we had so much to say to each other. Luckily we will be seeing each other again when we next go down to Santa Pola and Eladio and I are really looking forward to that. Jackie, it was a pleasure.
Dinner at Jackies, from left to right: Jackie, John, Tal, Rafi and Eladio
And very soon our weekend was over. We spent the morning cleaning and doing more washing as well as packing to leave but of course had to go to the police before we left to report my stolen purse. Our intention was to go for a last walk on the beach but there was a local marathon on and all the roads were blocked! After a quick lunch and a last visit to Quicksave we drove to Yecla to pick up our very tired girls and make our way home to Madrid. A good time was had by all of course the only black point being the robbery of my purse.
Quicksave, the English supermarket across the way which we are very fond of
Monday of course was spent trying to get new identification. Suddenly I was an unidentified person who couldn’t drive, travel abroad or spend money and I had to do something about it quick. It wasn’t easy I can tell you. The whole morning felt quite Kafkian and I was very grateful to have my patient husband drive me from place to place.

My first port of call was to General Pardiñas Police Station to get my residency card. There I was given by a policewoman on the street a photocopied piece of paper with instructions on how to do so. Things had changed since I last renewed my card and it was no longer issued here. I had to ring a number, get an appointment and then download some paper on a website called So I rang and got given the date of 29th June at 9 am and was told that without my passport they would not issue me the new Certificate of belonging to a European Union country which replaces the old Residence Card.

From General Pardiñas we rushed to the British Consulate in Recoletos, except that it had changed addresses and was now the other side of town in Torre Espacio but of course their website didn’t warn you. I arrived at Torre Espacio and was asked for my identification which of course I didn’t have. All I had was my police report. Eventually I was allowed in and made my way up to floor 38 where I had to switch off and hand in my mobile phones and camera and go through yet another body check only to find I needed the passport form and photo to be countersigned by a British subject who knew me. It was 12.30 and they were closing at 13.30. So I rushed to the office and thankfully a colleague and only English person I know in Madrid, Tony, did the countersigning and certifying that my photo was a true likeness. Thanks Tony. I got back to the Consulate in time only to find I didn’t have 148 euros on me, I was 5 short. Time was running out and I had to go outside to get my phone back to ring Eladio to come up and pay the rest. Finally I got the receipt for a new passport which I will hopefully receive by post in 10 days time. That was one hell of a stressful experience.

From the Consulate we rushed to the Traffic Directorate to see what we could do about getting a duplicate driving licence. Here we were in luck. I did not go into the very bureaucratic Traffic Directorate but to an agency across the road which, for 50 euros, did it for you in a jiffy. Luckily I had copies of my stolen passport and residency card and the lady very quickly issued me a provisional licence whilst the new one was being issued. I could have given her a kiss for her efficiency and total lack of bureaucracy.

Monday morning was indeed Kafkian but I got most things done. The highlight was a well deserved lunch together at Hollywood after getting the provisional licence.

Monday brought with it too the good weather and in fact we have had a heat wave for most of the week which prompted Eladio to bring out the rest of the garden and terrace furniture.

My eldest daughter Suzy who celebrated her 26th birthday last week. 
Wednesday was Suzy’s 26th birthday. Gosh, 26! Where have the years gone? We could only celebrate it with her in the evening as she had a course during the day. It was one of those few family birthdays when we weren’t all together. Susana of course will be celebrating it in Las Palmas this weekend too no doubt. There is always a standing joke in our family that Susana’s birthdays are like Indian weddings, they go on for more than a week.

On Friday, yesterday, after the girls had left for Las Palmas and after our daily walk, Eladio and I decided to go out to dinner. We went to a favourite of ours recently, the Portuguese restaurant called Lisboa Antiga in Majadahonda which I swear makes the best bacalhau à bras I’ve ever had and it’s one of my best liked dishes. It’s made of salted cod, egg and potatoes. That together with the white sparkling wine called Vinho Verde is heaven on a Friday night.
What bacalhau à brás looks like, a delicious Portuguese dish made of cod, egg and potatoes.
The other birthday this week is of course my Father’s. He is 91 today, 1st May, and going strong. All birthdays in our family have to have 3 basic ingredients: a card signed and dedicated by us all, a cake and presents. So of course all three were ready for him today. We bought him a gigantic box of chocolates and a cd of Zarzuela music (Spanish operetta) which I know he loves.
My Father this morning opening his presents on his 91st birthday.  I hope I have inherited his genes!
The cake was home-made by me this morning and is his favourite: Victoria sponge in 2 thin layers with jam and whipped cream in the middle and white icing on the top. Here is the photo. I am quite proud of the creation.
The cake I made for my father's 91st birthday.  Victoria Sponge with jam and cream filling, his favourite.
Who will probably not be celebrating 1st May is Gordon Brown, the outgoing Labour Prime Minister for the UK but rather regretting his faux pas of last week in Rochdale. He is in a fight with David Cameron for the Conservatives and the dark horse Nick Clegg representing the Liberal Party to win the general elections on 6th May next week. Labour has been in power for over 13 years and Gordon Brown, ex Chancellor of the Exchequer under Tony Blair, is fast losing popularity. He had a very unfortunate incident whilst canvassing for votes in Rochdale in the North of England last week. He spoke to a Labour voting pensioner called Jillian Duffy who spoke out against immigrants in Britain from Northern Europe, i.e. Poland. Once in his car, Gordon Brown fumed against his staff for having put him in front of her and called her a “bigot”. He was overheard saying this and has had to apologise in person to Jillian Duffy. The case is now known as Bigot Gate and will undoubtedly lose many votes for the already unpopular Gordon Brown including of course Jillian Duffy’s
Gordon Brown talking to Gillian Duffy, the pensioner he later called a Bigot.
Whilst we were away, my new order from had arrived, my 4 books about abuse of children in Ireland by the church in the middle of the last century. I was spurred on to order them after having done the translation for Olivia about Colm O’Gorman who is now the head of Amnisty International in Ireland but was a victim of child sex abuse from his parish priest. He wrote Beyond Belief which I have left for last. Any free moments of this last week have been spent reading these books: The God Squad by Paddy Doyle, Fear of the Collar by Patrick Touher and Suffer the little children by Frances Reilly. This is clear Mislet, a genre of literature that fascinates me. I think it attracts me not because of the sadness but because most of these people are fighters and survivors. It also makes me realise just how fortunate I am. In any case it seems to attract an awful lot of people as you can read here.
The book I am reading at the moment.  I have a fascination for mislit.
A  lot of my spare time this week was spent reading but I also must mention my recent addiction called Foursquare. Foursquare is a new social network used on mobile phones which is based on geolocalization. Basically you check into places, add tips or see tips about them and add places. You can see where your friends are but best of all you get points and badges and mayorships and compete with your friends to get them, a bit like the scouts. Naturally you can link Four Square to both Facebook and Twitter, so no need to repeat statuses. Of course I have more points than anyone and am always stopping to check into places, even if it’s only the local supermarkets. I wonder what will come next? Meanwhile I am enjoying my new addiction.
Foursquare, my latest internet addiction: a new social network used on mobile phones which is based on geolocalization.
What I haven’t got addicted to, yet, is the series Lost which is so popular these days. Suzy’s seen them all but was kind enough to watch the first episode with me whilst we were in Santa Pola. Did I like it? I think I did and may now well watch more, with Eladio, if I can persuade him to as I have seen Olivia has the DVD collection of the first series. For those of you not in the know Lost is about the survivors of a plane that crashes on a mysterious tropical island.

But meanwhile I will continue with my Mislit and carry on with Colm O’Gorman’s Beyond Belief. And now I have to come to the end of my blog post covering the last 2 weeks of my life or should I say our life? Eladio always tell me this isn’t my blog but our blog and of course he is right.

And that’s it folks until next week. I promise it won’t be two weeks till I write next time.

PS You can see the full collection of photos of our trip to Santa Pola here.