Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summer’s here, Oufa is leaving, welcome Fátima, the supermoon, Inda came to visit Norah and Elsa, a trip to a secret destination, a family barbecue and lots of other stories

The "older generation" at the family barbecue gathering yesterday
Hi everyone,

Sorry for missing my post last Sunday but life has been very busy recently. I now have two weeks to report on.  So let me backtrack to tell you all about my life since I last wrote on Sunday 16th June.

The next day Monday, our mother company, TeliaSonera, announced the appointment of a new CEO.  Johan Donnelind, unsurprisingly, is Swedish and has lots of international operator experience.  He will start after the summer, which, for the Nordic people, is when they all literally switch off to enjoy their summer houses, picking berries and mostly the long daylight they have at this time of year.  This all starts with what they call Midsummer, although it is not the middle of the summer.  This is a festivity that celebrates the longest day in the year and is taken very seriously by our Northern European neighbours. 

It was on Monday when our sweet Moroccan home help Oufa announced she is getting married in August and will be leaving us.  I am very happy for her but will miss her enormously.  Her wedding will be in August near Marrakesh where she comes from, after which she will go to Paris to live with her Moroccan groom who runs a grocery shop there with his family.  We will not be bereft of help as her older sister, Fátima, will be replacing her.  It was not until she told us she was leaving that I began to realize just how much she means to me.  Oufa is like a substitute daughter and has run this house with great dedication, love and efficiency.  For me she has become part of the family and when she leaves she will break my heart wherein she will remain forever.  Oufa is one of those people I cannot forget, a bit like our Danish au-pair Pernille with whom we have formed a lifelong relationship. 
Oufa and Susana

Oufa hasn’t replaced Suzy but she has made it easier for me to bear my eldest daugher’s leaving Spain to go and live in London.  It was on Monday too that Suzy left after her surprise visit here.  

On Tuesday it was Olivia’s time to leave, this time for a short holiday in Valencia with her boyfriend Miguel whose nick name is “Titi”. He had prepared a surprise for her, two nights at the luxury 5 star Villa Gadea Hotel in the chic little town Altea on the Costa Blanca.  Funnily enough it was near Altea where Eladio and I fell in love more than 30 years ago.  It was in Altea too that we had our first dinner date together. 
Olivia enjoying the luxury hotel in Altea
It was on Tuesday too that the Spanish national Under 21 football team won the European Championship.  La Rojita (the little red) as the team is known, after the La Roja (the red) official Spanish national football squad, beat Italy, no mean rival and I think have now won the championship some four times. Spain is really currently the best squad in the world, something this nation could never have dreamed of a few years ago, although it is a great football nation, boasting some of the world’s best teams.
The Spanish Under 21 football  team won the European Championship yet again
On Wednesday I had a crucial meeting with my events agency, QuintaEsencia, to go over lots of little details of the up and coming summer party I am organizing for over 200 people.  You cannot begin to imagine the work that goes into preparing it with the added complication of all the flight and hotel arrangements.  

Wednesday saw the Real Madrid basketball team beat Barcelona to win the national league.  There is so much rivalry between the cities that reaches its zenith when the rivalry is about sport. 

Last week was the official start of the summer.  We have had strange weather recently but finally on Friday the sun shone and it has done ever since.  Friday 21st was therefore the longest day of the year, the solstice. We did not celebrate with bonfires or maypoles as this is not a festival I was brought up on. So Eladio and I did our usual and went out for a normal Friday night dinner.  This time we went to La Vaca Argentina where there was a promotion of a free bottle of wine from an area I love in La Ribera del Duero, Arzuaga.

Saturday was the highlight of last week.  José Antonio (Toño) and Dolores and Nuba their mongrel dog came to spend the day.  We enjoyed a great lunch made by Oufa (oh I will miss her cooking), a long afternoon by the pool, followed by our walk with the dogs and a light dinner  For the record all four of us swam in the pool that day, something of a first for Dolores.
Eladio enjoying the pool

Just as they were leaving, we witnessed the appearance of the supermoon which was supposed to be at its brightest in the early hours of Sunday morning.  As you can read here, the “so-called "supermoon" occurs when the moon reaches its closest point to earth, known as a perigee full moon. The effect makes the moon seem 14% bigger and 30% brighter than when it is furthest from the planet”. It was quite a spectacle but difficulty to record well on camera.  This is the best I could do on my iPhone 5.
The supermoon as seen from our  balcony the Saturday before last
On Sunday Olivia was back from Valencia.  She brought her friends Dave and Rocío for lunch and Rocío brought with her, her darling little black Labrador puppy, Inda to meet our dogs Elsa and Norah.  We all doted on little Inda with whom I have fallen totally in love but we weren’t sure how Norah our beagle or Elsa our Labrador would react. The beginnings were not promising but within the hour the three were firm friends.  I am sure they now look forward to India coming to visit again or to stay when Rocío goes on holiday. 
Inda with Norah and Elsa
Susana would have loved to be here that afternoon when the rest of the “manada” (herd) as the girls’ group of friends is called came, but that was not to be.  Suzy meanwhile is having a grand time in London to judge by photos of what seem to me to be endless partying.
Suzy having a great time in London
The next day, Monday, Suzy had an interview for a job which would be good to start with; guess assistant at a top Spanish hotel in London.  She was later told that she would go through to the next round or rather be admitted into the job selection process.  Whatever the outcome, interview experience is very important for her in her job seeking period.

Suzy was much on my mind as I went into the centre of Madrid for a business lunch.  It was hosted by Ametic, the telecommunications sector association, who had invited the communications directors from the main Spanish operators.  We love to get together and were very honoured at this initiative which came from the new CEO of Ametic who has a completely different style to the previous CEO who mostly ignored us.  The purpose of the lunch, held at Loft 39 in Velázquez, was to get to meet us of course, but also to discuss the arrangements of the big conference they organize in Santander at the beginning of September and which is probably the most important item in the sector’s yearly agenda.  We were so busy discussing Santander that I forget to take a picture of the group.  However I do have a souvenir of the lunch, in the photo below.  It is of the “tapa” created by the restaurant chef which won the best tapa of the year award organized by the city of Valladolid.  The “tapa” or morsel of food recreates the local newspaper, El Norte de Castilla and is served on a glass covered plate of newspapers.  It is completely edible and is made of steak tartare, milk ice cream, mustard, honey and goat cheese.  As I don’t like cheese I didn’t try it but I also would have chosen it as the best tapa in the contest just for its originality. My fellow colleagues around the table said it was delicious.
The prize winning tapas at Loft 39
I was the first to leave this long lunch at about 16h and as I stepped outside into the warm sun, I spied a Zara shop and decided to go inside to see if they had a summer coat/long jacket which I had seen Cristina wear earlier that morning at a meeting with my events agency.  We both have a similar slightly classical style and I always love the way she dresses.  Her coat was light blue and the Zara in Velázquez only had it in emerald green.  I tried it on and loved it.  Green is one of my favourite colours and I look forward to wearing it with my flowery green trousers, perhaps in Santander in September as right now it is far too hot to wear anything long sleeved.
My new green linen summer coat from Zara
Whilst I was coming home, Rafa Nadal was playing his opening match at Wimbledon and I was shocked to hear he lost it and was out of the tournament which, despite being on grass, his least favourite surface, he has won twice.  Later in the week his arch rival, the lovely Swiss Roger Federer was knocked out too.  That means this year’s tournament will be one of the most open in years. Who knows this maybe Andy Murray’s chance to win it, with the permission of Djokovic of course?

Tuesday and Wednesday are days I can’t tell you about this week although I would love to.  You see this year’s summer party’s destination is a secret and I went there with Bea and Miguel from QuintaEsencia for some final important details we had to see about to make sure “everything will be alright on the day”.  Next week the secret will be revealed and the 200 or so guests, I hope will be happy to find out where the party will finally take place.

I was home on Wednesday evening, just in time for a balmy evening walk with Eladio and the dogs and dinner with Olivia.  Needless to say, in this weather, all our meals take place outside in the garden in front of the kitchen which I call our “little paradise”.

I came home to a perfectly clean and run home.  Oufa, for who this would be her last week, had brought her older sister Fátima on Monday evening to show her the ropes.  Fátima doesn’t know much Spanish but seems a lovely person and is an excellent cook.  The two of them have been here all week cleaning and cooking and the house, with two people running it, has never looked so good.  I went shopping with them on Thursday evening, as I do every week with Oufa and it saddened me to realize it was the last time I would do so with Oufa.  Here is a photo of the two sisters at Mercadona, our local low cost supermarket.
Oufa (in white) and Fátima at Mercadona on Thursday afternoon
That night there was a football match again between Spain and Italy.  This time it was “La Roja” playing the Italian squad in the semi finals of the Conferederations’ Cup.  I wasn’t really sure what this “cup” was about so friends on Facebook enlightened me.  Apparently it is a sort of world cup hosted by the country where the next World Cup will be played, Brazil and the contestants are the host country, the champions of each continent as well as the current world champion.  As Spain is both the current European and World champion, Italy gets to represent Europe as it was the semi finalist.  I didn’t watch the match which in the end was decided by a penalty shoot out won by Spain. Spain will now play Brazil tonight at midnight European time which in most people’s opinion is the best outcome possible.   Eladio may well watch it. All I want is to be able to go to sleep and wake up to hear that Spain won.  You can tell how enamoured I am of my adopted country can’t you?

Friday was by far the busiest day of the week. However, as I am a highly organized person I had time for everything that day and first things always come first for me.  First that day was watching Olivia live on TVE.  She often gives me the heads up via whatsapp and if I can’t get to a TV set, I can always watch her via streaming on my phone.   At 10.15 she reported from nearby Talavera on a sad story of a Ukranian couple who are so poverty stricken they can no longer feed their children so they decided to leave their two young babies at the reception of the town hall to the amazement of the staff there.  You can see the report here if you fast forward to 10.15 approx.
Oli reporting from Talavera on Friday
She was on again at 13.15 reporting on a home for home exchange story of how an Australian family was staying in a Spanish home in nearby Majadahonda whose members would be staying in the Australian’s home in Melbourne, I think.  Olivia loved the idea and so did I.  It was also one of the few reports where she has used her English, having to double as an interpreter whilst interviewing the Australian family.  You can see the report here if you fast forward to 13.15. 
Oli reporting on the home exchange story on Friday

The website where you can study how this amazing new way of travelling works is called  Eladio and I are now seriously thinking of doing something similar next year.  It sounds a great way of travelling as you save enormous costs by not going to expensive hotels which can often consumer more than 50% of your holiday budget.  Of course the idea has been around for a while and is now really taking off.  

On Friday, in between meetings, I had a lunch appointment with my colleague Juan.  Over a wonderful meal at Aspen, we talked shop of course and our conversation lead to the topic of happiness.  We discussed just how well the employees are treated at work which is not very common under the current circumstances.  My conclusion to him is what I always say; that happiness is about the small things in life, such as having a cup of coffee with a friend in the sunshine.  Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it is only possible if you have a positive attitude towards life.  I’m so glad I have. 

Later that day I had another meeting, but this time it was at home.  Bea and Gloria came to go over the final lists of the attendants to our ambitious and complicated to organize summer party.  It’s amazing how some people haven’t confirmed yet and when I rang some of them, their answer was generally: “well of course I’m coming.  Did I have to confirm?  Oh I’m very sorry I will do now”.  They have no idea of the problems they cause as we have run out of hotel rooms and seats on the plane.  

I remarked to Eladio at dinner that night at Ginos, where we ate far too much pasta, that as usual there will be a bit of chaos at the beginning of the day but experience tells me things will work out fine and only Bea, Cris, Gloria and I will be aware of any mistakes. But more about that next week by which time the summer party will be a thing of the recent past and I will be able to relax, for a little while at least, until my next big project.

If the Saturday before was the highlight of the week, Saturday of this week was even more so.  We were expecting family guests for lunch that day. Pili and Andrés were coming from León and were bringing my Mother-in-law to stay with us for a fortnight.  The excuse was they had to bring a sofa bed for their daughter Paula and her boyfriend Pedro’s new flat in Madrid.  Thus Paula and Pedro joined us too, as did José Antonio, Dolores and their son Juan and his girlfriend Cristina.  We were to be 13 around the table and had organized a barbecue of the finest produce to be found locally. Thank goodness we had both Oufa and Fátima to help and they worked all day long to help make the day a great success. The photo below is of us all enjoying that wonderful meal.
Yesterday's family barbecue gathering
Afterwards we spent the afternoon by the pool in two groups, the “oldies” – ourselves and the younger generation.  The photo illustrating this week’s blogpost is of us “oldies” relaxing after a dip in the early evening when it just began to cool slightly and the one below is of the younger generation.  I have to say that Suzy was sorely missed yesterday.
The younger generation yesterday. 

Everyone left quite late, after which José Antonio, Dolores, Eladio and I and the three dogs went for our walk.  When we came back Oufa and Fátima had laid the table for a supposedly light dinner.  The only difference from last week was that yesterday there was no supermoon.  You can see the rest of the photos of yesterday’s family gathering here.

And today is Sunday and I am at the end of my tale of the last two weeks.  Again I am sitting at the table by the pool whilst everyone else is sleeping off the huge Moroccan couscous meal Fátima made.  Earlier I took them to the station with their luggage.  Thankfully I didn’t have to say goodbye yet to Oufa who will be returning tomorrow to retrieve the rest of her luggage.  That will be hard.  So yeah, goodbye darling Oufa, have a good life, keep in touch.  And, of course welcome Fátima. These two hardworking Muslim women are very religious and in many ways behind the times.  They got a lecture on marriage from Eladio and I this morning when we asked them what a Moroccan wedding was like.  Our underlying message to them was that a woman and man should be equal in marriage and life in order for both of them to be happy.  I would like to believe that they agree.

Not everyone is sleeping. Olivia is packing upstairs as later this afternoon she will be going to Córdoba with a TVE crew.  She will be reporting from there all of next week on a terrible case about a man, José Bretón, who is accused of killing his two small children in revenge for his wife having asked for a divorce.  It is the biggest profile case in Spain for a long time as stories like this are not common here.  Olivia is at her best when reporting on court cases but this will be a hard one as the story is so sad. She asked us at lunch about Medea, the Greek tragedy which is similar to this case but in reverse.  Medea killed her own children to avenge her husband Jason’s betrayal, I think.  But maybe you know better.  We will all be following her on the television – me on my iPhone as I will be away at the secret destination – every day next week.  The temperature in Córdoba, one of the hottest places in Spain, is nearly 40c right now so I hope she chooses cool clothing to wear when she reports from the court in this beautiful Andalusian city, one of my favourites in Spain.  

The rest of today will be like most Sunday afternoons in the summer. We will swim or read and then go for our walk just around sunset to avoid the heat.

I have a big week ahead of me and will need lots of energy to get through it, so the rest this afternoon will do me good.

Cheers until next week my friends,

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Remembering my first job with Defex in the arms industry, a “surprise visit from Suzy”, Oli reporting for TVE from Galicia, a heat wave in Madrid, the Ghosts of Spain and the connection with Tárbena, a lazy day by the pool with the family and other stories.

Me in 1982 at the Defex stand at an arms fair in Athens, my first business trip ever.  I was just 25.

Hi again everyone,

Last Sunday when I posted my blogpost on Faceook I got comments from an ex colleague, Iñigo, who used to work at the same company, Defex.  He said: “Do you remember Athens in 1982?  How could I forget?  So I foraged in our old photograph albums and dug out a photo of myself at the Defex stand at an arms fair in Athens, as well as a photo of the colleague and myself by the Acropolis. 
In Athens by the Acropolis with Iñigo and on the Defex stand at the arms fair - 1982

How could I possibly forget my first business trip abroad? I was just 25 and couldn’t believe my luck checking into the Hilton Hotel when all my trips up till then had been on cheap trains and sleeping at sleazy hotels around Europe.  It was in Athens where I first tried lobster which has gone on to be my overall favourite food.  It was in Athens too that I treated my taste buds to dishes like houmus or stuffed vine leaves.  And it was in Athens where it took me, together with Iñigo and Miguel S, more time than anyone else to set up our stand and to take it down in the port of Piraeus.

Defex was my first job.  When I applied for a secretarial/translating post with the company after seeing a vacancy published in El País, little did I know what I was letting myself in for.  I had been living “in sin” with Eladio discreetly in a working class area called Saconia for a few months and searching for a proper job whilst making a meager existence by teaching English to unwilling Spanish schoolchildren so I was delighted when I was called for the interview.  At the time I had no work experience, no residency and therefore no job permit.  Getting a job has always been difficult in Spain but it was even more difficult then because of my circumstances.  Also my degree in Spanish at Nottingham University wasn’t going to help much either.  People in Spain study degrees that will lead them to jobs for which they have studied, unlike in England.  And having a degree in Spanish, the language of the country I was in, was practically a useless piece of paper.   The job selection process took days and there seemed to be about 100 girls applying.  The “headhunter” was a funny chap called Mauricio Xandro whom I have since seen interviewed on the television as Spain’s most prestigious graphologist – the pseudoscience study and analysis of handwriting especially in relation to human psychology.  The tests of my handwriting must have been good as I was offered the job along with a lovely American girl called Rosa of Cuban origin who was married to a Angel, a Maths professor at the Autónomo University in Madrid and who, coincidentally, also lived in Saconia.

Whilst we were going through the job selection process nobody told us what the company’s business was about.  So when Rosa and I met at the offices in the Orense Street in Madrid to sign our contracts, we asked ourselves what the business could possibly be about.  She said it seemed all so hush hush that maybe Defex dealt in pornography.  Finally the mystery was solved by Sr. Ibañez who was dealing with our contracts.  When we asked him, he looked taken aback, took one breath and tried to explain.  He said something similar to this: “Well, Defex exports equipment. We actually export defence material and added “It’s like selling cars”.  l was so relieved to hear it wasn’t pornography that I didn’t stop to think that defence material, of course, meant arms and weapons.  He asked us if we had a problem with that but we both needed the job so badly we said of course we didn’t.  We were so happy to have a job and to be earning 58,000 pesetas a month, a fortune I thought. I worked for that company for 8 years and at the beginning especially it was great fun.  

Defex exported to all the imaginable countries in the third world which would buy Spanish manufactured arms and weapons, tanks and even airplanes and ships from companies such as Esperanza y Cía, Expal, Star, Bazán, Santa Bárbara or Casa.  It was a secret world which made a lot of money and I remember my bosses, Sr. Trujillo, Sr. Cervera, Sr. Esteruelas, Sr. Comín, Sr. Bergia, Sr. Presmanes, Sr. Alcántara and company travelling first class to cities in Africa, Asia and South America, some I had never heard of.  I would book them into marvelous sounding hotels such as the Shangri La in Kuala Lumpur or the Taj Mahal in Delhi. I learned a whole new vocabulary and my geography of those areas improved immensely.  At Christmas, our honorific President, Lt. Gen Oliete, the Head of the Spanish Civil Guard at the time and once henchman of Franco, called us all in one by one to give us a bonus in an envelope.  I went in trembling and when he handed me mine, he said: “so that you can buy yourself a pretty dress”. Thanking him I rushed to the bathroom to open the envelope and found a check for 100.000 pesetas, a fortune for me.  Gen Oliete lived in another world and would never know that the money would not be spent on a dress as of course it wasn’t.  

Soon the Falklands war broke out and I remember Sr. Trujillo telling me that as I was British I didn’t have to work on the project if I didn’t want to.  But of course I did because I wanted to know what was happening.  The Spanish government swore that Spain was not selling arms to Argentina, but I knew otherwise. Communication in the early 80s in businesses was by telephone, letter and telex.  Telex was fun and I loved it.  You would write on a keyboard and send the telex to an address abroad.  You could also write online and get immediate responses.  Often I would be dictated to and write to companies like Tedco in India.  We had to write in a sort of code which was even more fun.  I have many amazing memories of my years at Defex but some stand out more in my mind than others.  I remember an African “King” called Alhaji Abdul Asis and two other surnames beginning with A also.  I called him the “5 As”. He was an agent who for securing contracts with the corrupt Nigerian Ministry of Defence got commissions of up to 100% of the total amount.  Once he came to Madrid and insisted I accompany him to shops in Madrid to find white shoes in the winter.  I was relieved to hear I wouldn’t be on my own with him and that the Chairman’s chauffeur, Luis, would be taking us. This was mission impossible as Spanish men have smaller feet and do not wear white shoes, especially in the winter.  In the end I took him to a chemist shop and he turned up his nose disgustedly.  I remember visiting him too at his top suite of a Hilton Hotel in London.  My mission was to retrieve from him a “certificate of final destination” – very important for shipping arms (but that’s another story).  I had expected him to come down to reception and was petrified when he asked me to come up.  I was worried he might force me sexually.  Thank God he didn’t but I came away from the visit convinced I had been sent there because I was blonde and a good looking young woman.  I have many more memories, such as going to the Bank of Iran in London and having to wear a headscarf.  I also remember there being an “agent” called “Major Kaka” at the High Commission of Nigeria in London and asking myself if there could be one called “Minor Kaka”.  I can never forget either the visit of a delegation from the Ministry of Defence of Iran or was it Irak. I can’t remember but I do remember having to herd them into a private room to pray during the meetings and being asked which direction was the Mecca.  I had no idea so nodded towards the Real Madrid football stadium, the Bernabeu, which I supposed was the Spanish Mecca and would do for the occasion!  At these sorts of meetings no alcohol could be served of course but my Spanish bosses asked me to serve them gin or vodka which would look like water.  I was very worried I was putting the wrong glass in the wrong place on the table but thankfully that didn’t happen.  

Certainly Defex exported to both sides of the conflict, both to Irak and to Iran.  Should I have felt that my work was immoral at the time? I think it did worry me sometimes but not a lot.  I just needed a job and this was actually lots of fun and I got to travel to places like Malaysia, Greece, Turkey, Portugal and of course my beloved London.  But if I was offered a job today in the arms industry I would certainly not take it.  I always find it funny that my whole work experience started in that industry but this is the first time I have told the story.  The arms world is very hush hush and when I looked for a reference link on the internet to document today’s post I wasn’t surprised to find that Defex doesn’t even have a website. Perhaps that will change now after writing this story and if anyone googles Defex they will find this post and find out just a little of what the company gets up to. 

I have digressed but after Iñigo’s comment I thought it was time to tell the story of my first job at Defex in the arms industry.  I hope you liked it.

On Sunday too Olivia left for Galicia where she would be reporting for her programme La Mañana de la 1 all of last week.  We were in for good weather but she was not as you will find out later.

On Monday 10th June it was my dear friend Sandra’s birthday.  Sandra is my darling friend from Nottingham University who is perhaps the most exotic friend I have.  She was born in India to a Hungarian Jewish war survivor Mother, Magda, and to an Italian Father.  She was brought up in England and now lives in Brussels where we have visited her in the recent past.  I hope we meet up again soon Sandie.  

On Monday, Suzy “surprised” us with an out of the blue visit from London. I have put the word in inverted commas because it was not a surprise to me or Olivia but no one else was to know.  She had come back to do important paper work needed for her job seeking in London such as getting a criminal records certificate, a blood test as well as organizing for her unemployment benefit to be paid whilst living in London.  It was a delight to see her.  Eladio and my Father were indeed surprised.  Here is a lovely photo of Eladio and Suzy in the throes of an emotional embrace upon her arrival.
Suzy and Eladio hugging on her surprise arrival from London on Monday

It was just before her arrival that Olivia was live on TVE reporting from Santiago de Compostela on a horrible case of a man in his 40’s being beaten up by a group of young thugs, allegedly just because he was “old”. You can see it here if you fast forward to 13.05h.  These days I watch her on my iPhone and even now my Father watches her on my iPad which I set up for him. Fancy a 94 year old man watching his granddaughter live on the TV on a tablet.  Isn’t technology just great?
Oli reporting on Monday from Santiago de Compostela

On Monday my first order of the week from Amazon arrived.  I had completely forgotten that I had preordered The Times sportswriter, David Walsh’s “Seven Deadly Sins” about his pursuit of Lance Armstrong.  I devoured it very soon as the story, as some of you will know, is very close to my heart having once been the PR Manager in Spain of the Motorola Cycling Team to which he belonged. I could have told David a few stories too.

That night one item in the news which we watched from bed as we do most nights, struck my attention.  The CEO of Orange (France Telecom) had been taken into police custody as part of the Tapie arbitration case.  As I am a PR manager for an operator, my heart went out to my PR colleagues at Orange and wished them good luck in the story.  I could only imagine they had gone straight into crisis management mode, a worrying situation for any PR professional as I know from experience.

On Tuesday Olivia had a lovely story to report on for TVE.  It was about a tiny baby called Adriana who weighed 850 grammes when she was born in La Coruña.  She was given just 30% chance of living. Imagine weighing less than a packet of sugar or flour I thought whilst I watched Olivia tell the story. Olivia was in her element here as she adores babies and happily told her audience that today 3 months later Adriana weighs 4 kilos.  You can see the story here if you fast forward to 10.20h.
Oli's story of the miracle baby, Ariadna, which she reported on from La Coruña on Tuesday

This time I watched her live from the local supermarket whilst Jesús was serving me produce to later make Suzy cocido madrileño, one of her favourite dishes.  If you have never eaten it this is what it looked like.
The cocido I made on Tuesday in Susana's honour

On Wednesday I accompanied Suzy on some of her errands.  The heat had finally arrived and I think Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far.  As I waited for her in the shade outside a building in Pozuelo the temperature was 35c!   We had time on the way back to stop at Centro Oeste where Suzy needed to buy something. Needless to say I wandered into the shops.  It was very warm and I spied a pair of shorts I thought might look good on me.  I didn’t need them but thought they would be very practical for our daily walks.  You are probably wondering why I am mentioning a pair of shorts here.  Well let me tell you.  I have never before worn proper shorts since I was a child because of my lifelong chubbiness.  However, as those of you who know me will be aware, I haven’t been chubby for some three years now.  I am so pleased to be able to wear shorts now but at the same time was very cross to find out that you can’t shop online at H+M as I immediately wanted to buy the same pair in different colours which weren’t available at the store.  How can it be that such a huge fashion chain doesn’t sell online in this day and age I asked them this morning on their Facebook page? 
My H`+M shorts, a first for me

Oli was experiencing far lower temperatures and cold winds in northern Galicia and on Thursday the programme did a fun report.  It was with her colleague in Valencia showing just how warm it was there (in the 30c range) whilst she reported in Galicia with warm clothing that it was just 16c.  In fact that day Oli caught a cold, or rather laryngitis as we found out when I took her to the doctor on Saturday upon her return.  You can see the report here if you go to 10.28h.
Oli reporting on the cold weather in Galicia on Thursday

On Friday, her last day in Galicia, the report that day was about the mayor of a village called Noia who, owing to the crisis, had to double as a concierge in the afternoons. You can see the report here if you fast forward to 10.26h
Olivia interviewing the Mayor of Noia in Galicia who doubles as the town hall's concierge in the afternoons

It was on Friday that my second book of the week arrived.  It was The Ghosts of Spain by The Guardian correspondent in Madrid, Giles Tremlett.  But let me tell you why I ordered it.  Earlier in the week I had received an email from a British journalist who lives in Lanjarón near Granada.  She needed help with her Yoigo subscription.  As soon as I had dealt with that we started corresponding. She asked me whether I had read the book or knew the author.  Well, I hadn’t and I didn’t but immediately looked up the book on and realised I just had to buy it.  It was right up my street, the story of the recent history of Spain from a British author’s perspective, of someone who, like me who had lived here for a long time.  It was supposedly also a good travelogue and even slightly humorous. 
Ghosts of Spain, my book of the week

Shortly after starting it I showed it to my Father. Unlike me, my more academic Father knew immediately who the author was and even commented he had written a book on Catherine of Aragon (bought that too now).  He wanted to read it too of course but I had already started and was riveted.  Reading it in the shade by the pool on Friday afternoon I was amazed to read, when I got to the chapter about how bikinis were finally allowed to be worn on the Benidorm beaches, that the author, through his wife,  has family connections with the small village of Tárbena.  I read his description of the village which of course I know so very well.  I have very bitter sweet memories of that hidden village in the mountains on sinuous roads some 30km from the ghastly tourist mecca of Benidorm, the Blackpool of Spain.  When we first came to Spain in the early 70s which you can read about here, Tárbena was important to me as this is where I first fell in love. It was with a local boy, a student of medicine, whose black clad valenciano speaking Mother was afraid I would take away from the village where she had high hopes of climbing up the social ladder and becoming the village doctor’s mother.  She did everything in her power for that relationship not to work, including locking up her son all summer in his room and colluding with the local postman to intercept my letters which she never gave to José Francisco. As I later told Giles in an email I wrote to him to tell him about the connection, I came out of the relationship very scathed but had learned the language of Cervantes which I went on to study at Nottingham University.  

That night over dinner with Eladio at La Txitxarrería I told him about the incredible coincidence. He too will read The Ghosts of Spain and it is his opinion I really look forward to as Eladio was brought up during the Franco regime, the story of which takes up a good part of Giles Tremlett’s tale of Spain. 

Saturday was the best day of the week.  For once we were all going to be here for lunch and the weather was glorious; true swimming pool weather.  José Antonio and Dolores were to join us for lunch and the lazy afternoon by the pool after which we took the dogs for the walk.  At this time of year the sun rises before six in the morning and doesn’t set until 10 in the evening. 
It was lovely to have José Antonio and Dolores with us yesterday

The girls had invited their friends too to spend the afternoon by the pool and I just had to take a snap of their group they call “la manada” (the herd).
The girls with their friends by the pool yesterday afternoon

On Saturday Suzy took her first dip.  This is the photo to prove it.  Unfortunately OIi didn’t join her because of her laryngitis.
Suzy's first dip this year. She's going back to London tomorrow and will miss both the weather and the pool.

And today is Sunday and it is another extremely hot day.  I am writing this post by the pool with Elsa at my feet.  I think everyone else is asleep but hope they will join me here after publishing this.

And that my friends, is the story of my first job with Defex in the arms industry and the story of this week, a good week in many ways.

I wish you all the best until next time,


Sunday, June 09, 2013

A close shave, first dip of the year, the 7th anniversary of our moving into the new house, Spain: the healthiest country in the world, remembering my mother, an all Spanish final at Roland Garros, welcome Inda and other things.

My first dip in the pool this year was on Monday

Hello my friends again,

Another Sunday and another blog post but not just any post. I just looked it up and this post will be number 500 since I started writing this blog in September 2005.  That’s over 7 years ago.  Also I was amazed to see via blogger analytics this statistic: Pageview all time history 171.271.  Of course it wasn’t like that at the beginning but today there are some 5000 page visits per month.  Would you please tell me my friends and readers what you find so interesting about this blog?  

Last Sunday Olivia was returning from her trip to London and it was a very quiet day for us until I got a whatsapp in the early evening from her boyfriend, Miguel’s phone.  It said: “Mummy, I am Oli. I lost my sim card … we might miss the plane, the underground line was cut.  Can you please look and see if there are more Ryanair flights today other than the 7 pm one?”.  I left my book by the pool with Eladio, rushed to my pc and soon found out there were no more flights after 7pm from any London airport and that their Ryanair flight from Stansted was the last that day.  Their only option was to stay at a hotel by the airport and buy another ticket to fly back the next day at 09h.  My adrenaline was running as we went for our walk with the dogs and I felt frustrated that for once I couldn’t help my daughter in distress whilst I also had thoughts that this experience – not the first in her life – could well teach her a lesson.  Whilst I imagined her checking in to some god forsaken airport hotel at Stansted which must be a terribly boring place, I was relieved to get a message saying: “We made it but it was a close shave”.  This is an expression my girls know very well ever since they were introduced to Wallace and Gromit and to the very funny film called “A close shave” when they were children at school.  I had never been so happy to read the phrase “a close shave” than on Sunday last.  I was not able to help her catch her flight of course, but I was able to get a replacement sim card which thanks to Carolina at Yoigo arrived on Monday afternoon.  It was nice to have Olivia back but the truth is we hardly saw her until this weekend.
The Film called A Close Shave with Wallace and Gromit where the girls first learned the meaning of the expression

On Monday Eladio went off early, as he was to do every day this week, to invigilate UNED (Open University) exams.  It doesn’t often happen but this week he caught someone cheating.  Eladio recognized a pupil from the previous year who he suspected of cheating then and this time he took a closer look.  He walked around the man a few times and then lifted up some of the papers on his desk and found the evidence: what is called in Spanish a “chuleta”, a sort of cheat sheet.  The man apologized, hoping to get away with it by saying he hadn’t used the sheet.  But of course he was taken away from the exam room and who knows what the repercussions will be.  I well remember using cheat sheets as a student and I am not very proud of myself.  Some of my better inventions were writing on my thigh and lifting up my skirt to use what I had written or using a black pencil case written all over with a blue biro which you could only see at certain angles.  I can only imagine that this case for Eladio helped to spice up the otherwise very boring activity of invigilating.  The highlight of his week was when he recognized one of the pupils entering for an exam.  He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Pedro, Paula’s boyfriend who is studying Political Science. It was a nice coincidence.  I hope Pedro did well in the exam.  

Whilst Eladio was away I worked from home of course and spent many a morning by the pool either working or with a book when I wasn’t.  The weather was great at the beginning of the week and in fact on Monday it was so warm I decided to take my first dip in the recently opened swimming pool.  The picture illustrating this week’s blog is of that moment.  The experience didn’t last long as the temperatures plummeted towards the end of the week and this weekend has been very strange for this time of year; instead of heat, we are experiencing March like temperatures of 14c and rain too.  I have read that June will be colder than usual and that we are actually heading for the coldest summer in many years.  That pleases my husband from the north of Spain but not me.  

Whilst the temperatures were dropping in Spain, there were floods in central Europe but my sister and brother in law Pili and Andrés on a package tour in Italy were lucky with the weather there.  I mention their trip because they are not frequent travelers, this trip being possibly only their second or third abroad since they were married over 25 years ago.  Each evening Pili would inform the family group of Eladio’s brothers and sisters on whatsapp of their trip, using the wifi at whichever hotel they were staying at and we would normally join the chat on our walk or after dinner.  They have had a grand time, although, they, like many tourists in Italy, certainly experienced what is known as the “Stendhal syndrome” – a sort of fatigue when exposed to a surfeit of beauty or art which probably happens more in Italy than anywhere else.
Pili and Andrés were on holiday in Italy this week

This week was not the most productive week work wise and in fact I had a few setbacks in a very big project I am working on. This had me worried and frustrated most of the week but thankfully it was all sorted out by Friday and now I will have to fly to catch up and make sure everything is alright on the day.  I wish I could be more explicit but I can’t.  Suffice it to say I always prefer to have my projects organized and prepared well in advance but sometimes that just can’t be and when it can’t I have to rely on my own last minute efficiency or on the last minute efficiency of colleagues and this will be another of those experiences.  

Thursday 6th June was the anniversary of our moving into the new house 7 years ago.  Certainly time flies and we remarked so at lunch that day when my Father, Eladio and I reminisced about the occasion.  You can read my blog post about our removal which I wrote on 9th June 2006. I well remember just how hot it was and the removal men dragging the boxes and even the Christmas tree up the path and Eladio and I rushing around telling them where to put things.  I also remember the nightmare of making everyone’s beds on the first night and how we literally didn’t leave the new house for nearly a week getting everything ship shape. 
Moving into this new house - this week was the 7th anniversary

Thursday 6th June was Swedish National Day and as I had been there recently and love the country was interested to read the story behind it and which I share with you here: Since 1916, June 6 has been celebrated as Swedish Flag Day. This finally also became Sweden’s National Day in 1983 and a public holiday from 2005.The date was chosen for two reasons: the election of Gustav Vasa as Sweden’s king on June 6, 1523, laid the foundation of Sweden as an independent state; and on the same date in 1809, Sweden adopted a new constitution that included the establishment of civil rights and liberties. Some of my Facebook friends posted a picture of the Swedish flag but Susana’s childhood friend, Erika, whose mother, Gunila, is Swedish, posted a picture of herself as a child wearing the traditional Swedish crown of flowers so typical of all their celebrations. She was a beautiful child and is a beautiful young woman and I thought it fitting that her photo illustrates the part of this post about the Swedish National Day.  
Erika's delightful photo to illustrate Swedish National day this week
On Thursday I was intrigued by a piece of news from the prestigious Medical journal, The Lancet that stated that Spain was the healthiest country in Europe and one of the top ones in the world.  I found it funny that the Spanish media did not pick up what was for once good news for Spain.  The report which shows how Spain, despite its economic problems, has the highest life expectance (81.4) and highest average of healthy years (70.9) concludes that Spain’s high performance is due probably to four important factors: the climate and Mediterranean diet, an excellent health system and the fact that families look after their elderly in their homes rather than sending them off to residences.  I think that is a pretty good conclusion.  We may complain here about the health system but I can only say that in my experience it’s pretty good. You can see the full table of countries in this BBC report where you will read that the UK comes 12th and the USA even lower.  When I told Eladio about the report his conclusion was that it is the not the most developed countries who have the best health.  He may have a point. I for one look forward to many years of health here, until I am an old lady in my 90s, in this wonderful country which has become my own.

The Spanish mediterranean diet is a contributory factor to its being the healthiest country in Europe

 So when I read this week about the latest pastry craze in the US; the cronut, a cross between a croissant and a donut, which is catching on in the UK, it made me think too about the difference in diet in these countries compared to Spain.  It seems the cronut maybe the next big thing after the cup cake.  For me a cup cake is just an iced bun.  I don’t see what all the fuss is about.  As for the cronut, well I like croissants and only very occasionally eat a donut, so I’m bound to try it one day.  But if I’m to remain slim and help Spain’s top ranking in the health league, I think for the moment I will stick to snacking on black cherries, my favourite fruit which is the fruit in season at the moment.
Introducing the cronut, the latest pastry craze in the US, a cross between a croissant and a donut
 Friday, the last day of the week, the day everything at work was sorted out, was 7th June, my dear Mother’s birthday.  She would have been 93 and she is still sorely missed.  I always remember her but on 7th June we remember her especially as we do on 1st October, the day she died in 1999, nearly 14 years ago. My Mother’s story is so long and interesting it is impossible to summarise here.  I once wrote about her when her beloved sister Masha died and you can read part of my Mother’s story here. One day I promise I will write a book. She deserves it as do her grandchildren.  When I posted it on FB on Friday, Olivia wrote: “if there was one person I could bring back to life it would be Grandma”. Me too. 
Remembering my Mother. Friday 7th June would have been her birthday

One thing I regret is my Mother not seeing her grandchildren grow up.  She would have been thrilled to know Susana was in London following in her footsteps.  She would have been equally thrilled to watch Olivia live on TV reporting on current news.  I thought just that when I watched Olivia on Friday morning reporting on an initiative in Madrid to make the Guinness record of collecting food for the poor.  Father Angel or Padre Angel is a well known figure in NGOs in Spain.  He heads up “Mensajeros de la paz” and it was he she interviewed in her report on Friday morning.  You can see from the photo I took that he was very taken with her. You can watch the report here if you fast forward to 10.26h.  Oli later told me that the PR manager for the local administration tried to thrust a politician at her to be interviewed too and she had to fight with the woman to get on with her job.  Olivia was not interested in giving the politician fame for just trying to get into the picture. I totally agree with her.

Olivia on TVE on Friday - my Mother would have been so proud of her

 That afternoon Oli and I had some quality time together, the only moment in the week really.  I accompanied her to Zara to change an item of clothing.  You will not be surprised to know I also bought something for myself, the lovely floral print trousers below and a green blazer to go with them.

The floral print cropped trousers I got from Zara on Friday
 Olivia bought a beautiful dress we both had spied some time ago.  She looked wonderful in it and I look forward to seeing her wear it.

The beautiful dress Olivia bought from Zara on Friday
 While we were at Zara, Rafa Nadal was battling with Novak Djokovic at the Roland Garros French Open tennis semi final.  We were delighted to read that Rafa had beaten Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 in the most thrilling match in recent tennis history.  Just afterwards fellow Spaniard, David Ferrer, a top seed tennis player who is much less known, went on to win his semi final match against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by beating him in three straight sets, to get through to his first grand slam final.   This crushed all hopes for the first Frenchman to win the French Open since Yannick Noah in 1983.  I commented to Olivia just how wonderful Rafa’s win was for Spain’s brand image.  And today Sunday, Rafa will be playing Ferrer to make tennis history and become the only tennis player to win Roland Garros 8 times and the player who has won the greatest number of a grand slam.  It’s a big day for both of them and the chance for Ferrer to win his first Grand Slam. For the records, this will be the fourth all Spanish Final in Paris in 19 years after Sergi Bruguera beat Alberto Berasategui in 1994. Nadal’s fellow Majorcan and boyhood hero Carlos Moya did the same to Alex Corretja four years later and in 2002 Albert Costa beat Juan Carlos Ferrero.  It is true to say that the Spanish tennis players are the kings of the clay courts. I am sure the French public would far have preferred a Frenchman in the final as they are probably fed up of their “poorer” neighbours beating them again and again not just at tennis but at football and cycling too. All the odds are on Rafa, who still suffers from his knee ailment, to win, but this is sport and you never know who will win until the end.

Rafa Nadal meets fellow countryman David Ferrer in the final of the French Open today
 Saturday was quiet and not warm either.  Again in Sweden there were celebrations, this time for the so-called “party princess” Madeleine who was marrying the Anglo American banker Christopher O’Neill. The beautiful 30 year old, the youngest of King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia’s three children was married in a grand ceremony at the Royal Chapel which we visited in Stockholm when I was there recently with a group of journalists. The Swedes, like the British, are very good at pomp and tradition but the former add a bit more warmth to the occasion than the latter in my mind.  The story of their wedding will fill glossy magazines the world around and at the same time probably put the problem of immigrant riots out of the minds of the Swedes whilst they feast their eyes on the images of this Nordic fairy tale rather than on the ugliness of the riots, so out of character in civilized Sweden.

The Swedish Royal wedding on Saturday. Princess Madeleine and her now husband Christopher O'Neill
 There have been riots too this week in Turkey.  It all started with a group of environmentalists demonstrating against the building of a shopping centre in a park on the outskirts of Istanbul.  It has grown and other discontent groups of people have joined the ranks.  So far so good so far, if it wasn’t for the violent reaction from the police and authorities.  A woman in red has become the icon of the protesters, as pictures of her emerged being sprayed with tear gas by the police when she was obviously a peaceful demonstrator. The Turkish government now has on their hands what is known as the Turkish equivalent of the Arab Spring.  It remains to be seen how the problem will be solved if it ever can be.

The woman in red: the icon of the Turkish protesters

 On Saturday afternoon after our walk I went to see Inda. Who is Inda you will want to know?  Well, let me explain.  Inda belongs to Rocío, the girls’ close friend, and is an adorable 2 month old jet black labrador she puppy.  Rocío adores dogs and, like me, was never allowed to have one when she lived with her parents.  So recently emancipated and well employed as a lawyer with a TV production company, she decided that her first proper acquisition had to be a dog, or rather a black labrador.  Rocío has been wanting a dog all her life and on Friday her dream came true, together with the hard part, the toilet training and all that involves before the puppy knows how to behave. Inda was taken from her canine family on Friday afternoon to live with Rocío.  As soon as I saw a picture of the darling, I knew I had to see her, or it, as soon as possible.  If you know me, you will know I love dogs, especially short haired ones and far prefer to see and hold a puppy than babies.  I should explain here that I refer to other people’s babies, not my own. I never go “ooh and aah” when I see a baby in the street, reserving that for nearly every dog I see.  So yesterday afternoon I was delighted to be introduced to Inda.  Olivia was there too and she took this delightful picture of me with Inda.

With Inda yesterday, Rocio's delightful 2 month old black labrador.

I look forward to the day Inda comes to visit Norah and Elsa but that won’t happen until she is 3 months old.  Meanwhile all I can say is “welcome Inda” and that I am in love with you. Rocío, meanwhile, is ecstatic with joy at her dream come true. I wish them happiness together and not too much trouble with Inda chewing her belongings hahaha.

And today is Sunday and there is not much to report.  I asked Suzy to send me a photo for this week’s blog as she hadn’t posted any new ones this week.  This is what she sent me. 

Suzy in London this week with Chati, wearing the trendy glasses

 I couldn’t understand why she was wearing glasses in the picture of her with Chati at a tube station.  Then she told me they are the trend, the height of fashion.  It seems funny to me to wear glasses for fashion when they are designed for people who need them to enhance their eyesight and that anyone who needs glasses would prefer not to wear them.  It seems to me to be a sort of upside down idea, but there you – that’s London fashion for you I suppose.

Suzy is enjoying her London experience. She spends a lot of time scouring the net, applying for jobs, tailoring her cv for the job application as well as the cover letter and I got many questions from her during the week. Also this week she did her first part time job with the events catering company.  Believe it or not it was at a gala dinner held right by the dinosaur at the wonderful Natural History Museum.  I would love to have seen her.  She will be home one day soon as she has to come back for documents needed for work purposes, such as a criminal records certificate, blood test, etc.  I look forward to her coming home.

Meanwhile Oli has just gone off to Santiago in Galicia where she will be reporting for TVE1 for her programme all of next week.  We look forward to watching her on the television as we always do and I will be telling you about her reports in next week’s post, post 501 for the record.

I am now at the end of this week’s story which I hope you have enjoyed.  It’s been good but there have been difficult moments.  I hope next week will be plain sailing as I hope it will be for all of you too.

Cheers till next week