Saturday, February 23, 2013

A quiet week, Paula is 25, a bail hearing, a royal mess, and other stories.

Paula's surprise birthday dinner on Wednesday
Hi everyone

Tomorrow Sunday I am off to Barcelona for this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) and I’ll be too busy to write this week’s post, so here you have it one day early.

There really is not much to report this week so this week’s post will be quite short.  I haven’t done anything exciting.  I think my week could be summed up as closely following The Fast Diet and making last minute preparations for Yoigo’s activities at the MWC, the biggest mobile event in the world which happens once a year in February.  

Monday saw me in the office for a meeting with my PR agency to go over the presentation for the press conference in Barcelona.  I went in again on Tuesday for a management team meeting and the rest of the week worked from home.

Eladio went off each afternoon on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to give his UNED (Spanish equivalent of the Open University) tutorials.  I went on our walk alone feeling guilty about leaving the dogs, Norah and Elsa at home and in fact crept out so they wouldn’t see me.
The view on my walk one day this week
I didn’t see much of the girls during the week either.  Olivia would come back from her TV programme when we had finished lunch and was away most evenings with Suzy.  I missed them I must say.

On Wednesday they had an important date, the celebration of their cousin, Paula’s 25th birthday, quite a milestone as far as birthdays go.  It is in fact today (happy happy birthday dear Paula) but as she was going off to Malaga with her boyfriend Pedro this weekend, the surprise birthday dinner with some of her cousins took place on Wednesday night in downtown Madrid.  Alicia her cousin and flat mate, together with Pedro, had prepared a great happy birthday video where nearly all the cousins intervened.  You can see it here.  It made both Paula and her mother Pili cry with joy.  See what you think.  Olivia’s video was even made by the TVE studios, but I think Paula’s brother, Mario’s intervention is the best – together with their Dalmatian dog, Trebol, wearing red sunglasses they greet their sister Paula from León.
At the cousin's surprise birthday dinner for Paula's 25th this week
This week was my second week on The Fast diet and of course I fasted (or semi fasted as you can have just 500 calories on fast days) on Monday and Thursday.  The worst part of the day is mid afternoon when your stomach rumbles and the day seems so long until your frugal dinner.  To keep my mind off food on Thursday I drove to the Centro Oeste shopping centre to return a dress I had bought at H+M.  Of course whilst there I had a good look at the shops too.  This week my find was a lovely red top from Massimo Dutti, Zara’s up market retailer.
The new red top I got from Massimo Dutti this week
On Friday morning my dieting efforts were rewarded as in just 11 days since I started I had lost 2 whole kilos. It might not be so noticeable on the outside, but I am fitting beautifully now into clothes that used to be tight.

Friday being Friday, we went out for dinner and this was the one day of the week I broke my diet.  We decided on Ginos as I had a craving for pasta.  My favourite dish there is fetuccinne made with green and white pasta and served with strips of ham and a cream sauce.  The accompanying wine was heaven as was the dessert, pistachio ice cream.
My favourite pasta dish at Ginos
It was ironic that last night I slept badly after such a big meal, in contrast to sleeping badly on Thursday night because of hunger.  

As we were having dinner, Olivia had just arrived in Valencia where she will be spending the weekend with her boyfriend Miguel.  Luckily though, we will have the pleasure of Susana’s company for lunch today so the house won’t feel so empty.

This week of course has been the week of Oscar Pistorius’ bail hearing in South Africa.  I don’t have to remind you who he is or that he has been accused of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on St. Valentine’s day.  You will also know that he is often called “blade runner, after the film but also because of the “blade” type legs he uses for competing. I was quite interested in the story but did not expect to be involved in it as I was this week.  The reason: Olivia had to do reports for TVE1 on the case and I had to help her with some of the translations.  I should add that she would send me the difficult phrases via whatsapp at about 8 in the morning, demanding an immediate reply. I reminded her later that I am not at my best before having my morning coffee which Olivia thinks is not a good trait in my character and she is probably right. I can assure you the phrases were not easy to translate with a lot of legal jargon but worst of all were the English type newspaper headlines which are often plays on words and cannot be translated directly.  The name of the hearing itself was the first obstacle.  We are talking here of his bail hearing whereas the press in Spain were referring to it as a trial which is not the case. Some examples were “Oscar’s defense fires on all cylinders”, “Oscar cop under fire” and the one that proved most difficult for me: “Oscar in bed riddle”. 
The famous South African athlete Oscar Pistorius at the bail hearing this week

Last night we learned he had been granted bail, ironically because the Judge didn’t think he was a flight risk.  The full trial will now take place and the world will watch to see if his story of manslaughter holds up or if he is accused of premeditated murder.  Right now I am in two minds as I read and see just how affected he seems, breaking down and crying throughout the hearing.  If he is innocent then he will be suffering doubly and unfairly and I wonder if that is the case.  Right now only he really knows.

In Spain we have our own big trail going on.  It’s not a murder case but one about embezzlement and it’s big because it involves the King’s son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin who is married to the youngest princess the Infanta Cristina.  The former Barcelona handball player is accused of embezzling money through multimillion euro deals struck with regional governments through the supposedly non-profit Noos institute he set up with his partner Diego Torres.  He organized sporting events for them cashing in on his royal connections.  So far so good but what happened was that they charged much more than the real cost, pocketing the rest for themselves. Not so long ago in Spain negative reporting on the Royal Family was fairly taboo but in 10 years or so this has changed and now we get to read all the gory details.  I think the real downfall of the Spanish monarchy came when the King scuttled off to Botswana on an elephant hunting expedition whilst Spaniards back home were facing one of the worst financial crises in history. 
Princess Cristina and her husband Iñaki Urdangarin, in deep trouble
The story has gone across borders and is no longer a national scandal.   I was just slightly surprised to see The Herald Tribune include the news on their front page, whilst news about Spain is usually relegated to the back pages. The headline was very graphic and entitled “a royal mess”.  You can read the full story here. I suppose that is the best way to describe this hearing and its repercussions for the Spanish Monarchy.  For the first time, in Spain politicians, albeit the left wing, are calling for the abdication of the King.  I am sure Juan Carlos I is having great difficulty sleeping, not to mention his daughter and son-in-law the ostracized Duke and Duchess of Palma.
The Iñaki Urdanarin case was front page news this week in the Herald Tribune
Today the disgraced Duke will be in court in sunny Mallorca and the world will be watching, including his Father-in-law, the King.  I wonder whether Iñaki Urdangarin will be able to get away with an “I’m sorry and I won’t do it again” which is what the King said after the Botswana elephant episode. I doubt it.

And whilst that happens, I shall be getting on with the day, making lunch for the family, going for our walk and of course packing my suitcase for my trip tomorrow.  I shall be catching an early high speed train and look forward to lunch tomorrow with Grainne and her son Marcel in Barcelona.

Meanwhile I wish you all a great week,

Cheers Masha

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The fast diet, the Pope resigned and the importance of knowing Latin, remembering George, Valentine’s Day, black and white is in fashion and other stories.

Tuesday 12th February would have been my brother George's birthday
Hi everyone,

How has your week been?  Mine has been different, in that I started the Fast diet (remember I wrote about it last week?) and on Monday I experienced my first day of fasting – or rather semi fasting as on the two non consecutive days of the week you “fast” you can only eat 500 calories.  For the “feed days” I was told I could eat 2000 calories but decided to stick to approx 1.500 as 2000 is far too much for me. Suzy also started the diet so, although we weren’t together, we were, at least, able to give each other moral support at a distance. For the record this is what I decided to eat: Breakfast: porridge made of two spoonfuls of oat bran with 150ml skimmed milk, coffee made with 100 ml skimmed and 50ml semi skimmed milk, Lunch: a 40 calorie yoghurt and a cup of coffee with 100ml skimmed milk, Early evening: a cup of herbal tea and one mandarin, Dinner: an omelette made with one big egg and two slivers of lean ham grilled in 1tsp of oil, 5 boiled asparagus and one 40 calorie yoghurt. 

During the fast day, I made sure my mind was not on food.  It wasn’t so difficult in the morning but not joining my husband and my Father for lunch was a bit of a sacrifice.  I got a rumbling stomach occasionally and a few hunger pangs, but otherwise got through the day the best I could.  I didn’t feel any loss of energy and enjoyed our daily walk as usual.  Dinner of course helped me get a good night’s sleep and it felt like a banquet after eating so little during the day.  The great news on Tuesday morning was that I had shed 1.5kg (3.3lb).  After the second day of fasting – Thursday – I was disappointed to see a loss of a miserly 100 grammes.  However I shall persevere as I am not only seeking weight loss but all the health benefits the diet promises – keeping the dreaded diseases of cancer, Parkinson, Alzheimer and dementia at bay.

So, on a pretty empty stomach, on Monday I made my way to Alcobendas for my annual medical checkup organized by the HR department at work.  In the past I hated going because I was overweight, but that is no longer the case.  Having kept slim now for nearly three years and going for an hour long walk nearly every day of our lives, I knew I was fit.  So I was not surprised to pass the medical with flying colours.  I even think the lady doctor was surprised to see with how much ease I was able to touch my toes.  

Just as I was getting into the car, I checked my phone and saw the most surprising news; the Pope, Benedict XVI, had just resigned, apparently due to age and declining health.  I think the whole world went into shock as he is the first Pope to do so in more than 600 years.  The 85 year old Bavarian Pontiff announced his resignation in Latin on Monday morning at a regular public consistory organized to canonize several blessed individuals; not a particularly important event.
The Pope announced his resignation on Monday

No one was expecting the announcement and there were very few journalists present.  When Giovanna Chirri, who covers the Vatican for Italy’s ANSA news agency, heard his whispering speech, she couldn’t believe what she was hearing but understood every word as she knows Latin, unlike the other journalists present and it because she knows Latin that she became the first journalist in the world to report the Pope’s resignation.  
Giovanna Chirri was the first journalist to break the news of the Pope's resignation because she understands Latin.

After alerting her news desk, she tweeted in Italian, "B16 si e' dimesso. Lascia pontificato dal 28 febbraio" (Benedict XVI resigns leaving the pontificate on 28th February) becoming the first person to break the news on social media.
Giovanna Chirri's laconic tweet in Italian, the first news of the Pope's resignation on social media

The world went into shock and this has been the main news of the week with plenty of speculation as to the real reasons behind the Pope’s announcement.  There is suspicion that the real reason is that the church is ungovernable because of in fighting and that the aged German pontiff can no longer bear the pressure of accusations of pederasty.  Whatever the reasons, he will step down on 28th February and probably retire to a monastery in the Vatican devoting the rest of his life to prayer, meditation and theology, three things I suspect he prefers to governing an unruly Church.  And now the race is on to choose his replacement.  The conclave will take place in the middle of March and many are betting on the new Pope being a non European, either an African or a South American.  I wonder, as others probably do too, whether Benedict XVI has already settled the issue.  

I’m sure Olivia my daughter was totally unaware of this breaking news as she was busy reporting on the snow at Navacerrada in the mountain area of Madrid.  I was able to watch her first report at 10.15 before going for my medical.
Olivia reporting on the snow on Monday from Navacerrada outside Madrid

But I missed her at 12.15, although I was able to see her second report on internet later on in the afternoon. She had gathered together a group of school children enjoying the snow during their morning break.  You can see the clip here if you fast forward to 12.10.  Olivia as a journalist will have envied Giovanna Chirri's moment of fame for being the first journalist to break the news of the Pope's resignation.  The next day, though, Olivia, like many journalists around the world, had to do an extensive report on the papal story.

Eladio would have been unaware too, although very interested because of his clerical past, as he was busy invigilating the Spanish Open University (UNED) exams.  He was to do so every morning of last week, leaving the house early each day.  He is officially retired but continues as a part time UNED tutor.  This week he was asked to give more lectures or rather tutorials and the new subject he has taken on is the history of medieval and renaissance philosophy.  There is no subject my cultured husband cannot put his hand to and I am very proud of him.

I think my niece Paula was probably unaware too of the news of the Pope resigning as she had her own good news that morning.  She has landed the job of communications officer for the Dutch insurance company, Aegon, in Spain.  Her boss will be my friend and ex colleague, Marta.  I was instrumental in her getting an interview, but it is Paula’s merit that she landed the job; being the best candidate. I am very happy that the two will be working together and wish my sweet and beautiful niece lots of luck in her new job. 

Tuesday was 12th February, a date ingrained in my memory since childhood. It was my brother George’s birthday, just four days after mine.  He would have been 58 but sadly died in 2001 on 15th May aged just 46, too young to leave this wonderful world.  He will never be forgotten.

On Tuesday I had a belated birthday lunch with the girls from my events agency, QuintaEsencia.  Bea, Cristina and Gloria treated me to lunch at a new restaurant in Madrid called No.  It had a special meaning for us all as the restaurant belongs to the Antoñanzas brothers who are also owners of the events agency I used to work with and where the three sisters learned their trade; Comunica.  Amazingly, Jaime, the brother I know best, was there too and it was nice to greet him.  We hadn’t seen each other for maybe ten years.  Of course we have aged but I well remember Jaime when I was in my thirties working for Motorola and the wonderful events we did together in Lisbon and Madrid.  I learned part of my trade from him too. 
The Antoñanzas brothers' restaurant "No" where I had lunch on Tuesday

Thursday of course was St. Valentine’s day but it was also my second day of fasting, so there was to be no celebration dinner with Eladio that night.  Instead I booked a table for Friday.  Meanwhile, to take food off my mind, I did some retail shopping that day at Gran Plaza Norte 2.  Here I discovered that black and white is very much in fashion, or at least that they were selling a lot of black and white articles at H+M and Zara. Weighing a bit less, I spent a bit more than I should but purchased some lovely clothing.  At Zara I invested in a pair of black and white vertical striped skinny jeans, a black blazer with a wonderful black and white vertical striped lining, a white shirt, a black and white vertical striped blouse and my favourite item; a black leather pinafore dress.  At H+M I bought a black jumper and a navy blue jumper and the best find of the day, a striking and flattering tight fitting black and white harlequin type dress.   
The black and white dress I bought from H+M on Thursday
Isn’t it lovely?  I was to wear it for the first time at dinner on Friday to celebrate St. Valentines.

Whilst I was trying on and mixing and matching black and white, the world learned of a St. Valentine’s horror story.  In South Africa, the famous Olympic Games legless runner, the dashing Oscar Pistorius, was accused of killing his girlfriend, the beautiful model, Reeva Steenkamp.  My ex South African colleague at Nokia, Tanya, shares the same surname as the model and for a while I was worried they were related.  Tanya told me later that they weren’t but that the whole country was in shock.
A Valentine's horror story, Oscar Pistorius accused of killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp the South African model
If South Africa was in shock on Thursday, it was Russia’s turn on Friday.  The world had been waiting most of the week for a huge asteroid to brush past the earth, but no one expected a ten ton meteoroid to hit the earth on Friday.  It hurtled through the atmosphere and hit the town of Chelyabinsk, some 900 miles east of Moscow.  At least a 1000 people were injured and buildings severely damaged and the noise and shock the meteoroid caused lead people to believe they were experiencing the end of the world. 

The 10 ton meteoroid that crashed into the Russian city of Chelyabinsk on Friday

I am sure the Swedish photographer Paul Hansen would have liked to take that photo.  But that day his mind will have been on the prize he won; the World Press Photo 2012 for the Gaza Burial, a photo of two Palestinian children, a brother and a sister, killed in an Isreali missile strike and being taken to their funeral by an anguished group of men, probably their relatives. 

This year's World Press Photo prize goes to Paul Hansen for The Gaza Burial

But that night, my mind was on celebrating St. Valentine’s Day with my beloved husband. I had booked a table via the restaurant website, El Tenedor which offers discounts at selected restaurants.  I wanted to try somewhere new and found just one restaurant with a discount at nearby Villaviciosa de Odón, a place called “Costa Vasca” (Basque Coast).  I have always thought that the Basque Country in Spain offers the best cuisine so hoped I had made the right choice. It turned out we were the only diners in a rather old and slightly shabby dining room.  However the owner’s wife who is the restaurant chef, is from Bilbao and we were served delicious food.  I’m not sure we will be going back soon, but maybe we will in the summer as they have a terrace with a garden where the atmosphere will be better than their dining room.

Saturday was quiet, the highlight being lunch when we were joined by both girls and Olivia’s boyfriend Miguel.  I should have mentioned earlier that he came on Monday to stay the week with her.  He is very sporty and as I have written before here, Olivia now runs and swims, skis and even goes paragliding with him.  Yesterday before lunch they went off for a 5km run and this is what they looked like.
Miguel and Olivia just before they went on a run yesterday

On Saturday it was my friend Jacqueline’s birthday from Yorkshire. She now lives in a village in Murcia and as I saw from pictures she posted on Facebook, she had a great birthday surrounded by her family.  Both of us commented we hadn’t received flowers for St. Valentines.  Olivia had though and not just a beautiful plant of red roses, but also a lovely watch from Miguel.  

We didn’t go out on Saturday but of course our daughters did. Here is a photo of Suzy with some of her friends from their group they call “La Manada” (The Herd) enjoying last night.

Suzy and some of her friends on Saturday night

Now it is Sunday. Oufa has her day off today so I did the cooking.  We were to be joined by Suzy and Juli and I made delicious oxtail, from a trusted recipe from my Spanish cookery book by Simone Ortega.
The oxtail I made for lunch today

The dogs have enjoyed the bones, as they always do.  Everyone is now sleeping after the meal and I am quietly finishing this week’s blogpost. Later we will go for our walk. Afterwards  I will continue watching the hilarious series called Benidorm about English tourists on holiday at Spain’s equivalent of Blackpool and I will do so on my iPad via the great BBC iPlayer application. 

Tomorrow Monday will be my third “fast day” and funnily enough I don’t fear it.  But more about that in next week’s post.

Meanwhile I wish you all a good week ahead.

Cheers Masha

Sunday, February 10, 2013

More corruption scandals, a meeting about robberies, girly time, a perfect birthday, greetings from Burma, Carnival and more.

Sunday 10th February 2013
What a happy woman I was on Friday on my birthday with my red roses Eladio ordered from Interflora
Hello again everyone

Today is the official start of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the snake.  Gong Xi Fa Cai” my friends. This week being my birthday and prompted by my friend Sandra in Brussels, I looked up my Chinese horoscope to find out that I am the “rooster”.  Do you know what you are?
Today is the beginning of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Snake

The week has been great, busy and fun.  Monday saw me at the office for a meeting with my PR team to see how we can improve our activity on social media.  We are doing a good job but can always do better.  I was happy later in the week to hear that Yoigo is the 2nd most sociallydevoted brand of all brands in Spain on Facebook.  It was interesting to see that our competition (Orange, Vodafone and Telefónica) are in the top ten of the least socially devoted brands. But, as I pointed out to my team, I want to be top in other rankings too such as top content and engagement rate.  Let’s hope we get there.

On Monday too we had the pleasure of the company of Susana and it was day Olivia returned from her skiing trip to Baqueira. Dinner together was a luxury as it always is these days now that we are no longer together as often as when the girls were younger. 

The news that day was about yet another corruption scandal, this time a sporting one, as if we hadn’t had enough with Lance Armstrong and the Operación Puerto.  The world heard via the Interpol that up to 380 football matches around the globe have been fixed – players and referees had been bribed to fix matches and the mafia organizing this from Asia made money betting on matches.  The only good news to come out was that no matches had been fixed in Spain, so for once Spain was in the clear.

Nearly every country has its scandals and very few, or none, are free of corruption.  This week it was the turn of Germany where the Minister for Education, Annette Schavan, resigned.  Her crime was plagiarism when she did her PhD.  In Spain that would be sort of run of the mill and few authorities would resign over something similar.  

My own country England was in deep trouble this week.  First there was the horsemeat scandal – horsemeat found in hamburgers and similar food – which I for one wouldn’t have taken as seriously as some of my compatriots.  But it has generated reams of articles and activity on social media, as well as lots of jokes.   English wit has truly risen to the occasion here and I have enjoyed following the story on twitter.  I particularly like these twits:Since the horsemeat scandal I've been having my burgers extremely well done - they're black beauties” and “Would you like some beef in your burger Sir?”
British wit at the horsemeat scandal is endless, this is just one example

Much worse is the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal also in the UK, where up to 1.200 patients have died unnecessarily through atrocious lack of care.  I hate to read the details but if you haven’t, you can read about them here. I have always said that English hospitals are grim places, having seen my brother not very well cared for at the dirty Royal Free Hospital in London or my Mother spending the last weeks of her life on the cancer ward at the Bradford Royal Infirmary.  I have to say she was not badly cared for but her surroundings were not pleasant.  On the other hand, hospitals, both public and private, are much more pleasant and efficient in Spain.  They are not perfect but we have no record of lack of care or unnecessary deaths here.  I’m sure David Cameron, when he made an apology in Parliament this week, must have felt enormous embarrassment as the world looked on in utter disgust that something like this could happen in England, a country that is in the top ten most prosperous in the world. 

Equally embarrassed I imagine Spain’s premier, Mariano Rajoy, must have felt when he had to face the press for the first time since his own political corruption scandal – the supposed slush fund hand outs to top party members, including himself, by the former party treasurer, the now infamous Luis Bárcenas.  He had to do so in the presence of Europe’s iron lady, Angela Merkel and it must have been a very tricky situation for him.  I am personally embarrassed by the scandal, the biggest in politics in Spain for some time, but only one of many.  We have yet to find out if the documents published by El País are bonafide and who is lying here, the left wing newspaper or the right wing ruling party, PP, who deny receiving slush funds.  It is embarrassing when the news spreads the world but of course inevitable.  So I was shocked to see this article by The Economist entitled “Another Blow”.  In actual fact the article which describes this and other corruption scandals in Spain, is not only objective but a very good summary of what is happening here.  I encourage you to read it.

On Tuesday I had lots of girly time, or what my Mother used to call “moments with Mummy”.  Suzy was here for breakfast and I went shopping with Olivia in the afternoon.  We had a very productive bit of retail therapy.  I found a fabulous figure hugging black and white lycra dress at H+M.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice.
My new black and white lycra dress from H+M - love it

Of course we went to Zara too and here I jumped at this tapestry mini skirt.  To go with it I chose an emerald green cardigan.  Just love this outfit; so me.
Love my new tapestry skirt and emerald green cardigan from Zara

We went to Centro Oeste in Majadahonda.  There is a new little boutique there called “Cosas bonitas” or something like that and here I found a great jumper with the word Love, the “o” being the peace sign.  I wore it on my birthday and got lots of compliments.  Apparently it makes me look younger.  If that’s true I shall be wearing it a lot hahaha.
My new "love jumper"

On Tuesday too something funny happened.  I looked at our joint account on internet and lo and behold found a charge from Interflora.  Thus I guessed that Eladio had ordered flowers for me for my birthday or for Valentine’s day.  He didn’t know I had found out and I didn’t tell him.  I put this on my FB status and got lots of comments, including one from my ex Swedish boss, who said he hoped the flowers would be for me.  Thus I promised a photo of them when they came.  But I had to wait a few days before that happened.  You will have to read on now until the end to find out what happened!

Wednesday was busy too.  I had a meeting with my events team, the two sisters Cristina and Bea from QuintaEsencia at Zielo, where we always meet to brainstorm.  We were to discuss our activities at the up and coming Mobile World Congress at the end of the month. 

In the afternoon after our walk, Eladio and I had a neighbourhood community meeting to attend.  We had received a letter about the recent spate of robberies.  You will have read in earlier posts that because of this we have modernized our alarm system and are putting in a doorbell video camera intercom (if that’s what it’s called in English).  We never go to community meetings but this was important.  Here we learned that robberies have increased since the late autumn from two a month to thirteen.  The room was packed and we were addressed by the head of the police for this area of Madrid, the head of the security company in charge of this neighbourhood and the local councilor for security.  We were happy to hear that three bands of robbers have been caught and that the robberies had decreased but only slightly.  We also learned lots of tips on how to secure our home better and ward off thieves.  We have always felt very safe living here and have been quite careless, leaving the door open when we go shopping, not putting the alarm on very much, but from now on we shall be much more vigilant.  I suppose the robberies are very much a sign of our times.
On Wednesday we attended a very packed neighbourhood community meeting about the recent spate of robberies where we live

Thursday was very much transition day for me, also my last pure protein Thursday on the Dukan regime as tomorrow Monday, I shall be starting the 5:2 diet, otherwise known as The Fast diet  - remember I wrote about “intermittent fasting” last week.  So watch this space to see how I get on.  My “fast days” or rather semi fast days where I have to restrict my calorie intake to just 500 (a quarter of a day’s ration) will be on Mondays and Thursdays.  

Of note that day I went to the hairdresser to look good for my birthday and best of all Susana stayed the night so as to be with me for breakfast on my big day.

And the big day came and it was perfect. The wonderful messages on Facebook and whatsapp kept coming through the day, as well as phone calls, text messages and emails.  I had to go the office and even my boss who is not into social media knew it was my birthday.  My overall favourite message came late in the day via my nephew Roberto who sent a video greeting from his 3 year old daughter Diana. Isn't she lovely?

I have played it over and over again.  She says in Spanish “feliz cumpleaños Masha” (happy birthday Masha).  Isn’t she lovely?

Yes my friends on Friday I was 56!  Not much I can say except that I don’t feel that age.  When I got home the much awaited flowers (red roses – my favourites) were waiting for me with a little card that said “I love you” (as if I didn’t know).  That’s when I owed up to Eladio that I had been expecting them ever since I saw the charge on our bank account.  He picked me up and whirled me round the room and we laughed and hugged for a while.  I’m not sure my Father, who was looking on, realised what that was about.  Well he will now when he reads this post.

Of all the photos of my birthday the one with the flowers is my favourite so that’s the one I picked to illustrate this week’s blog.  We shall laugh about the Interflora incident for years to come I’m sure.

Lunch was a quiet affair.  Suzy couldn’t be there but Oli was (nice).   My family led me to believe there would be no cake (a must at all birthdays in this house) but there was and here I am blowing the candles.
Me and the birthday cake, a surprise

Afterwards I got the first of my wonderful presents: Tous jewelry from my Father (a gold plated heart shaped pendant with matching earrings and bracelet), silver earrings from Tiffany from Eladio (under instructions of course) and a fabulous pair of modern walking Nike trainers from the girls.  You really feel you are walking on cushions when you wear them.  I was so pleased.

I spent more girly time with Olivia in the afternoon with a trip to El Corte Inglés to change the trainers for a bigger size but also to get ingredients for the girls to make a tiramisu dessert for Copi. I should mention that Copi’s birthday is on the same day as mine. 

So many cakes were made that day, but one was very special and deserves a mention here.  It was made by Anita, the girls’ friend, for Copi’s birthday party – see the picture below.  Anita is fast becoming a really good cake creator and I have even suggested she should try her hand at becoming professional.
The amazing Hello Kitty birthday cake Anita made for Copi whose birthday is on the same day as mine.

 It is also my nephew Juan’s birthday too and on Friday he had reached the grand old age of 30. That night as you will have read in last week’s post, I had organized a family dinner to celebrate not only my birthday but Juan’s too and also Alicia, my god daughter, who turned 21 on 2nd February.  It was to be at Naia, a bistro in the old part of Madrid which is partly owned by my colleague Pedro.

Before the dinner, I had another date.  It was with Keka, my ex Nokia colleague and something of a protégé who now lives in Galicia.  She was in Madrid with her new boyfriend Fernando and wanted us to meet him, so we agreed to do so at Naia, an hour before our dinner. 
With Keka (Esther) and Fernando at Naia on Friday

They were sitting at a table at the entrance when we arrived and after our hugs she handed me a beautiful bouquet of purple orchids.  They are now gracing the centre table in the lounge and every time I go past them I smile and remember Keka.
Beautiful orchids from Keka for my birthday

It was great to see Keka again and lovely to see her in love and happy.  We parted promising to visit them in La Coruña, a town I have only visited once many many years ago.  

By 9.30pm there were 11 of us round the table – all the representatives of Eladio’s family who live in Madrid.  This was really a first, the first time the 11 of us were to have dinner out together.  For the record we were Eladio and I, his brother José Antonio and his wife Dolores, their son Juan with his girlfriend Cristina, Alicia, our god daughter, Paula our niece and her boyfriend Pedro and of course our girls, Suzy and Oli. 
The younger generation at the family birthday dinner on Friday

The dinner was good as was the company and atmosphere we created.  Once again there were birthday presents and I was very fortunate to get a digital AV adapter for my iPad from Juan and Cristina which we have yet to try out on a TV, a linen tablecloth for our outsized dining room table from Dolores and José Antonio and last, but not least, a beautiful silver plated necklace by the Spanish designer Purificación García from my nieces.  Suzy promptly borrowed it to wear at Copi’s birthday party afterwards and I have yet to try it on myself.

There were two people missing at the dinner on Friday but very much in everyone’s thoughts.  They were Miguel, Dolores and José Antonio’s son who lives and works in London and of course couldn’t be with us.  Also missing was Sara (Sarita) their daughter who had flown to Burma the week before on a journey which will take her to China to spend a year brushing up her Mandarin.  I even got a birthday message from her and told her we would miss her that night.  I think her greeting was from one of the furthest places of all those I received that day.  She also sent me some photos – one of which I am publishing below.  Have a great time Sarita, next time send me some photos with you in them ok.
A scene from Burma sent to me by my niece Sara on my birthday

If Friday was important to me because of my birthday, it was much more important for Carnival lovers around the world as the 8th February marked the commencement of this year’s Carnival celebrations.  I was not brought up on the tradition and am not a great one for wanting to get dressed up.  My sisters-in-law, Adela and Pili and Pili’s husband Andrés are quite the opposite and look forward to Carnival as if they had been brought up in Brazil. All through the weekend they have been posting photos dressed up in their costumes on whatsapp and I particularly like this one of Adela and her junior school pupils.  She is the clown in the middle of the picture.
My sister-in-law Adela dressed as a clow (in the middle) celebrating Carnival with her pupils on Friday

On Saturday the birthday celebrations continued.  I was blessed with a belated family birthday lunch with both girls here. We were joined by Juli and in the afternoon whilst we were sleeping our siesta, the three of them were working on creating a photo collage for their friend Dave who, as I wrote before, is leaving Spain next week to find his fortune in Brazil.  I wonder if he will be on time to see some of the famous Carnival celebrations there.
The girls and Juli making a photo collage for their friend Dave to take to Brazil

Last night we had a dinner date with my ex Nokia friends, Juana and Oscar, Julio and Fátima.  Juana had made the great choice of reserving a table via the El Tenedor restaurant website, at El Café de Oriente in the Madrid Costume museum.  Once again I was to receive more birthday presents which contributed to this birthday being the perfect one, the best in many years. I repeatedly told them and everyone to watch out for my 60th birthday in four years time, promising fireworks and whatever is needed to create the party of the century.  I must add that the food was out of this world as well as the setting.  We all agreed we would be back, especially in the summer where we look forward to dinner on the terrace in the splendid gardens and artificial lake that surround the museum.
We had a great dinner with out friends Oscar, Juana, Julio and Fátima yesterday night

And today is Sunday, the start of the Chinese New Year.  It is also Oufa, our Moroccan home help’s 30th birthday.  We surprised her with a card including a generous financial contribution and some special make up.  It was lovely to see her face light up and here her comment how happy she was.  She made a great cake to take home to have with her sisters, one I hope she makes for us too one day – it looked like pure chocolate, delicious!

It is a quiet day, a day on which I count my blessings, not just because of the perfect birthday but because of the wonderful family and friends I have who contributed to making it perfect.  Thank you everyone.

And so another week has ended and my story has come to an end.  I hope you had a good week too and wish you all the best for the one coming.  

Until next time my friends,