Sunday, March 27, 2016

Goodbye Suzy and goodbye London, a bus crash in Spain killed 13 Erasmus student girls, horror in Brussels, to Montrondo for Easter, the clocks go forward and other stories.

Easter Sunday 27th March 2016

Eladio, Oli and I in Montrondo on our walk on Maunday Thursday
Good morning everyone,

I’m writing from Montrondo.  Today is Maunday Thursday and I am up early drinking my coffee with little Pippa beside me on the sofa.  I shall be writing bit by bit from now until Easter Sunday as I won’t have much free time to write my blog at the weekend.  So here goes.  I left off when I was in London last Sunday morning.

It was bright and sunny for a change but that didn’t last long.  At least it did not rain for the duration of my stay.  For my last full day with Suzy in London, we went for a walk to Primrose Hill near Camden.  I hadn’t been there since I visited my friend Amanda who moved there when she married some 35 years ago!  On our way, we saw many magnolia trees in flower.  I very well remember there being one at Belsize Park which was in flower in the garden of the house my dear brother George who was dying at the time (2001).  Every time I see one I am reminded of him.  On our way to Primrose Hill we saw many, but I particularly liked this one with the pastel coloured houses behind it.  This is the photo I took. Suzy is well wrapped up in my new Uniqlo white ultra-light down parka as you can see below.
The magnolia tree in Primrose Hill
We walked into the lovely park of Primrose Hill which is actually connected to Regent’s Park.  There is a mound in the middle which is very steep and at the top you get a superb view of the skyline of London. 
Suzy and I on Primrose Hill last Sunday morning
We decided to have lunch at a pub by the park and came upon one called Queen’s.  Just opposite was the house where the German philosopher Engel’s used to live.  The bartender who lived with his parents in the area told us many celebrities lived in Primrose Hill.  It is certainly a beautiful area of London.

Queens was a lovely typical English pub which for once was very clean.  Here is Suzy at the bar enjoying the moment.
Suzy by the bar at The Queen's pub in Primrose Hill last Sunday
We had a Sunday roast; mine was with roast beef and Suzy’s was of vegetable hash.  It was delicious and the portions just too big to finish.
Sunday roast at The Queen's pub in Primrose Hill
We walked back to Camden and the markets were in full swing.  It was pretty crazy with so much going on and you could hardly move for the people.  There was even a live Mad Hatters’ Tea party going on as you can see in the picture below.
The mad hatter's tea party in Camden last Sunday
Before going home, I had one more spate of shopping to do.  We went to Waitrose and M+S food store for me to stock up on all sorts of British food, mainly confectionary, to take back to Spain including hot cross buns for Good Friday.

I think Sunday was the day we walked least.  Even so we did some 8km approximately.  We got home in the middle of the afternoon.  Suzy’s 4th flat mate, Anita (a member of the girls’ group of friends “La Manada” (the herd) who had studied at University with Olivia) was back from Spain and it was good to see her. 

Frankly that afternoon after so many days of walking and getting up early in the morning, Suzy and I flaked out on the bed and had a 2 hour siesta.  We woke up to find Vicky, Suzy’s third flat mate, was back from her weekend in Frankfurt.  The 4 of us had a great evening together and I made us a lovely dinner.
Dinner at Suzy's house on my last night - left to right, Vicky, Suzy and Anita
Being in the house with the young tenants made me feel like one of them.  In a way I was living  for a brief moment the post University London first job period which I had never actually done as I went to Spain after Nottingham – bar a year at home doing a post grad diploma in administration at Leeds Polytechnic. I have always regretted it. 

Sunday was a historic day for world politics.  Barack Obama was visiting Cuba to meet with Raul Castro.  He was the first American President to do so since 1928.  One of the main items on the agenda would have been human rights, something the two powerful men do not see eye to eye on. His visit would be overshadowed by the events in Brussels.
The historic meeting in Cuba this week
In Spain there was terrible news. A bus full of Erasmus students, mostly female, was returning from The Fallas (firework festival) in Valencia to Barcelona.  It was dark and raining and it crashed killing 13 young girls, mostly of Italian origin. The bus overturned after hitting a car travelling in the opposite direction, One of the fathers would later say: “I sent my young daughter to friendly Spain and they brought her back dead”.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.
The fatal bus crash in Spain last Sunday
Monday was my last morning in London.  Suzy would be starting her new job with Bare Biology that day and had to be up early. We got up at 6.15 and I had breakfast with my darling daughter.  I was glad to see her wearing some of the smart clothes I had bought her on our shopping sprees.  I saw her off with a heavy heart at 07.30.  Here she is on the steps leaving for Richmond. When I spoke to her later in the week, she was delighted with how things had gone.  So cross your fingers it continues that way.
Suzy leaving the house on Monday morning to start her new job with Bare Biology
I spent most of the morning working quietly from the girls’ kitchen and was accompanied by Anita.  It was thanks to her I finally closed my suitcase, so full of all my shopping.  In the end I had to leave my feather pillow behind as no way would it close.  If you are wondering, yes I take it everywhere because I can only sleep with a soft and thin feather pillow. I shall now have to buy another one hahaha.
Anita helping me close my overweight and over stuffed suitcase last Monday morning
Once closed we weighed it and at 24.5 kilos it was over the 20 kilo restriction imposed by Easy Jet which would mean having to pay 40 pounds for excess luggage which I wasn’t very happy about.

My flight wasn’t until 15.30 but I decided to leave at around 11 so as to have more shopping time at Gatwick and to have lunch before boarding.  For some reason I cannot use Uber in England. I think it’s because I have a Spanish account and visa card.  Vicky and Julieta recommended a similar service called Addison Lee which I used.  It only cost 16 pounds from their house to Victoria Station.

No sooner had I got to Gatwick that I heard there would be delays due to the French air traffic control strike. So I had plenty of time for lunch and shopping.  My Portuguese came in handy at the baggage drop off when I spoke to the Portuguese ground staff official.  He was so nice he didn’t charge me the 40 pounds in excess luggage. I think he was so impressed that an English woman could speak his language!  So maybe it was worth having studied that minority language at University many years ago. In the end I didn’t buy anything as I felt guilty for having spent so much money in London.  But I did have lunch at my favourite place at the airport; The Seafood Bar. I splashed out on a lobster and crayfish salad. 
Lobster and crayfish salad at Gatwick airport last Monday
It would hold me in good stead until I went to bed as the day turned out to be very long.  We boarded the aircraft only to be told we would have to stay on board for 3 hours before taking off due to the French strike. So I settled down to read my book on my kindle.  Meanwhile the passengers were being entertained by a spontaneous music band, made up of two Irish men, an American and an Englishmen.  I later told them they sounded like the beginning of a joke haha.
Live entertainment on board the Easy Jet flight from London whilst waiting hours for take off.
The whole plane laughed and took pictures. It was a fun moment I must say.  I have a far better impression of Easy Jet than I do of Norwegian.  Even the pilot joined in with the fun and invited all the children on board to visit the cockpit!  In the end our wait was shortened to 2 hours.  Finally I was home at around 9.30 and happy to greet my Father and give him a huge bag of confectionary – his favourites: bounty bar, maltesers, polos, Turkish delight as well as mini Easter eggs.  In the bag I also included colgate toothpaste and imperial leather soap both of which he is partial to.

It was great to see Olivia too.  For her I had brought jelly babies and a bag of terry’s chocolate orange. I also gave her my new Geox shoes (the ones I waited so long for on Oxford Street) as they were a bit too narrow for me.  Lucky her, they cost me 110 pounds and I loved them.  At least she will enjoy them.

It was funny to get into an empty bed. No Eladio and no Pippa as they were in Montrondo.  I entertained myself by starting watching season 5 of Call the Midwife which had arrived in my absence.  I think I fell asleep at just after midnight, very late for me.

Tuesday would be Black Tuesday.  No sooner had I woken up than I heard about the terror in the heart of Europee, in Brussels. At 08.10 in the morning 2 bombs exploded at Brussels main airport.  They exploded in the area before check-in, before security. It makes you think that security to go into departures is pretty useless if terrorists let off bombs in the area before it.  The bombs killed 11 people.  One suicide bomber, whose bomb did not detonate escaped and is being hunted down.
Terror at Brussels airport
And then just one hour later, another suicide bomb went off at the Maelbeek metro in the heart of the EU district killing 20 people.  From both attacks up to 300 people were injured.  150 of them are in hospital and 61 remain in a critical condition.  In the afternoon ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombs which did not surprise the world. I was horrified at the terror in Belgium, a quiet friendly nation.  The city of Brussels went into lock down and all transport was suspended, including air traffic.  Literally no one could get into or out of the country.  People were told to stay at home, schools closed and the staff at the EU buildings were under siege in their offices.  The whole world looked on in horror.  This time we all changed to Je suis Bruxelles.  It is pot luck who is there when these deadly bombs go off. It could have been us as we have often been to Brussels to see our friends Sandra and Jeffer.  In fact we were there just a month or so ago. 

I was angry and sad at the events. I was brought up in a relatively peaceful and safe world and cannot understand this new type of terror.  I will not get used to it and the whole world has to stand up to it.  We must eradicate it.  We cannot live our lives under a constant threat of this deadly terrorism from the most fanatical and cruel group ever to have walked the earth.  Most of the world thinks the same and on social media these feelings were expressed again and again. Of all the pictures and memes I have seen, perhaps this one is the best, the up yours finger using  fingers made of Belgian fried chips against the Belgian flag.
Needs no footnote
These were my thoughts as I went on my walk that morning.  It was great to be back home and on my walks but the attacks of that day put me into a morose mood.  My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones, as it does to my dear friends who live there.  I was glad to hear very early on that Jeffer, Magda, Sandra and little Barney were safe but of course shocked, upset and very worried at the situation; just as we had been when the train bombs happened in Madrid in 2004. 
On my walk on Tuesday morning
Life went on and if I was to leave for Montrondo the next day, I had to provide the household with food, so I went to do the hefty weekly shopping. I was able to have lunch with my Father that day and whilst we ate Salud’s delicious potato and meat stew we watched the live updates of the situation in Brussels on the BBC on my iPad.

In the afternoon I settled down to my work, looking forward to watching more of Call the Midwife that evening. I do so much relate to it as I, like many of the babies born in the series, was also born at home at around the same time it is set, the late 50’s and early 60’s.
And Wednesday came.  I was up early to take a taxi to Chamartin train station to catch the 09.30 new high speed train to Leon with Dolores.  The journey was just 2.15 hours and when we arrived our dear husbands were waiting for us.  It was great to see Eladio again. But I had a surprise in store, Pippa was there too as the brothers had taken the dogs to the vet in Riello on the way for an anti-parasite jab.  Oh what a joy to be reunited with little Pippa again.
I was so happy to see Pippa again on Wednesday
After a brief stop at the Gadis supermarket in León for Dolores to do some food shopping, we drove to Montrondo where we stopped for a very decent and wholesome lunch at Yordas in Pandorado.

By 3.30 I was on the walk to Senra with Dolores, my sister-in-law Adela, Manolita, Pili, a neighbour and her husband. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.

That night both Olivia and Miguel would be joining us.  They didn’t get here until 10.30 but we waited for them for dinner; a simple meal of salad and cold cuts.  It was great to see them and I knew Oli, especially, was looking forward to time in Montrondo to relax and rest from her stressful job as a live TV reporter.

Maunday Thursday was a glorious sunny day but it was a sad day for football.  On that day, 24th March, Johan Cruyff the football player and coach legend died of cancer aged 68.  He is linked exclusively to the Barceona Football Club here so there was much news of his passing away.  RIP you will forever be remembered.

We had breakfast together as we always do here, then Oli, Miguel and I ventured out to the village, making our way to Los Palacios for a coffee at Adela’s.  From there we could hear the jingle from the fish van that brings fresh fish once a week to the village.  You see there is not one bar or shop in Montrondo as there are so few villagers and food is supplied “on wheels” so to say. 
The fish van in Montrondo
It’s quite a novelty for us to buy fish from a van so we asked to take a photo; the one below.  I bought fresh cod to make fish and chips on Good Friday, a dish we all love.
Buying fish with Olivia on Thursday in Montrondo
Just as we finished buying the fish, the bread van from Senra arrived and we bought bread too.  The rest of Eladio’s family had arrived by then, so we found ourselves buying bread together along with other people who had cometo spend the Easter Break here.
The bread van in Montrondo - in the picture from right to left: José Antonio, Salo, Pili and Yoli.
We had a lovely lunch and then my goodness, we all feel asleep and I didn’t wake up until 5.30.  I was cross with myself for missing the sunshine, so we quickly got ready to go on a walk to Murias and back.  My sisters-in-law had already been (they called and had been told we were all asleep hahaha), so off I went with Oli, Miguel, Eladio and Pippa.

The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me with Eladio and Oli (notice she is wearing my new blue Uniqlo parka) by God’s Rock the halfway mark between Montrondo and Murias.

On the way back, Eladio took us on a different route, via “El Bao” – the big stretch of fields.  He took us down to the river to an area called “la barrera” (every nook and cranny has a name in Montrondo) which we had to cross by stepping on stones, some of which he added to aid the crossing.
A romantic picture of Eladio and I by the river in Montrondo on Maunday Thursday
I remarked he had taken us on a bit of an obstacle race and he had.  It was quite fun though.  Here are Oli and Miguel just after crossing the river.
Miguel and Oli by the river on our walk on Thursday 
We reached the church and walked across the potato fields to Adela’s house to join the rest of the family for a cup of coffee.  Whilst there, the weekly grocery van, run by Jelo, was finishing its rounds and I had to rush out to stock up on some fruit and vegetables.

Dinner that night was vegetables, artichokes, which I adore but are very laborious to prepare.  In the picture below: Eladio, Oli and Miguel about to start dinner.
Dinner at home on Thursday night
Some people went to more exotic destinations than Montrondo like the British Prime Minister for example.  David Cameron and his wife Samantha, jetted off to Lanzarote, the island in the Canaries the girls recently went to, for a family holiday.  He had apparently told MPs he needed "more time to think".  Well, I'm sure he will have a lot on his mind.  Here he is with his pretty wife posing in the sun.
David Cameron the British PM and his wife chose Lanzarote as their Easter holiday destination this year.  Must be good publicity for the island.
Well I wouldn't change places with him as we had a great time in our little village with no celebrities, cameras, etc. 

Good Friday came and as tradition dictates, we had hot cross buns for breakfast, the ones I had brought from England.  Eladio remarked that I am very traditional with these things and I suppose he is right.

That morning Dolores, Miguel, Oli, Pippa and I drove to Villablino; the nearest town from here, about 25 minutes away.  We were going to the weekly market.  Everything else would be closed.  In Spain Easter or Semana Santa as they call it here, is taken very seriously. There are processions in most big towns; some are very famous like the ones in Seville or Zamora and are now apparently  tourist attractions.

But there were no processions in Villablino, just the weekly market.  Dolores, who comes often, took us straight to a stall which sells local walnuts, delicious breads, cakes and pies. Here we both bought a local meat and vegetable pie which Eladio and I would have for dinner.  It was delicious.  In the photo below are Oli with Pippa and Dolores who bought many more things than I did.
Dolores, Oli and Pippa at Dolores' favourite stall at the market in Villablino
The market sells fruit, veg and all sorts of local cheeses and hams as well as clothes and lots of fake luxury handbags.  I didn't expect to find anything interesting but came home with two fleeces at 10 euros each; one for Eladio in green and one for me in blue. Happy with our purchases we left the market to go and have an "aperetivo" (a drink before lunch), We were very lucky in that the owner of the bar we went into was more than happy for Pippa to come in too. Usually dogs are not allowed inside bars and shops in Spain; nor beaches, restaurants, etc. so I was very grateful to the owner.  Here we women had a glass of "mosto" which is wine without alcohol.  I'm sure my British readers will not understand why we would want it but there you go, we are not such heavy wine drinkers as people in England or in other countries such as the Nordics.  With the drink came a free tapa; a custom in these parts.
At the dog friendly bar in Villablino on Good Friday
We were home by 1.30 and set about making lunch which was to be fish and chips; a rather greasy affair of course but delicious all the same.

It was a cloudy day on Friday in contrast to Wednesday and Thursday and rained on and off; gone the sun I'm afraid.  Eladio's family came round for tea and coffee with biscuits, the ones I had bought in Brussels and which Norah didn't manage to eat and the ones from my visit to London.  It's always nice to see all 6 brothers and sisters together with their mother and I wish I had taken a picture of them.  I only have this one which I took from the stairs whilst they were not looking and it's not very good I'm afraid.
The family having tea and coffee at our house on Friday afternoon
Oli and Miguel were leaving us to go to Gijon, a famous seaside town in Asturias, about 2 hours drive from here. They would be staying for the night with friends who lived there for and on Saturday evening would drive back to Madrid - a four hour stint.

When everyone had gone it was raining lightly and getting dark but we hadn't had our walk that day, so Eladio, Dolores, the dogs and I went off to Murias and back. We only saw one person, Eulogio, an elderly man who is from Montrondo but lives in Murias and does that walk twice a day to keep fit. We came back to our warm house; Eladio lit the fire and it was the perfect moment to make apple crumble with the "reineta" apples I had bought from Jelo's van.  

At Easter in Spain the television channels always put on religious old films, such as Ben Hur or The 10 commandments.  We are always a sucker for these and last night after dinner enjoyed bits of the latter.  I have seen it many times and love Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the Pharoe (the brother he was brought up with) but once again I only saw a part of it as I fell asleep after the the bit about the plagues in Egypt.  

Easter Saturday was our last day in Montrondo.  I had a bad headache and woke up at 4, then 5 and finally got up at 6.30.  Thankfully my first coffee of the day and a painkiller kept it at bay.  I spent the morning on household tasks including changing sheets, washing and ironing and cleaning bathrooms (hate the latter) but there was also time for coffee with my sisters-in-law Pili and Adela, Eladio and their Mother who was knitting squares for a woolen quilt.  My household tasks also included making lunch and yesterday I made lentil stew with potatoes, chorizo, carrots, onion, garlic and the greener part of leek.  This is what it looked like.
The lentil stew I made for lunch on Easter Saturday
There was also time for our last walk on this stay.  The day had begun with rain but thankfully when we ventured out the sun had made its appearance although it was a bit blustery.  
View of the village on our last walk yesterday to Murias via the old path.
As usual we walked to Murias and back accompanied by Pippa and Nuba. Once again we walked back via "El Bao" and here is Eladio opening the gate for me to step into the field.
Eladio on our walk on Saturday
After lunch we all had a short siesta until about 16.30 when we began the loathed task of getting ready to go and leave the house in ship shape order for our next visit which will be in April when our friends Keith and Lorraine visit us.

We left Montrondo at about 5.30 with Toño and Dolores and both dogs and stopped just once on the way.  During the trip we discussed hotel plans for our stay in Málaga at the end of September for Pili's daughter Paula's wedding.  We booked 2 rooms at the Malaga Golf Parador on the coast which looks a lovely location, just 11km from the centre of the city.  I prefer to stay there than in town as Málaga itself doesn't have much to offer, unlike other Andalusian towns such as Córdoba, Seville or Granada.  That will be something to look forward to indeed.

We were home by 9.30 p.m. to find everything in order. Zena was home looking after my father and I asked him if he had been well looked after.  His answer couldn't have pleased me more when he said "she is very attentive".  

Last night the clocks went forward to summer time.  At 2 a.m. it would be 3 a.m. which would rob us of an hour on Sunday.  On the bright side we shall have longer lighter evenings, something I love.

And today is Sunday, Easter Day and we shall be celebrating it with the family.  Oli and Miguel are driving now from Gijon and we shall all have lunch together, including some of the mini chocolate eggs I got at Waitrose.  Unfortunately I don't have any big Easter eggs as there were none at Gatwick airport and any bought before leaving would have got crushed in my suitcase. 

So wishing you all a Happy Easter, I shall sign off now and get on with the day which will start with my walk, an hour later than usual of course.

Next week I'm off to Marrakech but of course you will read all about that next Sunday.

All the best for now,


Sunday, March 20, 2016

More Russian cooking, the girls in Lanzarote, chatting to my Father’s ex Bradford Grammar School pupils, our temporary new office, “Je suis Ankara”, never fly on #Norwegian airlines, Mother and daughter time in London, a trip down memory lane to Cambridge and other stories.

Sunday 20th March 2016
The highlight of my trip to England - here with Suzy in Cambridge by the River Cam just behind King's College
Hello everyone this first day of spring. I am writing from Suzy’s house in Camden this Sunday morning and have lots to tell you. So let me start.

Last Sunday Zena, our Ukranian weekend carer, made borsch for us. My father and I were delighted as it is a dish we both love and always brings back memories of my Russian born Mother who used to make it a lot.  Borsch is made with beetroot, carrots, cabbage, potatoes and generally with meat of some sort too.  We had to invent the Smetana (sour cream) that goes with it by using Greek yoghurt and cream but it was still lovely.

Zena's borsch last Sunday
Meanwhile the girls continued their holiday break in Lanzarote with their friends from “La Manada”.  Suzy doesn’t often post photos of herself on Facebook but this one she did. The caption has to be “happiness personified” don’t you think?
Suzy, super happy in Lanzarote
As the girls are not often together because Suzy lives in London I was happy to see the following photo of the two of them together.  Nice eh?
The two sisters reunited in Lanzarote, Suzy and Oli
That morning whilst Zena was making borsch, I was chatting on Facebook and via mail simultaneously with some of my Father’s old pupils from Bradford Grammar School who have recently reached out to him via my blog which never ceases to amaze me.  They were his pupils more than 40 years ago and their tales paint a different man to the Father I knew and know.  At home he was often overshadowed by my Mother’s strong personality but in class he must have come into his own. For example Simon H writes this about him and which I hope he doesn’t mind me reproducing here:
“Our Russian teacher was Mr C.C. Lloyd known, presumably because it began with a C, as Clarence. He had never previously taught me, though I had occasionally passed him in the corridor. With his deep-set eyes, and Bobby Charlton-coiffed strands of grey hair, he looked frowningly austere, quasi-sepulchral.
Our class was homely. There were only eight or nine of us. Up close he was different. His eyes were a pale, piercing blue, and he liked to laugh. During lessons we laughed a great deal. Sometimes, I regret to say, we laughed about Clarence, and his crumpled suit, and his chalk-covered gown, and his ceaselessly errant chalk (which sometimes, though surprisingly rarely, we had hidden). 
But more often we laughed with him about the quirks of Soviet life. This’ll put a crack in the proud Soviet boast about inflation’ he chuckled one morning, thumbing through a three-week-old copy of Pravda. Taxi fares are going up!’
Transport was one of his great interests. You can read between the lines in Soviet newspapers’ he informed us conspiratorially. ‘All kinds of titbits about rude bus-conductors!’
Clarence struggled to keep pace with his mind, which raced around at the speed of light.
I’ll get my big super etymological dictionary RIGHT NOW’ he declared portentously. Where’s it gone? Oh, here it is. This real gem of the dictionary is produced by the Academy of Science. Yes: 21 volumes! Ah yes, now, er, let’s see, right… what am I looking up? I’ve forgotten.’
His logic was delightful. It’s masculine,’ he assured us. Unless you’re a girl. Then it’s different.’
The Ice Maiden’ he told us encouragingly, is a Russian heroine, only she melts in Spring.’
Clarence appeared to run a thriving business in the import of Soviet calendars and, rather like a master rewarding a dog with a juicy bone, would dish out pieces of tear-off calendar to diligent pupils.
Here’s a bit of calendar for you!’ he would say excitedly, as if he were clutching a gold ingot. How to make yourself a parachute. No, I’ll keep it myself. Have this one instead… something about hares jumping.’
Bits of calendar and old magazines, mainly Ogonëk but sometimes Izvestia and occasionally Krokodil, were our visual aids.
We’ll just have to soldier on’ he would exclaim motivationally. We must hold out, stick it out, and finish the book. That’s the great thing!’
This was his catch phrase.
‘Fibberty-gibbet is my type of word!’ he assured us proudly. ‘It’s got panache, that’s the great thing!’
Clarence had panache all right, and charisma, and a brain as big as a bullock.
A palpably good man, with the naïvety and wisdom of a holy fool”.

I can hardly imagine my Father struggling to keep pace with his mind, which raced around at the speed of light as he wasn’t like that at home.  I was also amazed by David W’s stories of my Father teaching him Swedish ‘O’ level in just one term or giving him Norwegian lessons at lunchtime.  He would have done that out of the kindness of his heart and to spur on a brilliant pupil because neither Swedish nor Norwegian were taught at Bradford Grammar School and he was the French, German and Russian language teacher.  Some of the pupils I chatted to last Sunday told me that not only did he have an enormous influence on their careers but that he was one of the best teachers at the school.  My Father was delighted to hear from me that Simon H who is a critic of Russian art living in Geneva will be coming to see him in the spring to interview him for a book he is writing.  That will certainly be something for Daddy to look forward to. These conversations made me see my Father in a different light and made me extremely proud of him as you can imagine.

Sorry if I’m boring you with these tales. Now let me get back to Russian cooking.  After making borsch on Sunday, Zena (Zinaida) made another dish for us; this time “golubtsy” which is basically stuffed cabbage and another favourite Russian dish of ours that my Mother used to make.  I do know how to make it but not as well as Zena and it’s also quite laborious to make.  We were to have it for lunch on Monday and then again on Wednesday, once more with artificial Smetana.  This is what it looks like.

Zena's delicious golubtsy
Monday was a busy day.  I was up early for a meeting in the office then no sooner had I got back home I was called to go back for another meeting.  My work day didn’t finish until 9.30pm.  Unusually Eladio and I went out to dinner when I got home and we enjoyed a quiet meal at Ginos.

Tuesday brought with it a big upheaval at home.  The carpenters were coming to replace the floor and skirting boards on practically all of the ground floor after the recent leakage.  This meant we had to move out of our office.  Thus we set up a temporary one in the glass gallery or annex off our bedroom, a room we never use which is a pity as it has lots of light and great views of the back garden. 
Working in our temporary new office
I loved it and mentioned to Eladio that I wouldn’t mind making it our permanent office.  He agreed but then again what are we to do with the ground floor office.  So, no, when all is finished we shall move downstairs again.  Moving it upstairs would make my Father more isolated which is another reason we shan’t make it permanent. But meanwhile we enjoyed the new surroundings, especially the view of the prunus (red leaved ornamental plum tree) tree in blossom.

Whilst all this was happening at home the girls were enjoying their last day in Lanzarote.  This volcanic Canary Island is famous for surfing and some of the group had lessons, including my daring daughter Suzy. I loved this photo of her with the surfboard.  She was later to tell me she fell off it every time hahaha.
Suzy going surfing for the first time in Lanzarote
And here is the last picture they sent of the group of them before they left.  Well actually Suzy had to stay on until Wednesday as there was no flight to London on Tuesday.  She must have felt a little forlorn when they all left.
The girls' last day in Lanzarote - a good time was had by all.
Tuesday was a lovely day for me as I had a lunch date with my ex Nokia girl colleagues.  We were five that day; Juana, Fátima, Jill, María Jesús and myself and went to La Vaca Argentina.  Zenaida, Ana and Marta were all on business trips and couldn’t make it.  It’s always fun to reconnect and it’s thanks to Juana booking the date in our diaries every 3 months or so.  We do so enjoy catching up on each other’s lives and of course talking shop; gossiping about the industry and other ex-colleagues. Thanks Juana, you are just soooo organized. Here is a photo of the 5 of us at lunch last Tuesday. 
Lunch with my ex Nokia colleagues on Tuesday
My afternoon was very glamorous.  I went to have my nails done and then as I spied my favourite hairdresser, Merche, I decided to have my hair done too both of which would make me look smarter for my trip the next day to London.  When Merche had finished, another hairdresser, Elena, remarked my hair looked like Marilyn Monroe.  What a compliment I thought.  Here I am with my hair just done.
My look alike Marilyn Monroe hairdo hahaha.
That night as Eladio went to the airport to pick up Oli I was horrified to see the news from Brussels for the hunt for terrorists linked to the Paris attacks in November.  Police raided an apartment, a terrorist was shot, two were on the loose and an area of the city was practically under siege with schools in lock down. Later in the week the most looked for terrorist, the one who survived the attacks, Abdesalam was caught

Salah Abdesalam the repentant suicide bomber who was caught this week in Brussels
He has now confessed that at the last minute he backed out of blowing himself up! Oh why oh why do these young people become so radicalized and why oh why does the world have to suffer from this horrifying new form of terrorism? I didn’t even mention it but last Sunday there was a fatal suicide bombing in Ankara too which killed three dozen people. This time it was at the hands of Kurdish rebels. 

The aftermath of the Ankara bombings last Sunday
It’s funny how we were all very affected by the Paris attacks yet no one was saying Je suis Ankara this week.  Does that mean lives are more valuable in Paris than in Ankara or that we are becoming immune to this new form of terrorism? I hope not, because we all know now that it could happen anywhere in the world at any time.  Frightening!

That night I woke up with a migraine at 4 in the morning and took a paracetamol. At 5 It was getting worse and I took another one.  At 6 a.m. I threw up because of the migraine and the overdose.  It was an awful night.  Thankfully by about 9 I was getting better although the headache would not leave me until the next day. I do hate these episodes.  They are often triggered by a piece of chocolate or glass of wine before I go to bed, yet on Tuesday night I hadn’t had either so don’t really know what caused it.  Thankfully the episodes are few and far between but Tuesday night’s was especially bad. 

Wednesday was the day of my trip to London to spend 4 days with Suzy before she started her new job the following Monday.  After packing I spent most of the day getting as much work out of the way as possible so as to leave everything neatly tied up and be able to go away in peace.

Eladio took me to the airport and we got there just before 5 for my 18.10 flight to Gatwick with Norwegian.  It was to be my first trip with the budget airline and I had heard it was good; the great advantage being able to use wifi on board. But it was not to be a successful trip.  No sooner had I stepped into the airport than I got an sms from them to say the flight was delayed until 20.40.  Oh dear, I thought I will have to wait for 2.5 hours.  As the time neared my fellow passengers and I began to fear the worst as we heard that the incoming plane hadn’t left Birmingham.  We were getting zero information, so I contacted the airline on twitter and ended up knowing more than anyone about the flight at the airport and being the messenger of the news to my fellow passengers and even the ground staff.  I then found the pilot who informed me the flight was cancelled and went on to tell me 3 of their aircraft were grounded for technical repairs in Europe.  3 airplanes!  I wondered at the quality and safety of this budget airline and got a bit scared.  The frustrating part was that it became too late to get a seat on another outbound flight to London but of course Norwegian had my luggage so I couldn’t although I would later find out they were fully booked.  Another sms arrived to confirm the cancellation and included a number to call in Norway! Their customer service at Madrid airport was inexistent and there was not one representative present.   When I called I was offered another flight the next day at 18.10, wasting a whole night and day of my short break to see Suzy.  That was when I got into action and rushed out of departures to retrieve my luggage and try to get on another plane.  I was followed by a motley group of fellow cross passengers who were later to become my friends. I retrieved my luggage but there were no seats on any of the last flights that night.  So I quickly booked one on Iberia the next morning which was leaving at 08.50 for an extortionate amount of money, more than double what I had already paid for my flight there and back.  Norwegian at least offered accommodation, dinner and breakfast at a hotel by the airport which I opted to accept rather than getting Eladio to drive all the way to pick me up and making him rise at the crack of dawn the next day. Thus I found myself sleeping at the Marriott Auditorium at Barajas that night which felt very strange as one doesn’t often stay at a hotel in one’s home town.  To be honest I had expected a “crappy” place but it was great quality. When I got there I decided to make the best of the situation and in the end enjoyed a pleasant commiserating dinner with my new friends, Sam, Jane, Emma and Hanna from the UK and John and his Mother who are Colombian.  Here we are together at dinner on Wednesday night.  It was lovely to meet them and quite a fun dinner but I would have far preferred to be in London with Suzy as I’m sure you will understand.  I shall be claiming compensation from Norwegian and if it proves difficult, as I have been told it will, I shall kick up a huge fuss on their social media sites.  P.S. I shall never fly Norwegian again and advise you not to either because they have proved they do not know how to look after stranded passengers, don’t seem to care much either and have faulty planes and a very limited fleet of aircraft.

An unexpected dinner on Wednesday night - at Madrid airport!
I was up early the next morning and I am happy to tell you the Iberia flight took off on time and everything went smoothly.  Eladio meanwhile left for Montrondo with his beloved brother José Antonio.  He took Pippa as José Antonio took their mongrel Nuba and I know they are having a great time together.  Dolores and I will be joining them next Wednesday for Easter. 
Whilst I've been in London this week Eladio went to his beloved Montrondo
Oli, once back from Lanzarote, returned to work and I was happy to see one of her TV reports that day.  It was about a beautiful castle in Manzanares in the country, not very far from Madrid.  You can see it here. It’s funny but even after all these years, I still get a kick out of seeing her on TV. I suppose that’s the magic of television.

But back to London. I got to Victoria at around 11.45 and there was my darling daughter Suzy to pick me up.  We hugged for what seemed like an awful long time as we hadn’t seen each other since Christmas.  She was looking gorgeous. We went straight to her home in Camden on the tube.  Her new house which she shares with Anita from “La Manada” and two delightful Argentinian friends and sisters, Julieta and Vicky who both work for Amazon at their UK HQ, is really nice and a huge improvement from her previous accommodation in Whitechapel, Canada Water and Bermondsey.  Here we are in a selfie outside her front door.

Outside Suzy's house on the first day, about to hit Oxford Street!
As soon as I had settled in, we were out again and on our way to Oxford Street but first we stopped for a quick lunch at Whole Foods. Our first stop was at Uniqlo which I call the “Japanese Zara” on Oxford Street.  Here I bought a white ultra-light down parka jacket and Suzy got several cardigans.  Here I am happy with my purchase by the jackets.
Shopping at Uniqlo on the first day
We also had luck at Urban Outfitters.  I was delighted there when I found a typical yellow fisherman type raincoat which will be perfect for Montrondo.
Very happy with my new fisherman's raincoat from Urban Outfitters
We took the 29 bus back to Camden where we got off and entered Sainsbury’s to do some food shopping for breakfasts and for a nice dinner at the house that night.  We bought so much the bags were too heavy to carry home.  Then when the bus came it was too full to get on, so I hailed a cab and to Suzy’s amazement we brought the shopping home in style.

Coming home in a cab with all our shopping
Friday was dedicated to a trip down memory lane to Cambridge.  This was the town where my parents met and fell in love; on the Joint Services Language courses organized by the Professor of Russian at the University, Dame Elizabeth Hill who I have often written about here in my blog.  My Father graduated at Selwyn College in 1950 having studied German and Scandinavian languages.  He would go on to learn Russian under Liza Hill before becoming her right hand man on these secret Cold War classrooms.  It was on these courses my parents met and fell in love.  They got married in 1952 I think and both my brother and I were born at the house they bought at 291 Milton Road.  We left Cambridge when I was about 2 in either 1959 or 1960 so I have no recollections of our life in that beautiful University City, only the tales my Mother used to tell me of her cycling in the city with both of us on her bike and how she would do the shopping at market square.  We did go back to visit of course and I think the photo below of the four of us was taken in the garden at our old house.
With my parents and brother George outside our old house in Cambridge - circa 1961
We got off the bus  just after 10.30 and it was drizzling and cold. I was wearing a short jacket and leggings so I needed to go to M+S (notice the word “needed”) to buy some warmer trousers.  I ended up buying a pair of jeans and a striped hoody. Suzy got some lovely stuff to wear for her new job.  From M+S we made our way to Market Square which conjured up images of what my Mother’s life here must have been like.  We walked onto King’s Parade and bought tickets to visit the Chapel and grounds of King’s College, perhaps the most famous college at the University. 
Suzy on King's Parade in Cambridge
The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Suzy and I on the bridge over the River Cam beyond the grounds of King’s College by The Backs.  We loved our visit and I remarked to Suzy that I wondered whether the young people studying there realize just how privileged they are. 
King's College Cambridge
After the visit we walked along the streets admiring the colleges like St. Johns and even ventured into Gonville Caius College which was beautiful.  What little I know about the collegiate system and the colleges at “Oxbridge” I passed onto Suzy.  She loved the “quads” (quadrangle lawns) as I do too.

From Caius we made our way to The Punter pub where we had booked a table for lunch.  I had found it on Trip Advisor and it met my expectations.  Here I took a photo of my daughter who seems to look more beautiful every day as she is turning into a woman.
Suzy at The Punter pub where we had lunch in Cambridge
I have to confess I had fish and chips made with fresh cod for lunch which was out of this world.  Suzy had a vegan dish!

From The Punter we decided to walk to the house where I was born on 291 Milton Road.  It was a long walk.  In fact we walked so much that day I was pleased to see that according to my fitbit we had done over 19km in one day.
My fitbit on Friday the day we went to Cambridge, we walked nearly 20km in one day!
When we got to the house I had mixed feelings.  Of course it was not a luxurious one, just a normal looking house on a main road outside Cambridge but it was the house where I was born as babies were born at home in the 50’s; so rather a nostalgic moment and a real trip down memory lane to my origins.   
Outside the house where I was born on 291 Milton Road in Cambridge
I stood outside looking in and Suzy took the pictures like the one above.  I debated whether to knock on the door and finally decided to do so as I knew I would regret it later if I didn’t.  The owner who opened the door was not at all friendly and doubted my story and no way was he going to ask us to come in.  I was a little disappointed and the moment was dampened, but there you are, not everyone is like me because I can assure you that if someone knocked on my door and said they had been born in my house xxx number of years ago, they would get a warm welcome.  But it was not to be.  Never mind.

We walked back via Jesus Green to the City Centre and there was not much to do until our bus was leaving at 18.50.  We sat down in a café to escape from the cold and I took the opportunity to catch up on some burning issues at work. Thank god for mobile phones when you are on the move.  The bus leaving was late and we weren’t home till 9.30 and we were exhausted.  I staggered into bed after a meagre dinner and slept until 7.30 the next day.

Yesterday, Saturday morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and didn’t leave the house until 10.30.  We caught the 29 bus, using our oyster cards and got off near Tottenham Court Road where Suzy took me to Planet Organic where she has been working for 9 months but has left for a job as a sales representative with the up and coming supplement company Bare Biology whose brand Lion Heart is doing very well.  Hopefully Suzy will be at least as happy with them as she has been with Planet Organic. I met many of her colleagues and Suzy turned our time there into a blast greeting everyone and introducing them all to me.  We did lots of shopping there too as the products on sale are fabulous.  I shall miss the free sample products Suzy used to give usL
Suzy at Planet Organic on Saturday morning
From there we walked to Oxford Street which was of course very crowded it being a Saturday morning.  To make it even more crowded there was a demonstration on in favour of welcoming refugees and against racism.  As I fully agree on the subject I picked up a placard and Suzy took this funny photo of me by Oxford Circus.  I wouldn’t have minded joining the demonstration but preferred some more quality Mother and daughter time in the city.
Joining the demonstration in Oxford Street (for the photo only altho I completely agree with the protest)
I wanted to go to Geox to get some blue mix suede sneakers I had seen. Little did I know I would be practicing my Portuguese there with a lovely sales assistant called Sandra from Oporto.  It was novel talking to her in the language I learned at University but which has gone rather rusty. Yesterday it came back. My mother was right when she said learning a language is like learning to ride a bicycle.  You may get rusty but you never forget it.  I felt quite proud of myself.  The shop didn’t have my number so had to order the shoes from another store. We would be back after lunch to pick them up.

From Geox we made our way to the new flagship store of Uniqlo which was opening that day on Oxford Street.  I wanted to get another ultra-light down parka, the hooded water defender model which wasn’t available at their other store. It was here I think I lost my lovely blue fur collar.  A huge party was going on for the opening day. I love their ultra-light down parkas so I hope the store soon comes to Spain.  We met a lovely girl outside, one of the promoters giving out balloons. She was of a half Japanese half Philippine Mother and Spanish Father and couldn’t have been more beautiful or exotic.  Don’t you agree?
The Uniqlo opening promotion of their new flagship store on Oxford Street
Lunch that day was Indian cuisine; curry my favourite in England along with fish and chips or a Sunday roast.  Suzy had found a place called Gopal’s of Soho which turned out to be pretty good. Later an Indian friend of Oli’s, Sandeep, commented he had eaten there too and liked it.  So we obviously made the right choice.

Suzy at Gopal's of Soho, a great little curry house

Unfortunately when we returned to Geox the shoes had not arrived so we had to wait for a while.  We sat outside on an empty bench and watched the world go by.  A young man came up to Suzy and just told her how beautiful he thought she was.  I couldn’t agree more haha. It was a funny moment which made us laugh. 
A collage of Suzy waiting for me on Oxford Street outside Geox yesterday afternoon
Finally the shoes arrived and ti was time to go home if we were to have a rest before hitting the city again.  Suzy was to go to a farewell drinks party with her colleagues from Planet Organic and I was meeting our friends, Keith and Lorraine for dinner in Covent Garden at 7pm.   We left a bit late so I was not on time for the dinner date  at Palm Court Brasserie on King Street.  What made me late was trying to find Covent Garden when I got off the 69 bus on Tottenham Court Road.  London was so busy with theatre and party goers I found the atmosphere a bit too much for me.  Thankfully a nice black man helped me find my way and soon I was with our friends.  They made a great choice with the restaurant which satisfied my craving for more fish and chips.
With our friends Keith and Lorraine who treated me to dinner last night at The Palm Court Brasserie in Covent Garden.
Thankfully on the way back my friends walked me to Leicester Square where I could catch a tube straight to Camden Street station on the Northern Line.  When I got out I couldn’t believe the number of revelers on the street and decided to catch a cab back to Suzy’s house as I knew I wouldn’t find my way at that time of night.  A 33 year old Bangladeshi drove me home and as always when I meet immigrants, I asked him about his life and what his country was like.  I am beginning to resemble my Mother who would talk to anyone on the street eager to get to know fellow human beings.  So far on this trip I have met and spoken to people from all around the world including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Albania, Portugal, Colombia, The Argentine, USA and probably more.  I love talking to people from other countries but then again I grew up in a multi- cultured household.

I was home by 11 and soon in bed reading my book; “The sons of fortune” by Jeffrey Archer.  And today is Sunday, my last full day with Suzy.  We plan to visit Camden Market and walk to Primrose Hill and I’m not yet sure how the rest of the day will pan out.

Now I will leave you as Suzy has just got up and I don’t want to waste my time with her writing my blog. 

You will hear again from me next Sunday, Easter Day and find out all about the end of my trip to London, my journey home and then our stay in Montrondo.

Cheers till then/Masha