Sunday, March 25, 2012

A memorable weekend in Yorkshire, spring brought snow, chocolate eggs and vintage bowls, well done Chesterfield F.C. and other things.

Eladio and I in Yorkshire last weekend (by the I Love You House on the Leeds Liverpool Canal near Keighley Golf Club)

Good morning everyone,

You will have noticed I didn’t post my blog last week but that was because we were away, so here you have a two week bumper edition.

Let me start from where I left off, Monday 12th March.  Of note that day, it was very warm and Olivia joined us on our daily walk.  We were to cancel some of our other walks after that as I caught a cold from Eladio and both of us have been snuffling and sneezing and coughing ever since. 

I caught my cold on Tuesday, the night we went out to dinner with José Antonio and Dolores.  It was to try out a restaurant for an event which was a nice enough little place but totally unsuitable for what I had in mind.  The good thing about that night was that we were joined by Sara, our niece, and got to see her new lodgings.  At the grand old age of 30 something, she has finally flown the nest and is now living bang in the centre of Madrid, very near her workplace, the branch in Madrid that the biggest bank in China opened recently, ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) where she is practically the only Spanish employee.  Very bravely, a few years ago, after graduating in Economics, she moved to China to learn that most difficult of languages which today she is fluent in and which is, of course, a great asset in her new job.  Sara can tell many a funny tale of working there and the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese nationals.

On Wednesday, a very cold and grim day, the main news was of the tragic coach crash in Switzerland.  The death toll was some 28 Belgian children coming back from a skiing holiday.  I can only imagine how that news dominated the media in Belgium.  Awful!

Finally Thursday arrived, the day of our journey to England.  We were going to Yorkshire for a long weekend.  The excuse for going was another school reunion dinner with some of my fellow class mates from the still, even today, all girls Catholic Convent School we went to, St. Joseph’s College in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where I grew up. I left in 1975 and was to see some of my class mates for the first time since then at our reunion dinner on Friday night.  But more about that emotional reunion later.

St. Joseph's College Bradford, my old school

We took the only direct flight to Manchester, newly operated by Iberia and got there at English “teatime”.  Eladio was feeling pretty lousy on arrival but I didn’t let him complain, telling him strictly that we both had to be in optimum condition, to find the hired car and make our way on the frighteningly fast and at times congested motorways to Keighley.  First we had to tackle the M58 (or was it the M59?), then the M60 and finally the legendary M62 which our ex Geography teacher, Miss Fair, may she rest in peace, used to describe to us as a “marvelous feat of engineering”. Thus it was certainly not the time for self pity.  My “navigator” application on my clever little Samsung Galaxy S2 did the job perfectly taking us to our friends’ Phil and Kathy’s Yorkshire semi detached stone house in Utley, near Keighley, via Halifax in just under 1.5h.  It was the beginning of yet another trip down memory lane. 
Phil and Kath's house in Keighley

Our wonderful hosts were waiting for us with a hot meal of homemade lasagne by gourmet cook Phil in their oldie worldie cozy kitchen.  I was bowled over by their efforts to make us feel comfortable and at home, not least by lending us their very own bedroom.  The fresh flowers, fruit and bottled water provided for us were much appreciated and we felt welcome, comfortable and at home throughout our stay. I must also add that it seemed the whole four days were an exercise in laughter therapy.  Most of our time with Kath and Phil and then Amanda, Gill and Simon was spent laughing. Oh how I love and miss, British humour.  I read in an airport magazine later, the name of which I cannot remember, that it is now making its way even more into politics, via the likes of London’s larger than life Boris Johnson or even PM David Cameron and that it is a quality much sought after in corporate management.  I for one would advocate for more humour in the Spanish corporate world, something usually frowned upon here, unfortunately.

We spent most of Friday with our host Phil as Kath was at work.  She is an assistant head of year at an enormous local school and seems to be busy the whole time with all the possible problems you can imagine that 11 year olds  may have.  I do not envy her job.  Meanwhile the three of us made our way to the most elegant town in Yorkshire, Harrogate, dominated by the beautiful Stray, the name of the 200 acres of land that “wraps round” the old spa town.

The Stray in Harrogate

Our destination was the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Harlow Carr Gardens where we had been in the summer but were very happy to visit again with Phil. Here, as everywhere, typical British spring flowers were in bloom: daffodils, crocuses and the fragile snow drops I remember seeing as a child in Ruskington, just after the snow had melted. 
The daffodils at Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate

We must have spent nearly two hours walking through the delightful gardens, visiting the kitchen garden, the scented garden, the rock gardens as well as the gardens in times gone past, where you can see what gardens were like in Edwardian England until now.  I particularly liked this little conservatory which I would love to have in our own garden in Spain. Maybe one day we will.

A conservatory I would have liked to bring back from the gardens

After so much nature and outdoors, it was time for lunch.  Harrogate must have countless numbers of restaurants, bars and pubs, but the only place I ever want to go to there is Betty’s Tea Rooms, that wonderful genteel establishment which serves and sells fabulous Yorkshire fare with a touch of Swiss flavor which you can read about in the history of the tearooms in the link above. 

The queue at Betty's in Harrogate.  Spot Phil and Eladio!

We could have had anything on the menu, as everything is so tempting. However what we all wanted most was their amazing fish and chips.  Well, after all, we were in Yorkshire which is where they come from I think.

Betty's fish and chips, the best in the world

We drove back through the lovely Yorkshire countryside to Keighley and were soon joined by Katherine and her iPad and IPhone, extensions of herself.  Phil referred to both of us as the “technological lasses”.  More like addicted to capturing our life on camera and posting our activities on Facebook for all our world to see, something that does not attract Phil or Eladio, although I must add they always want to know what people post there.

After the proverbial cup of tea, Kathy and I had to get ready for our school reunion dinner as we were to be there early in order to decorate the room with all the stuff I had brought: bunting, balloons, name badges, party poppers, bunches of sweets, you name it, as well as a dvd of photos of us in the 6th form in 1974 or 5.  You can see that video here.  See if you can spot me or Amanda.

Some of the stuff I took to our reunion dinner

It was to take place at Hollins Hall, a country club hotel on Hollins Hill which didn’t exist when I lived in Yorkshire.  However Hollins Hill is an area I know very well, mainly from the time we lived in Baildon on Roundwood Road in the mid 60’s before we moved to Heaton Grove.  It was on this infamously steep hill that my brother had a minor cycling accident when he was young.  It is also very near where my Mother is buried in Charles Town Cemetery.  At the top of Hollins Hill, when you reach the town of Guiseley, we used to go the most famous fish and chip shop in the world owned by Harry Ramsdens, a Yorkshire landmark that was sadly closed just this last autumn. 

Hollins Hall hotel where we had our school reunion dinner.

So as we drove towards the country club hotel, owned by Marriott, on Hollins Hill, all these memories were going through my head, as well of course as memories to do with my school days. 

The evening was amazing.  There were 17 of us of who I remembered or knew well some 8 or 9. People had brought along photographs which helped jolt our memories a bit, although some of the “girls” were totally unrecognizable to me.  But it was great to see Eric, Jackie, Maggie, Brenda, Ellen, Amanda, Catherine, Kath of course, as well as Maureen and the others.  Here is a group photo.  To think it was 37 years ago that we left school, I think most of us are looking quite good, although it is not true that people improve with age, as I’m sure you will agree.

The SJC reunion dinner at Hollins Hall

Saturday, was, together, with the school reunion dinner, one of the highlights of our trip.  We drove to the Yorkshire Dales, the beautiful countryside to be found in Yorkshire and our first stop was the delightful village of Arncliffe.  Here we walked around the village, visiting the Norman church, taking photos of the scenery and finally stopped for a drink at the Falcon, a wonderful old pub.  Here Eladio tried the local ale, out of politeness more than anything, but I’m afraid he is not a beer drinker.

With Kathy in Arncliffe by the delightful Norman church

Our next stop was Starbotton where we were to meet up with Amanda, Simon and Gill.  We had a lunch appointment at the Fox and Hounds, a typical old Dales pub.  The food was not that great, but we had a whale of a time.

By the Fox and Hounds with our friends in Starbotton in the Yorkshire Dales

Amanda, Simon and Gill are not newcomers to this blog, but to refresh your memory, I went to school with Amanda and we were in the same class as Kathryn.  It was their first reunion since school, but not mine, of course.  Simon went to the school my Father taught at, Bradford Grammar School and Gill is his lawyer wife.  In fact they are both lawyers! 

After the lunch, a walk was in store for us, a wonderful walk in the Dales in the lambing season, from Starbotton to the picturesque village of Kettlewell and back. 

Picturesque Kettlewell as seen from our walk from Starbotton

Map in hand, Simon guided us through fields and over stone walls and across endless number of age old styles and by the river Wharfe.  We must have done just over 4 miles but stopped in Kettlewell for a cup of tea at the Blue Bell Inn to refresh before walking back by the river to Starbotton. 

With Kathy and Amanda crossing one of the styles on our walk in the Dales

Here we parted but were to meet again later at Simon and Gill’s for a fantastic evening and dinner together.  We went home for another cup of tea and to change before making our way to their house in Sowerby Bridge.  We all concentrated in Simon and Gill’s huge and cozy kitchen where a lot of wine drinking went on, while they prepared a simple but delicious meal of roast chicken and salad and the most English of desserts: “bread and butter pudding”.  It was a fabulous end to a glorious day and I have to admit we ate and drank, talked and laughed endlessly until we could no longer keep our eyes open.  It must have been 2 in the morning when we got to bed, but a great day and night was had by all.  I was so glad too that my two sets of friends who were meeting for the first time hit it off so well.  I need not have been hesitant and should have known that they would get on “like a house on fire” to use the proverbial quote. 

Pre dinner drinks in Simon and Gill's kitchen

The next day was our last day but one and it was to be nearly as full as Saturday, if a little quieter.  We had breakfast late – thanks Phil for the great croissants, orange juice, fruit, toast and pain au chocolat which I couldn’t resist, after which we all got ready for yet another long and much needed walk.  This time it was to be local.  We crossed the Skipton Road to the Keighley Golf Club where we had to look out for “passing shots”.  But we were not going to play golf as our destination was a fabulous walk on the Leeds Liverpool canal, some 4 miles or so in the direction of Silsden.  We were to go past what Phil and Kath call the “I love you house”. They call it that because many years ago, on a walk with his Mother, Phil spied the words written and dug into the garden.  Imagine!  The photo illustrating this blog was taken by Kath and is of Eladio and I by the “I love you house”, a photo I am very pleased with.  The walk on the canal was accompanied by great weather too which made the walk even more pleasant.

On the walk by the canal with Kath and Phil

We took photos of everything and I especially like the close up taken by Eladio of this drake on the canal.  Just look how luminous the green feathers on its head are.  Pretty good I thought.

A beautiful duck on the canal and a great picture taken by Eladio

I mentioned earlier that it was the lambing season and there was lots of evidence of this too on the walk on Sunday.  So, naturally, I took many photos also of the sheep and their young offsprings, like the one below.

It was lambing season when we were in Yorkshire last week

Sunday was Mother’s Day in England and when we got back from the walk, there waiting in the street to greet his mother, armed with a card and flowers, was Tom, one of Kath’s four sons. 

Tommy Lee, Kath's footballer son bringing her flowers on Mother's Day

Tom Lee is actually the goal keeper for Chesterfield FC, having joined the Manchester United football school when he was young.  He even shared a room with Gerard Piqué!  As I write today Sunday 25th March, believe it or not, he is playing for his team at Wembley, against Swindon Town in the final of the Football League Trophy (between the 1st and 2nd Division football teams in the UK).  Phil and Kath went up to London this weekend and will be biting their teeth from now until the end (Chesterfield is leading so far).  Kath must be such a proud mother to see her son play at Wembley that icon of world football.  Here is a great photo of her with Phil at the pre match lunch posted earlier by her on Facebook. 

Phil and Kath at Wembley today

Tom joined us for an impromptu lunch of the Spanish wine, ham and chorizo we had brought with us.  It was accompanied by Phil’s delicious homemade bread, after which Eladio was in dire need of a siesta.

Later Phil shoved Kathryn and I out of the kitchen whilst he prepared a secret gourmet dinner.  Kath’s boss Joan and her husband David had been invited and everything had to be perfect.  They are great fans of Spain as they have a house in Nerja and have been trying to learn Spanish for a few years now.  Dave was delighted to practice his Spanish most of the evening with Eladio who is always a willing teacher.  We had a great night, mostly talking about education, me being the only odd “girl” out, but I didn’t mind.  The conversation was mostly about how things have changed so much in the UK and in their mind rather for the worse. They used a few expressions I wasn’t familiar with and Phil remarked, correctly, that I was a little out of touch.  They were referring to chavs and other similar terminology which of course didn’t exist when I left the UK in the early 80’s.  So I wasn’t the only person to be learning new vocabulary that night after all. 

Eladio with Joan and David on the last night at Phil and Kath's, what a great dinner

Phil’s cooking was fantastic.  He made a sea food platter to begin with, followed by beef cooked in beer.  The dessert was my favourite, rhubarb crumble. Again a new word for Eladio which has no translation in Spanish I’m afraid.

And so as the evening came to an end and Joan and David left, we had to say goodbye to our hosts as of course they would be up very early in the morning to go to their respective schools.  We couldn’t thank them enough for their hospitality and look forward to hosting them again in our house very soon.

Monday was our last day and we were determined to squeeze as much in as possible before our flight back to Madrid in the early evening.  After packing and locking the door of the house,  we got into our little hired car and headed to Sainsburys in the centre of  Keighley. I wanted to get some essential British produce I can’t get at home or even online, such as disposable kitchen wipes which I bought in copious quantities.  Afterwards we decided to go to Bradford, the town I lived near in my formative years.  As I always write here, it is probably the ugliest town in England, but still it is home to me and I always have the need to go back there, like the criminal to the crime scene I suppose.  We parked in the dirty multi storey car park near Morrisons (yes the first Morrisons store that was built by Sir Ken, Amanda’s old neighbour) and walked towards Darley Street.  Here I wanted to go into Boots and then Marks and Spencers.  I got this great little blouse as well as some basic cotton tops.

The blouse I bought at M+S in Bradford on Monday

It was strange walking down the most commercial street in Bradford and seeing the familiar shops and banks, except that the Halifax Building Society is now the Spanish owned Banco Santander. 

Shopping in Bradford on Monday

We wanted fish and chips for lunch but I had no idea where to go, so asked the assistant in M+S.  An American girl student who I couldn’t imagine why would be in Bradford of all places, recommended the In Plaice on Sunbridge Road in Centenary Square next to the Town Hall.  Erected in 1873 this A Listed building is Bradford’s most famous monument and is built in a distinct Venetian style.  Funnily enough I have never been inside it but I do know that Bradford would just not be the same without it, as it wouldn’t be the same without all the Victorian and Industrial revolution buildings and factories, now turned into museums or flats.  These are Bradford’s saving graces.

Eladio by Bradford's landmark, the Town Hall, now called the City Hall I think.

The fish and chips and mushy peas were not as refined as Betty’s but very good in any case.  The establishment very “Yorkshirey”, as you can see from the photo below.

The In Plaice where we had our lunch in Bradford on our last day

Soon we were walking up Sunbridge Road and to the multi storey car park to get our car and drive to Manchester Airport.  We had lots of time to kill at Terminal 3 but I was very disappointed with the shopping on offer.  It was so bad even I, an airport shopaholic, was not tempted to purchase anything.  We were not home until after 11 in the evening, so there was only time to unpack and go to bed.  Monday was Father’s day in Spain, but for Eladio, it passed uneventfully.

On Tuesday I was back to full speed with my work, the Yorkshire trip happily tucked to the back of my mind.  I had brought my Father lots of English goodies back, biscuits from Betty’s and plenty of Turkish delight and walnut whips, his favourite.  The girls got their favourite too,  jelly babies, a tradition my Mother started when they were small.

Suzy had had a great weekend herself.  I must mention she went away to Salamanca with her girlfriends for a weekend hen party for Caju who will be marrying this month.  Here is just one photo of a great moment when they went laser fighting. They must have had a huge laugh all weekend, judging by this and other photos.

Suzy had a great time at a weekend hen party in Salamanca whilst we were away

Oli, meanwhile had Paula, her cousin to spend the weekend with her.  I heard they had a heavy clothes shopping session in Madrid beforehand, just what they both like best.  I would have loved to have been with them but that will have to be next time.

On Wednesday, the official start of Spring, believe it or not it snowed in Madrid. I woke up to this scene in our garden. Later it sleeted and turned into rain which actually was a huge blessing as I think it hasn’t rained here properly since before Christmas and there is much news of the drought in the papers.

Believe it or not it snowed here on Wednesday 21st March, the first day of spring.

The week was short thanks to Monday being Father’s day and soon it was Friday. That night we had another date in town with José Antonio and Dolores.  We went to a modest little place near where they live and where we used to live.  It was called El Rincón Murciano (The Murcia corner).  Surprisingly there was no rice on the menu but the food was good. 

And now I have reached yesterday, Saturday, a glorious sunny day.  Eladio took the opportunity to sew some grass on the back lawn, as you can see in the picture below.

Eladio sewing grass in the garden yesterday

We had a Ukranian married couple to spread the fertilizer come manure on the lawn and that took them until well after lunch.  It was funny to notice the young Ukranian wife, who confessed it was her first time, doing the heavy job with a typical Russian kerchief on her head.

Meanwhile the girls and I escaped to the Tres Aguas shopping centre with the excuse of needing to buy some basic t-shirts.  I ended up buying this lovely green checkered blouse which Eladio remarked this morning looked like a table cloth. I suppose he is right.  You will have noticed I have a thing about striped and checkered clothing.

Another great blouse, this one from H+M with the girls on Saturday

I have done quite a lot of shopping this week, but all of it, apart from Monday in Yorkshire and yesterday in H+M, was online.  So what did I buy you might wonder? In the first place, seeing so many chocolate Easter eggs whilst in England, reminded me I should stock up.  Being a huge chocolate fan myself, not to mention my sweet toothed Father and girls, I decided to splash out on something luxurious.  And I found this amazing creation on The Chocolate Hotel website which will soon be with us, along with a wonderful box of chocolates I couldn’t resist on the same site.

I ordered this amazing Easter Egg from the Hotel Chocolate website this week

My other online purchase was also inspired by our trip to England.  I noticed Phil using similar mixing bowls for making his bread to two I have inherited from my Grandmother.  So I started investigating online and found out they are called Green's Gripstand mixing bowls.  I had an amazing find on a site called Your Vintage Life where they were selling two 10.5 inch replicas of my Grandmother’s for the ridiculously low price of 30 pounds each.  Needless to say I grabbed them immediately.  When you see this picture, if you are English, you will know exactly what I am talking about as you probably will have one at home or if not you will have seen them in countless British homes. 

Recognise this very British Green's gripstand mixing bowl?

Of importance yesterday of course was the fact that the clocks went forward one hour for what is known in England as “British Summer Time”.  That meant that we got one hour’s sleep less but that didn’t really matter because we go to bed early and get up early anyway.

The clocks went forward on Saturday

And today is Sunday and I have come to the end of this bumper edition of my blog.  Today there is not much to mention, apart from the fact that it has been another sunny and glorious day.  It was even hot enough for Suzy to sunbathe by the covered pool, no doubt with the aim of keeping up the tan from her recent trip to Africa.  Of note today, I made cheat Siberian pelmeni (a Russian dish similar to ravioli and eaten with Smetana, sour cream).  Susana had been to a Russian shop in Madrid and brought home a huge packet of frozen pelmeni. It is my Father and my favourite Russian dish and Suzy’s too.  This is what it looks like and I can assure you it is delicious.

Siberian pelmeni with smetana (sour cream)

Now I have come to the end of my blog.  You may well be wondering how Kathy’s son Tom Lee got on at Wembley.  Well I am delighted to tell you his team Chesterfield F.C. won the Football League Trophy.  And now I am posting a photo of the proud Mother and Son savouring the moment during the match after drinks.  They must be ecstatic. Well done both of you, I’m so happy for you.

Happy mother and son, Kath and Tom savouring Chesterfield's victory at Wembley today

It’s also well done to Spain’s Formula One double champion Fernando Alonso for garnering victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix for his Ferrari Team today.   Another great win for Spanish sport. 

On that happy note, I leave you until next week.  Hoping yours is a good one,

Cheers Masha
PS You can see the rest of the photos of our memorable trip to Yorkshire here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fit as a fiddle, a 90th birthday party in León and other stories

Ernestina with her birthday presents and cake flanked by Olivia, her grand daughter, Pitulines (Diana) her great grand daughter and Eladio on the right, her son.  They represent the 4 generations present in the family at the birthday lunch in León this Saturday to celebrate Ernestina's 90th birthday

Good morning my friends this sunny Sunday morning in Madrid.  I hope you are all well.  I am extremely well as you will find out later.  But let me start from the beginning of the week.

On Monday I had a meeting with Pedro G who used to work for my press clipping agency, PressTracking, the people who monitor my press coverage.  Pedro left to work for JP Media and meanwhile PressTracking did not even bother to tell me.  I found JP Media to offer better services and will be signing with them very soon and one of the reasons I will do so apart from a better price and service is because of the person I know.  For me the most important thing is the people who work in the agencies, not the agencies themselves.  Some time, soon, I am expecting a call from someone I don’t know at Press Tracking but by then it will be too late. So long Press Tracking, hello JP Media.

On Monday too I had lunch with two journalists from La Razón whom I have known for many years, Emiliano C and Jesús.  They chose to go to Castellana DF, the place we last did a press conference in Madrid.  They thought it was the restaurant which offers the best hamburgers in Madrid.  That made me feel good because another journalist, Ignacio C had complained at the time telling me he thought the place was awful.  When I mentioned that to Emiliano and Jesús, they comforted me by saying that Ignacio always complains about everything.  Well I too think Castellana DF offers the best hamburgers in Madrid, on a par with New York even, and we had a great lunch in its comfy surroundings.  They even had gin tonics after lunch on the terrace but I’ve never been a one for gin tonics or for any kind of drink apart from wine with a meal.  We talked about my Motorola and Nokia days and of course how Yoigo is doing.  We had shared a lot of adventures together, mostly in my former companies and know the telecoms sector very well, so our conversation was interesting and dynamic.  It’s funny how companies come and go but people remain.  That is actually what I like best about the corporate world.

One Tuesday I went with Suzy to MediaMarkt to buy electrical appliances for their new flat.  MediaMarkt had two promotional days last week when you could buy without paying VAT, so she and Gaby took the opportunity to purchase a fridge, a washing machine and a dishwasher.  My contribution to their newly found independence was for appliances for their new domesticity.  They will now have to clean and wash for themselves so I thought I might as well help them a bit.  Thus, for just over 200 euros, we chose an iron, a chopping machine, a microwave, a juice maker, a toaster and a “minipimer” which I think is called a blender in English.

On Wednesday, the abuela (grandmother in Spanish) Ernestina, my mother-in-law turned 90.  I just hope I reach her age in the same state of physical and mental health and surrounded by a loving family.  To celebrate, the whole family was to gather on Saturday for a special birthday lunch in León.  Meanwhile Eladio rang her to wish her a great day which I’m sure she had.

On Wednesday I had my company medical.  To tell the truth in all the 5 years with the company I have never once done one.  There are two reasons, one being to have to go in at the crack of dawn on an empty stomach for a blood test.  The second is that I always dreaded the scales.  But this year I had no excuse as I already had some recent blood test results and of course I no longer dread the scales.  The test turned out to be pretty exhaustive including an electro cardiogram.  When the doctor saw the blood pressure results (12.6 and 62 bpm) she asked whether I was an athlete!  Actually I have always had a low blood count, the type athletes need to perform, so I wasn’t actually surprised when she asked the question although I was tickled pink to have results like that not long after my 55th birthday.  Thus she pronounced me fit as a fiddle. Hopefully this is so because of having similar genes to my long living Father but it may also be because I am in good shape as I go for an hour long brisk walk nearly every day in the year and have been doing so for quite a few years now.  It’s nice to know I am as fit as a fiddle and I shall do my best to remain so too.

Thursday was International Women’s Day and brought with it the first Yoigo get together of the year, named by me Yoigo Mornings.  It was full house as usual.
There was a good turn out at the Yoigo morning on Thursday this week

People round the world were congratulating women and others were questioning that the very existence of the day denoted inequality.  Well of course it does, because inequality between mena and women has always existed and always will.  At the Chinese bank my niece works for, Sara, all the women at work were given a 200 euro tip to celebrate the day.  How nice!  I didn’t get anything.  However that day I did a good deed in that I helped a homeless woman who had just lost the flat she was living in, her boyfriend and her job to find another one.  I should say that my friend Fernando, equally touched by the story, helped Mónica to find the job. She will become what today’s El País call “ni mil eurista” (i.e. those who don’t even earn 1000 euros a month) but she will have a job and will be able to pay for some sort of shelter over her head. I felt good that day, having helped an anonymous woman from the comfort of my life at least a little bit.

In the afternoon, after my walk, I joined Olivia on a short shopping escapade to our local “mall”, Centro Oeste.  Here Oli stocked up on heaps of things, whilst, I just bought this beautiful flowery blazer from Zara.  I have so many clothes now, that I ask myself just when I’m going to wear it.
The flowery blazer I bought at Zara with Oli this week

On Friday I acquired yet another item I don’t need. At my local seamstress, García y Limón, in the high street of Villaviciosa, they have taken to selling custom made bags by the apparent ex workers of the Spanish luxury designer brand Loewe.  They sell, supposedly, just the same models but at 10 times less the price and without the logo.  So here I was happy to have ordered the very classical Amazonas model, which I have always wanted but could never afford at 1.400 euros which is what it costs in the original boutique in Madrid’s most expensive street, Calle Serrano.  And here it is. I’m no expert, but it looks great.
My new "Amazonas" bag, a copy of the famous Loewe handbag

Being Friday it was our night out.  Eladio wasn’t feeling very well and there was no particular film I wanted to watch so we just went out to dinner.  We chose the nearby De Brasa y Puchero and shared a plate of “patatas revolconas” (sort of mushy potatoes cooked in paprika with peppers) and a “sobrasada” delicious sausage.  Later we heard that the English restaurant, La Pérfida Albión, we frequent has shut down.  That’s now two of our favourite restaurants no longer available. We shall have to widen our choice by looking for new places. 
De Brasa y Puchero, the restaurant Eladio and I went to on Friday night

The next day, Saturday, was the highlight of the week.  Eladio, the girls and Gaby and I were off to León for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday.  We were to spend the night too.  It was very special to be going this time as for the first time in years the girls were coming too.  Needless to say we stopped off on route, as habit dictates, for a plate of ham and other cold cuts with delicious white wine at Palacio de Bornos in the Rueda wine growing town in the province of Valladolid.  I must say I love this place.  We also bought two boxes of wine for our wine cellar and some biscuits for my Father.
Eladio with "the girls" in Rueda on our way to León on Saturday

We got to León just before two and drove to Pili and Andrés’ house.  Soon the whole family was together at a new bar come restaurant in town called El Establo de Omaña (the stable of Omaña – the part of León where Montrondo is located).  It is owned by Roberto, the grandson of our neighbours in Montrondo and it is a delightful little place, decorated with a horse theme as befits its name.  Rosi, Roberto’s mother turned out to be a great cook.  She made a sort of thick fish and potato soup followed by the proverbial roast lamb which we always have at all our family celebration meals.

We were 24 gathered around a huge table, with Eladio’s Mother in the middle.
The young generation at the lunch on Saturday in León
A lovely photo Oli took of Suzy and I at the birthday lunch in León on Saturday

I had brought a box of party poppers, great little items to make any party festive and they were of course a success, although the table looked like a litter tip at the end!  The 24 of us represent quite four generations, from Diana (or Pitulines), Roberto and Ana’s two year old daughter, right up to my 90 year old mother-in-law. 
The older generation at El Establo de Omaña where the lunch took place on Saturday in León

Just after the second course Ernestina was given three bunches of flowers, one from Rosi, one from the grandchildren and three roses from her great grandchildren.  From us, adults, or the older generation, she was given a beautiful watch to replace the one she has probably worn forever. 
Happy Ernestina at her birthday lunch on Saturday

It was a wonderful meal and gathering and I, at least, liked the place so much I spoke to Rossi and her son Roberto about holding the family dinner there on New Year’s Eve.  Let’s hope we do.

Eladio wasn’t feeling very well.  So when he heard that José Antonio and Dolores were returning that very day, he decided we should leave with them.  The girls stayed behind and came back in our car today.  I was a bit upset as we were all having a great time, but understood of course.  So at just after 19h we set off home, José Antonio driving in the front with Eladio  and Dolores and I in the back with little Nuba, their delightful mongrel dog.

We caught Olga at home painting her nails in the lounge watching the television, but I decided to leave any conversation about that until later, as I was in no mood for telling her off.  She is so good with my Father but not very good with the cleaning I’m afraid.

Today has been quiet.  I think I have caught the beginnings of a cold from Eladio and just hope that we will be well by next Thursday when we will be going to Yorkshire for a long weekend, including my school reunion dinner. I can’t wait!

For me today is a quiet day but for the victims and families of the victims of the Madrid 2004 train bombs, today is the 8th anniversary of that terrible event, the worst terrorist attack in the history of Spain.  Like all big events that touch your life, I always remember what I was doing at the time.  I was in Segovia with my fellow members of the marketing and communications team at Nokia, holding a goodbye dinner for my dear Finnish friend Anne. No doubt Anne will be remembering too that fatal next morning when we woke up and heard about the attack. 

And on that sad but unforgettable note, I wish you all a great week ahead.

Until next time

PS You can see the rest of the photos of this weekend's trip to León here

Sunday, March 04, 2012

My Oscar goes to … , this year’s Mobile World Congress, home again, a visit to Suzy’s new flat, farewell Gustavo, the week I discovered Jackie Evancho, Spanish treasure, and other things.

Me at this year's Mobile World Congress

Hello everyone,

It’s Sunday again, another week has gone by and it’s nearly spring.  My week has been great but exhausting and I am still feeling tired after this year’s participation in the biggest mobile fair in the world, a sort of huge circus that takes place every year in Barcelona, the Mobile World congress

This time last Sunday I was on the high speed train to Barcelona, along with many other Spanish participants, including my best friend Fátima with whom I worked both in Motorola and Nokia.  That night, while we were having dinner at one of my favourite places, El Merendero de la Mari in the Port Vell, this year’s Oscars were being awarded.

And the Oscar for best actress went to Meryl Streep, as most people had predicted, for her magnificent role as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”.  I was pleased for her as I always am for women stars in their 50’s and 60’s.  They all look so good these days and are a sort of role model for me, to keep on looking good. I had lots of compliments this year in Barcelona for my new figure and looks where a lot of thanks are due to Dr. Dukan but also to my other role models, my beautiful young daughters. I for one, hope to look as good as Meryl Streep when I reach 62.

The eternal Meryl Streep won this year's Best Actress Oscar for her role as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

As also predicted The Artist, that funny French silent film in black and white, won 5 of the top Oscars.  Hugo, by Martin Scorsese, won another 5.  One film which didn’t win an Oscar but had many nominations was War Horse by Steven Spielberg.  I went to see it with Eladio on Friday and loved every minute of it, but then I am a sucker for animals and war films.  You could call it “cheesy” but then I love sentimental cheesy films.  It was a wonderful creation, the story of a beautiful horse called Joey, set in Devon in England and its adventures in the cruel World War I.  It now belongs to my top ten films, the type you can watch over and over again.  So, my Oscar this year goes to Joey and his wonderful young owner Albert, played by the young English actor, Jeremy Irvine, in this epic film by Steven Spielberg.

War Horse by Steven Spielberg got my Oscar for this year's best film
I have digressed writing about the Oscars and should tell you about Sunday, our first and most relaxing day spent in Barcelona last week.  Upon arrival at the train station we took a taxi to our hotel, the Diplomatic where all the TeliaSonera delegates had a room.  The hotel is run of the mill but fine, the sort of hotel which could be anywhere in the world. Its salient feature is that it’s very central, on Pau Claris,  a stone’s throw from the Paseo de Gracia street, possibly Barcelona’s most elegant thoroughfare where all the best shops can be found and some wonderful buildings such as Gaudi’s Casa Battlo and Casa Mila, the city’s most well known architectural gems. 

As soon as we had settled in, unpacked and connected our pcs to internet (via my modem as the hotel’s wifi signal was very weak), we took a taxi to Port Vell (old port) to the area by Pau Villa where there are a string of wonderful open air restaurants.  The sun was shining and the place was bustling with people, both local, as well as tourists and many delegates from the Mobile World Congress (MWC).  Thus we didn’t get a table at Cal Pinxo until well past 15.30 but we didn’t mind as time that day was not a constraint.  We had the first of the three fidueas I was to consume during my stay.  It’s a dish very similar to paella but made with thin noodles and boy is it good. 

Fideua, a delicious sort of paella made with noodles

To work off the wonderful lunch, we decided to walk to the Fira to register for our MWC badges.  The crowds grew thinner as walked our way up the Paralelo Avenue and were amazed to see that we took nearly an hour and a half to do so.  Just as we reached the Plaza de España where the Fira is located we came upon the huge Yoigo building poster featuring my phone, the excellent Samsung Galaxy S2, so we had to stop here for a photo session to mark the happy moment.  My mind took me back to the first time I came to the MWC with Yoigo, 5 years ago when we were just starting and were a very small player in the market.  Who could have predicted then that just 5 years later we would be a profitable company with over 3 million customers?  The huge poster made me smile at the success story of the great little fighting brand operator I am proud to work for.

Yoigo's presence was certainly noticed at this year's MWC

We took a taxi back to our hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon working.  Later I joined my other TeliaSonera colleagues at the traditional get together which took place this year at Taller de Tapas.  However I didn’t stay for dinner as that would have meant leaving Fátima all on her own.  So as I said earlier, we had dinner at El Merendero de la Marí, right next to Cal Pinxo.  We were in bed early as we would both be in need of a good night’s sleep to face the busy few days coming up.  Fátima was staying in my room as she had been unable to find accommodation until Tuesday night.  It was great to be together again and reminded us of our cycling tour days when Motorola had a team, starring none less than the Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong.  However I was not to get much sleep thanks to my friend’s very heavy snoring.  I am a very light sleeper anyway and any noise, however slight, will keep me awake so the nights were torturous, despite the foam ear plugs I had brought with me.  The next day I bought some wax ones which worked slightly better.  But it wasn’t until Tuesday night that I got some decent slumber. 

Monday morning was spent working from our room.  Well not quite.  At one stage I took the opportunity to get a hair do as well as the luxury of having my nails painted, red, of course, after which I ventured into my favourite shop Zara where I bought two lovely jackets, one white and one pink.  It was very warm in Barcelona and the clothes I had brought were far too wintery.  Any excuse will do for shopping in Zara is the actual truth!

The pink jacket I bought at Zara in Barcelona this week

Every time I bumped into acquaintances or friends they often remarked how busy I must be.  In actual fact that wasn’t true as most of the work had already been done before getting to Barcelona and in a way I was there just to see it executed.  The activities I had prepared were multiple.  First we had a blogger group hosted by Yoigo and accompanied by my team from our PR Agency, Ketchum, then we had a Carnaval party organized for the bloggers and Yoigo shop owners on the Tuesday and lastly on the Wednesday, we were to celebrate our annual press conference, possibly our most important media event of the year. As all the work was done, previous to coming, I was able to relax and just see the activities roll out to perfection, thanks to good organization and two wonderful teams of people from our PR Agency, Ketchum and my events agency QuintaEsencia.  

For me the Mobile World Congress is all about meeting old and new colleagues and Monday lunch was a highlight as I had a date with Keka, a colleague from Nokia who I first got to know when she started as a very young trainee and I was able to help her in her beginnings.  Being a very clever and pretty girl, Keka went on to shine professionally when she went to live in Finland and then London.  After leaving Nokia she had a stint in Nepal and India, countries that have left a mark on her and today she is living quietly in her native Santiago as a writer, author and coach.  It was great to see her again after so much time and catch up on our lives over another wonderful fideua again at El Merendero de la Mari.

With Keka at lunch one day this week at the MWC

I was to see her again that night, this time at the fabulous Yoigo Carnaval party held at Cachitos, a great little bar on the Rambla de Cataluña.  I think you know I hardly ever enjoy my own professional parties but this time it was different.  I enjoyed the whole evening, talking and mixing with shop owners, bloggers, colleagues and contacts from some of our suppliers, as well as friends like Keka and also my dear Turkish engineer friend Berk whom I once dreamed would marry my daughters. But that was not to be. You can see what a great party it was if you click on this link to see the photos.

With Gloria (left) and Bea (right) at our Carnaval party in Barcelona this week. I remarked we could have been at a playboy party instead because of our head gear hahaha

On Tuesday morning I worked again with Fátima from our room but soon had to leave to attend the TeliaSonera press conference at the Fair.  It was to be hosted by my old boss Thomas J, from Nokia who today is head of external communication with TeliaSonera.  Isn’t the world a small place?  I felt sorry for my TeliaSonera communications colleagues who fell foul to a breakdown in electricity and thus the whole press conference had to take place without the use of microphones or power points.  If that had happened to me, I would have “died” but the Swedes seemed to take the whole situation quite philosophically. 

Because of the lack of electricity the press conference was cut very short and I was able to get away to have lunch with my two best friends and ex colleagues, Julio and Fátima.  This was to be my last fideua at Cal Pinxo.  If you are worried about my weight, don’t be as I am back into the Dukan diet fold this week hahahaha.

It was on Tuesday when I got to see some of the fair.  In the morning I made a beeline for what feels like home when I’m at the MWC, the Nokia Siemens Networks hall.  Here I greeted old colleagues like Antonio, Julio, Pentti, Paloma and dear Emilio B.  It’s always great to see them.  In the afternoon I visited the Nokia stand and was happy to see they were back at the fair after a few years absence.  Here I greeted Kaisa, Solange, Kristina, Mark, Claire, Xavier, Anna, Ben and it was lovely to see them and catch up on how things are today in communications at Nokia.  But it was even lovelier to bump into Jesús S, my dearest colleague at Motorola who now lives in Miami. Fittingly my dearest colleague from Nokia, Julio, took this lovely photo of us both. Jesús who turned 50 this year, remarked that when he first joined Motorola he was just 29.  Wow that takes me back a while.

With Jesús S, one of my favourite Motorola colleagues on the Nokia stand at the MWC this week

As to the fair itself, at the beginning of this week’s post, I referred to it as a sort of giant circus and that is literally what it is.  Some 60.000 delegates attended this year and goodness knows how many firms, some known some not.  The noise around the fair and the bustle are at times a little too much.  I think what most caught my attention was the Pegasus horse made of mobile phones.  If you looked closer you could see it was made by the Chinese manufacturer Huawei and it is really a work of art.  I had my picture taken with Pablo X who heads up sales at Huawei Spain and is Chinese.  I think it was the most photographed thing at the fair.

The amazing Pegasus horse made with mobile phones with Pablo X from Huawei

Most delegates, and they were from all over the world, with many representatives from Asia, were busy snapping at all the tablets and mobile phones on display.  As you can imagine, the latter don’t really seduce me after so many years in the sector.  What I thought worth photographing were other things, such as the enormous taxi queues, a Japanese lady dressed in a kimono, promoting her restaurant in town, anti capitalist demonstrators, a bit like at Davos, a woman shouting against the use of coltan in mobile phones and funniest of all, two elderly gentlemen offering accommodation in far away Sitges for 150 euros per “nigth” as they spelled it. It seems there are enormous parallel activities trying to cash in on the well off delegates.  They were a sight to see and hear.

Everyone gets on the MWC bandwagon in Barcelona.  Here, two elderly gentlemen offering accommodation in far away Sitges for 150 euros per "nigth" hahahaha

Tuesday was all about meeting people; thanks to Julio I even met the General Manager of Google Spain who has the same name as Spain’s last President, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and causes havoc when he makes a restaurant reservation.  It was also full of social events.  At 18h I had an appointment at the huge Ericsson hall where I was to meet up with our bloggers before the annual party started.  Here I met three charming Indians from Kerala who now live in Stockholm working for Ericsson.  They have developed communication via the human body and showed me how when they took a photo of me with a phone, just by my touching the back of it, the picture showed up on a screen behind us.  That was mind blowing and I was delighted it had been invented by the three delightful Indians whom I told I loved their country and remembered to say “Namaste”. I’m not sure whether they thought I was mad as a hatter.

Three delightful Indian engineers who work for Ericsson.

A little later I escaped from the party and left the Swedes and their colleagues beginning dinner at the unearthly hour of just past 18h, to get ready for a private dinner I had arranged for my team from Ketchum, QuintaEsencia and other Yoigo colleagues at the more reasonable time of 21h (no one has dinner earlier in spain).  We had the most delicious dinner at La Venta at the top of Barcelona in an area called Tibidabo at what turned out to be the most enjoyable and relaxing event of the week, so much so that I even forgot to take any photographs.

On Tuesday night I got my best night’s sleep as Fátima had left, so I was up feeling fresh and full of energy the next morning which was good as our press conference was taking place at 10.  It was great to arrive just after 9.30 to find everything ready and beautifully prepared by my teams from Ketchum and QuintaEsencia.  We held it at lovely bar called Mordisco and the setting was perfect; a lovely glass roofed room with a table in the middle heavily laid with fabulous fruit and other breakfast delicacies. 

Everything was perfectly prepared for our press conference on Wednesday at Mordisco in Barcelona

Soon the place was heaving with colleagues, bloggers and journalists.  Thankfully the turnout was excellent with some 35 representatives from the media.  If you consider the size of the fair and the amount of information shared by all the exhibitors, we were lucky to get our own share of voice in the middle of such bedlam.  That day we were announcing our objectives for 2012, some great new flat tariffs, but the most important news was the launch of a mobile voice over IP voucher.  For just 6 euros a month our customers will be able to use applications like skype or viber on their mobile phones, for the equivalent of 1 cent per minute, a bit of a revolution in the sector and something very new for Spain.  I was very pleased to follow the online coverage after the event which continued through the day and offline the next day.  As we are very innovative in Yoigo we also tweeted and posted the news on Twitter and Facebook (and on Google+ and Tuenti) during the conference itself and as we did it I thought just how the way I communicate has changed since I first started in the trade.  Everything these days is fast and immediate.

Our journalists hung around for an hour or so after the press conference, talking to us and writing the news and enjoying the food.  In a way it was a bit like a party.  Something happened on Wednesday that has never happened before; the journalists and bloggers actually clapped when the conference finished.  I think they enjoy themselves thoroughly when they are with us.  Why ever they did it, it felt good.

Soon I was rushing back to my hotel to pick up my three pieces of luggage to take a taxi to catch the 13h high speed train back to Madrid.  As on the outbound journey, I coincided with many colleagues and other familiar faces on the way back.  I spent most of the journey working, sending out the releases to the staff, uploading photos, replying to emails and the 2.45h trip went past in a flash. 

I was home just after 16h where I was greeted by Eladio, Suzy and my Father.  Very soon I was off with Suzy to see her new flat in nearby Villanueva de la Cañada. She and Gaby will be living in a very modern block of flats built specially for young people and subsidized by the local authorities.  They reminded me of student accommodation in the UK, the difference being that these colourful Lacasito (name for the equivalent of smarties in Spain) flats are spotlessly clean and have all the latest finishings. 

Suzy outside the colourful block of flats she will be living in in Villanueva de la Cañada

The flats are small but cosy and have lots of light because of their enormous windows.  They have a kitchen come lounge, one tiny bedroom, one larger bedroom and luxury of luxuries, two bathrooms, as well as lots of cupboard space.  They are not furnished so Suzy and Gaby probably won’t be moving in until the beginning of May as they need to get all sorts of things before they finally make the move.  I can feel from Susana that she is very excited about going to live in the new flat but at the same time a little sad about leaving home.  I think we all share the same feeling.  You can see the rest of the photos I took of our visit to her new flat here.

The next day, Thursday, I had to go to the office for an important meeting which kept being rescheduled to 30 minutes later which meant I missed lunch at home.  Thankfully though I was able to go for a walk with Eladio, the only one this week unfortunately, unless you count last Sunday with Fátima in Barcelona.

On Friday I was finally able to relax.  I went food shopping with Eladio in the morning and then I had another lunch date. But it wasn’t any lunch date, it was a goodbye lunch for Gustavo.  Gustavo has worked for me as the head of the PR team at Ketchum since the summer of 2006 since when he has grown professionally into the best PR executive you could ever dream of if you are a Communications Director like me.  He is leaving to work for another agency where he will head up the account for a big car manufacturer and I don’t think he knows just how much I will miss him.  He is not only a good professional but a lovely dependable and reliable person who never loses his nerve whatever the situation is.  So he deserved the best kind of send off we could give him.  With the help of the girls from QuintaEsencia and Carlos from Ketchum, we devised a lovely goodbye kit and an album of photos of his times on the Yoigo account. 

Gustavo's (in the middle holding the album) goodbye lunch on Friday

We went to a great place called El Bogavante de Almirante (lobster joint) and one of my surprises was a pack of party poppers.  Needless to say the table looked a picture at the end of the lunch.  Luckily Carlos will take Gustavo’s place and Isabel too will continue to work on the account.  Of course, they will miss him too.  But as he said in a lovely message he sent to me afterwards, he will miss me as a customer but has gained me as a friend.  I too have gained a friend.  Farewell Gustavo, I wish you all the luck in the world in the next step of your career.  You can see the other photos I took at the lunch here on this link.

The lunch didn’t finish until past 5 and I had to be home on time to go to the cinema with Eladio to see War Horse which was starting at 7pm.  Because of an accident on the way home, I had to take another way and ended up getting lost.  Thus I was home a little late and we got to the cinema just as the wonderful epic film was starting.  Afterwards we went to dinner to Fosters Hollywood, as our favourite, La Alpargatería has closed down.  It’s a poor substitute I must say.
Saturday and Sunday have been very quiet but there have been nice family lunches and it’s great to be home again.  I needed the peace and quiet in order to recover after so much activity in Barcelona from where I came home exhausted.

So, yes the week has been great.  However I am grateful that next week there are no trips planned and I can enjoy a few days of routine.  

It has also been the week I discovered a star, a 10 year old girl called Jackie Evancho who sings like an angel.  Whilst we were listening to my favourite songs on Spotify in our room in Barcelona, Fátima mentioned her.  Jackie Evancho, a beautiful, well mannered little girl from Penssylvania became famous after singing on the America’s Got Talent show last year where she came surprisingly number two and not number one. Since then she has gone on to make various albums and has sung none other than for President Obama.  Her style is what they call classical crossover and I love it.  She reminds me of Charlotte Church, although Jackie’s soprano operatic voice seems even stronger.  You look at this little girl and wonder how she can have the voice of a 30 year old opera singer.  If she can sing like this at the age of 10 or 11, I cannot begin to imagine what her voice will be like when she reaches 30. If you haven’t heard of her, just listen to her here on You Tube and I know you will agree with me that a star has been born. 

This was the week I discovered Jackie Evancho

Apart from being the week I discovered Jackie Evancho, it was also the week treasure returned to Spain and not just any treasure. Last Saturday saw the end of a journey that the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes ship started towards Spain in 1804.  The ship sunk after an attack by English ships when it approached the Portuguese coast.  200 people died and the sea swallowed its huge treasure of gold and silver that had come from Peru. Years later the 600.000 silver and gold coins were salvaged by an American treasure hunting ship called Odyssey who thought the treasure was theirs for keeping. However the Spanish authorities entered legal proceedings and in a way won the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes last battle when the treasure was returned to Spain.  I had hoped that it would help to improve the Spanish economy as it is worth thousands of millions of euros, but apparently not.  It will be considered historical heritage and as I write is being cleaned and polished and restored for later exhibition in some maritime museum.  The story has been in the news for days and the main angle is that Spanish treasure is being returned to its right owners.  But I ask myself whether that is really so and that perhaps the Peruvian authorities may think otherwise. 

The treasure from the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes ship, sunk in 1804 was finally returned to Spain last week

And on that note of a tale of naval history, I end this week’s blog.  I wish you all a great week and will be back next Sunday.

PS You can see all my photos of Barcelona here.