Saturday, December 08, 2018

A shift from left to right in Andalusia, my tribute to Paul Sherwen, Pippa turns 4, George Bush Senior laid to rest, visit to the Madrid Christmas market, revolution in France and other stories

Sunday 9th December 2018

A visit to the Christmas Market at the Plaza Mayor in Madrid on Friday morning.
Hi everyone. It's Sunday again and you're about to read the tales of my week or should I say "our week" as Eladio always tells me this blog is not just mine but ours hahhaa.

We're truly into December now and Christmas is on its way whether you like it or not. I love it and always have. Last Sunday morning we had typical December weather. It was foggy and then later the sun shone and we actually had  beautiful day, albeit very cold.

That morning Oli and I had our French lesson with Helene. We had a conversation about the riots in France and the "gilets jaunes" movement and then went over our homework on the "superlatif" and the "comparatif". All in all it was a good lesson. We have a lot of fun and laughter, make lots of mistakes but I think that, on the whole, we are slowly improving.

While we were in our class, Eladio and Miguel were trying to restore the image on my Father's TV - part of his daily routine is watching the BBC news in the afternoon every day - and it had broken down a few days ago. They came to the conclusion that the satellite antenna  had probably been affected by strong wind. That should be easy to fix you might think, but it's not easy as this house is so huge and tall that workmen shy away from climbing up the roof and usually they don't have a  ladder which is long enough. Miguel tried connecting the TV to internet with a streaming device. He downloaded an app which I have also downloaded on my phone, where you can see all the British TV channels. It's called UK TV and Radio. It sort of worked on my Father's TV but the signal is not good enough. We have fiber internet in this house but the router is not powerful enough and the house is too big to get a good signal everywhere. So we would  have to find a TV antenna man willing to climb the roof. I really wanted the TV working again as watching the BBC news every afternoon is an integral part of my Father's day.

Oli and Miguel didn't stay to lunch, so we were just 3 that day. Zena, our Ukranian weekend helper, made one of my favourite Russian dishes for Sunday lunch, "gloupsy" - stuffed cabbage rolls, which both my Father and I love. I always remember my Mother making them. Later I left some for Andy, our Scottish lodger to try. He loved them.

The big news in Spain on Monday were the  results in the local Andalusian elections of last Sunday.  Andalusia has the biggest population of all areas in Spain and the results were being seen as a mirror for what could happen in May when and if general elections are called. I was surprised the turn out was so low - about 50%. Half of the population obviously didn't care but that's strange as Andalusia is one of Spain's poorest areas and people should care. It's always been a safe area for the socialist party, led until now, by the feisty Susana Diaz. But that changed on Sunday when there was a shift from left to right possibly because of the corruption scandals her party, the PSOE, is embroiled in. The Socialists have been in power for 36 years but that changed this week. No party would emerge with a majority, needing 55 of the 109 seats and there were new contenders, such as the so-called far wing party Vox, who, up till now, had never won a seat anywhere in the country. These were the results of the elections that night, compared to the results of 2015.
The socialists won the elections with 33 seats but lost 14 since last time. So, there will have to be a coalition again. Mathematically Susana won't be able to form a government alone, nor with the far left who only got 17 seats. The right wing parties, PP and Ciudadanos could govern but only if they make a pact with the far right party Vox who, amazingly, won 12 seats. Things seem to be going that way. As a lot of people in Spain, I am a bit wary of the far right.  I don't like "far" anything in politics. Let's see what happens. 

Our day on Sunday was quiet with no guests but we enjoyed our free time, going for our walk, reading and having a nice dinner together. That night the only thing on the TV was about the Andalusian elections and I watched until the results came through at about 10.15 and soon fell asleep.

I was shocked to hear on Monday that an old friend and colleague from the Motorola Cycling Team, Paul Sherwen had died aged 62 in Uganda. He is more known in the UK for being a commentator of the Tour of France on Channel Four with Phil Liggett. I bet Phil must be in shock. 
Paul Sherwen RIP
This is my tribute to him.

"Monday came and I was shocked to hear from an old friend and colleague from the Motorola Cycling Team, that Paul Sherwen had died aged 62 in Uganda where he lived with his wife Kathryn and children. I got the news from Carrie Worley an ex colleague from Motorola with whom I worked (and played) closely on the sponsorship of the team. 

 I got very involved as did Carrie and I could hardly fathom her news. Paul, at the time was the team's Communications Director, Carrie head of sponsorship worldwide and I was the marketing and communications manager for Spain and later  in charge of sponsorship of the team in Europe.

The British press were mourning the ex British cyclist and sports commentator. I was mourning my first friend in the sport who introduced me to cycling. He was a real professional, Mr. Perfect in many ways, but also a great big bundle of fun. Those were great days and I remember vividly driving around Spain and France with him on various cycling races and having more fun than work. On Monday night, Rupert Guinness, an Australian cycling journalist and friend of Paul wrote to me and we exchanged anecdotes late into the night about him. He would be writing an article for Velo News and wanted a few anecdotes from me. I had plenty. Paul, apparently, died peacefully in bed from heart failure in his beloved Africa. I'm glad to hear he didn't suffer. I have only good memories of him. He was perhaps my first friend in cycling and my teacher. I knew nothing about cycling at all and in about 1991 at the Ruta del Sol in Andalusia, my first race and baptism in the sport, he introduced me both to the sport and the cycling family; in particular his wonderful friends and partners in crime, Rupert Guinness and the British photographer - the best there has ever been in cycling - Graham Watson. I remember very well our first night together, sitting in the bar of the hotel and talking and drinking till late at night. On one of the days, I treated Rupert and Paul to a slap up lunch and we were late to the Finish line. Paul was mortified. I also remember walking down a hotel corridor with Paul and out came Jesper Skibby, a famous Danish cyclist, stark naked from his room. Imagine my reaction! Paul didn't bat an eyelid and said "welcome to cycling". I hadn't even heard of Eddie Merck, not to mention any top Spanish cyclists, not even Pedro Delgado even though I lived in Spain, a country mad about cycling. One day, Paul pointed out a tall and lanky, dark haired, shy looking Spanish cyclist on his bike. He asked me if I knew who he was. I said no and he introduced me to the one and only Miguel Indurain! He told me later "you watch, he will win the Tour of France very soon". Paul was right, he did and 5 times. I could go on and on and on but what I most remember about Paul was his smile, his emotional intelligence, how everyone loved him and how he knew everyone. He spoke perfect French - the language of cycling but Spanish stumped him. His only phrase in Spanish was "bacalao de Bilbao" which used to crack me up. It was in the Basque Country that I introduced Paul, Rupert and Graham, the 3 cycling musketeers, to the local drink called pacharán which they loved. I don't drink it often but when I do, I remember them. RIP Paul, I have only good memories of you. It was a privilege to be your friend."

Paul was in my thoughts all week. I wish I had a photo of him. I might do somewhere but of course they are not digital and that would mean looking through about 30 odd albums. I did look and sadly found none. I was not such an avid photographer in those days. 

Life continued of course and with a bit of a heavy heart, I took Eladio out on various shopping errands. Our first stop was the Monday market in Villaviciosa where I had vowed to go to earlier this week. We were there by 9.30 and the only shoppers which was great. You can see me with my list in hand in the photo below.
Buying fruit and veg nice and early at the market in Villavciosa
From the market with our car loaded with 2 great big boxes of produce, to last us a week, off we went to Primark. We had to change one of the pairs of tight fitting trousers as we had picked up the wrong size. Shopping with Eladio can be a challenge as often he just wonders off, doesn't tell me where he is going and to top it all doesn't answer his phone.  He did this to me at Primark that day. This has happened countless times and on Monday I made him promise never to do it again. Once he disappeared at a petrol station for about 40 minutes somewhere on the road to Santa Pola. I was distraught. The car was there but he wasn't and he wasn't answering his phone. He later emerged from the men's loo a bit surprised I had wondered where he was. His phone was on silence  -it often is or he doesn't hear it - as happened Monday. In the end we changed the trousers for a jumper priced  7.50 euros. Imagine. Both Eladio and I wondered, over a cup of coffee afterwards, just how much the person who made it earned. A euro an hour or a euro a day? Maybe it's immoral to be buying such a cheap jumper made in Bangladesh with slave labour. 

After Primark we went to have an old suit of Eladio's dry cleaned and then  to Carrefour Market for our weekly dose of good ham, etc. Here is Eladio at the counter. Later we would enjoy it for dinner with a salad.
Buying Spanish "ibérico"  ham at Carrefour Market on Monday
We were home by about half twelve with plenty of time to unload everything, make the lunch and there was even time for work. 

You may remember last week I mentioned I might be going to an audition for a Cilli Bang advert on Monday afternoon. In the end I didn't go. It's not that I chickened out. Rather the date for filming were awkward -  a day from 17th to 21st December - days I had other engagements. Also the filming would be in Barcelona. So, no, in the end I didn't go. It would have been fun, I'm sure or at least a new experience. 

Instead we went for our walk in the sun again, came home, I did some work, then read a bit until it was time for dinner. It was Facebook that reminded me it was Pippa's birthday. I had not remembered. But yes, she was born on 3rd December 2014, although we didn't get her until February 2015. She turned 4 on Monday. How time has flown. She has brought so much joy and love to our family and is the light of our lives, together with our other dear dogs, Elsa and Norah. It wasn't too late to celebrate. Thus I picked her up, offered her a chunk of cooked turkey and got Eladio to take a photo to immortalise the moment and voilá here is the photo. She looks lovely, I have too many wrinkles:-(
Celebrating Pippa's 4th birthday on Monday
It was early to bed, as usual. The news was again full of the election results in Andalusia of which I had had quite enough. Rather than watching the news I was texting with Carrie and Rupert until quite late.  Later though we watched a very interesting but terrifying programme all about drug trafficking in the "Campo de Gibraltar" o the Gibraltar Straights area in Spain, just 10 km from Morocco. It is in Morocco where the world's largest amount of marihuana is produced. The journalist, very daringly, interviewed some of the notorious and violent drug lords - with their faces covered in masks - who talked openly about the whole process including the methods they used, the killings and the violence, not to mention the huge amounts of money involved at every stage, apart from the farmers of the plant. I wondered how he got them to agree to the interviews. 

So we switched off the light late and I didn't have too good a night, but that's not news.

Tuesday came and I was happy to read that this year's Balon d'Or had been awarded to the Croatian Real Madrid player, Luke Modric. At last the 10 or 11 year duopoly of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi had been broken. 
Luke Modric wins this year's Balon d'Or
Ronaldo wasn't there, although he should have been, and there was silence on his twitter profile. That's not fair play in my mind. I, for one, am a bit fed up of his ego and far prefer the humble Croatian player. Well done Modric. 

That day, my cousin in France, Anne, was to continue her time in labour, from the night before, poor thing. She must have been exhausted when little Maxime was born yesterday in the South of France at just after 10.25. She obviously went through a pretty tough time but no doubt, by now, she will be focused on her new baby. Congratulations to Anne, Sasha and little Maxime. I hope to see the three of you at next year's cousinade. 

I sort of doubt Anne had any thoughts about the deep troubles in France that hit the headlines that day and most of the week over the "gilets jaunes" movement which has seen some of the worst riots since the student revolution in the 60's. They seem all out to topple the new President. Macron, who, that day, bowed to pressure and promised to suspend the rise in fuel tax for 6 months. That, of course, is not enough for the demonstrators and I suppose it is not good for the fight against global warming. The "gilets jaunes" would continue to demonstrate this weekend and have also said they will do so in Brussels against the EU. This movement, although some of the demands are perfectly understandable, could be a danger to the whole of Europe. So far there have been 4 deaths. It's very ominous. 

Teresa May, meanwhile, was having a very hard time in the UK Parliament trying to win favour for her Brexit deal. Parliament was in trouble for not revealing the legal studies of the deal and MPs demanded and will probably be able to have a say in what happens next if the deal is not approved on 11th December. That is looking ominous too.

It was a sunny day here in Madrid and my work continued. I had lots to do that morning and again had to juggle my time with work and making lunch. There would be fresh cream of vegetable soup followed by grilled fish and garlic accompanied by Brussel sprouts - my Father's favourite - on the table for lunch that day. 

I had to work after lunch but at about 5.05, in brilliant sunshine, we went on our walk with the dogs. Half of the walk was taken up with a phone call with my new customer but it didn't really matter. When I got home, my free time until dinner was shortened, as I had to deal with a couple of important mails. I always like to have an hour to myself reading in between returning from our walk and making dinner. But that day I only managed a chapter of Mariano's fascinating memoirs.

We were in our room by 8.45, well on time for the news which is usually a rehash of the midday news - we are news freaks aren't we? With no new series to watch we tried to keep awake to see the second part of the programme on drug trafficking in the Gibraltar Straits. That night a "mule" was interviewed, a young Moroccan man who swallows up to 25 pellets of marihuana wrapped in cling film to transport them to Spain by boat nearly every other day of his life. He described the process and showed us just how he does it. He is abusing his body big time and told us how some of these pellets can explode in the body and then you are dead. If the immigration body X-rays catch them, they go to prison. He described a Moroccan prison and compared it to the "paradise" of a Spanish prison. For each dangerous trip, he gets about 400 euros. He told the camera there were no jobs to be had and this was his "profession". It's frightening and doesn't bear thinking about but it is a reality and many people like him risk their lives being "mules". 

I fell asleep giving thanks for my easy and generally very comfortable life. I didn't sleep well though as all through the night I was getting messages from Airbnb with enquiries to book a room this weekend. The problem was they were mostly football fans from Argentina coming to see the high risk Boca Juniors vs River Plate match this weekend at the Real Madrid stadium. I wasn't sure I wanted any of the fans  in my house. 

Thus I was wide awake at 5.30 which is far too early but after replying to the messages, I couldn't sleep anymore and came downstairs to the kitchen to feed the dogs and the cat and to have my breakfast. 

On Wednesday I was reminded by a journalist that  Yoigo, my previous company, Spain's first low cost operator, irrupted on the Spanish market 12 years ago this week. Wow that was some journey. It was a somewhat a bitter sweet memory as nearly 2 years ago the founding members of Yoigo were nearly all fired when a new company bought us up. But no one can take away the wonderful journey we all had especially for the first few years under our very charismatic Swedish CEO. That news took me back in time. 

But that morning I was working for another operator in the telecoms market. I had to do the social media plan for the next phase of their launch and it kept me on my toes. All the work I am doing these days is the sort of work I used to delegate to my agency. All I had to do then was to supervise but now I have to do everything, all the nittygritty but I don't mind. 

Lunch was a simple affair and I only had a short time to rest in our quarters afterwards to watch the news. That day, George Bush Senior, the 41st US  President, was laid to rest in a state funeral attended by all the ex Presidents who are still alive and many other authorities. 
At George Bush Senior's state funeral on Wednesday
I had forgotten to mention his passing away last week. One of his granddaughters had said that after his beloved wife, Barbara, passed away this year, she thought he couldn't face Christmas without her and that may have been the reason he left the world when he did. He had a lovely Labrador dog who cared for him called Sully. Sully hit the headlines this week and last when it never left its owner's coffin where it lay it state. I thought that was a beautiful sendoff from a dog. Who say's dogs don't have feelings? Oh they do.
Sully, George Bush's dog by his coffin lying in mourning
Shortly afterwards I had a phone call from Lindsey from Bradford Grammar School to discuss a special celebration of my Father's upcoming 100th birthday in the school magazine The Bradfordian. It was lovely to talk to her and I was so touched. I shall be sending her material and photos and let's see how it goes from there.  His 100th is on May 1st 2019 and deserves to be celebrated in a very special way. That is my ambition and I'm working on it. 

I was on the phone for an hour and as soon as I had hung up, there were loads of messages from my client/customer which I had to attend to. Thankfully though I got my walk in with Eladio and the dogs, although half of it was talking on the phone. I should not complain, it's much nicer to do my work during a walk than from an office building somewhere in the centre of Madrid hahaha. 

Dinner was late that night as Oli would be joining us. The following day, Thursday 6th, Constitution Day, was a holiday in Spain and she would spend it with us. Then on Friday she would be off to Zurich. We had a lovely dinner together in the kitchen and then I spent about an hour talking to my younger daughter catching up on each other's lives. I love those girly mother and daughter moments. 

I went to bed late at about 10. I was happy to receive a new booking for next week on Airbnb just as I was about to snuggle under our lovely duvet. 

Thursday came and as I said it was Constitution Day and actually the 40th anniversary of the referendum in 1978. It has served Spain well over the years but there is talk of updating some of it. That's not a bad idea but it will be difficult to find consensus on any reforms so let's see how it goes.  It was also Independence Day in Finland, a country I often feel is my adopted country in Europe after my 6 years with Nokia. Oh, how I love Finland and the Finns. The good thing on Thursday was that it was a  holiday. 

Yes it was a holiday and Oli was with us for the day.  I suggested to her we go Christmas shopping as this year my preparations have started a bit late. She had to work but agreed to do so in the afternoon, so off we went. Our Chinese guests, a family of 4, a couple and 2 small children were coming that morning but Eladio would greet them. Little did I know the trouble their arrival would cause in my absence.

Off we went in my car with Olivia driving. I took advantage of the free time to do some Christmas purchases online which is so much easier than traipsing around the shops. However, going into places like Zara, Primark, Natura, Tiger, etc is much more exciting. Oli had a cold so wasn't feeling that well. I was getting one too despite my flu jab. But nothing was going to stop our enjoying mother and daughter time Christmas shopping together. 

It was when we were in the last shop - Tiger - where I get some of the girls' stocking fillers, that Eladio rang to say the Chinese had arrived and that instead of 4, a couple and their 2 children, they were 6. Bei had booked for 4 and had probably hoped to dupe us by bringing his parents for free. But I wasn't for it. I had to sort it all out on the phone and luckily when I got home and met them, they were on their way out after having settled the difference. What a cheek. 

We enjoyed a quiet lunch with my Father with Oli telling him about her trip to Switzerland. She told him she would bring him some chocolate back from "chocolate land" and the main newspaper in German, which he has always preferred to French. He loves "foreign" newspapers and she always tries to bring him one from her travels. 

Later Oli worked on the preparations for her trip. I got to see the documents as she sent them to me for printing. I was quite impressed with the preparations that go into a travel trip for a journalist. She has to know a lot about the country she is going to. Good for her. She's very professional and, although she tried to be back on 14th December for the old school choir Christmas concert, she had to sacrifice it for work as that day she has to be in the Alps for shooting. What a pity. At least Suzy will be able to sing there and I won't miss it for the world. 

While our younger daughter worked, we went on our walk and wow was it sunny even if it was late and would be dark upon our return.  When we got back, the kitchen was invaded with the Chinese family. I think they were making fried lettuce! However, there is plenty of room in our house and they had their dinner in the dining room while we had ours in the kitchen. They left their car parked awkwardly which meant that Andy, our long term lodger, had to leave his outside. We have room for at least 6 cars but only if you park properly! Damn them. 

Just before dinner, Oli and I went out to get some provisions from Carrefour Market and also to get some petrol. It was that night that I finally learned how to fill the tank automatically, thanks to my daughter. What a wonderful discovery after all those years doing it manually!

Dinner was a very small affair - just a little omelet with mushrooms. We had to keep Pippa close to us as she tended to bark at the Chinese guests. Here is Oli holding Pippa. I love the photo. Our miniature chocolate dachushund, is like a baby and likes nothing more than being held on our laps. 
Oli and Pippa, Pippa and Oli on Thursday night 
I think I was hungry when we finished but perhaps that's a good thing. Oli left straight afterwards as she had to pack at her house and prepare for her journey on Friday. We won't see her until Saturday 15th, 3 days after Suzy's arrival on the 12th. I can't wait for us all to be together.

There was not much on the TV that night and we didn't find anything very interesting on Netflix or Amazon Prime. We fell asleep quite soon and I had a better night than unusual only waking up twice.

I woke up at 6 am on Saturday morning to find I had two new Airbnb reservations. On Saturday a couple were coming from Florida as well as a young man called Miguel from Colombia. I suspected the latter was coming to see the Boca Juniors - River Plate match but actually he wasn't.  As I said, I got many enquiries from people coming to Madrid for the match and I wondered how it would go and hoped there wouldn't be any violence. The  house would be full again this weekend and that is a good thing for our domestic economy. 

Friday was perhaps the highlight of our week. While Olivia was getting ready to go to the airport and then flying to Zurich, I suggested to Eladio we go on our annual visit to the Madrid Christmas market at the Plaza Mayor, something of a tradition. This time we decided to leave our car at the station in Colonia Jardin and take the metro into town. It was a good decision as there would be crowds in the city that day. 

At about 11 am we found ourselves in Puerta del Sol, the very centre of the country. Before going to the market, we went to have a cup of coffee at a place called La Mallorquina which is close to my heart. It's an old fashioned café, dubbed by Eladio as "Spain's "Betty's" and I used to go there a lot in my student days when I had a year in Spain during my degree in Hispanic Studies at Nottingham University. From the upstairs coffee room I would sit by the window and watch the world go around, either writing my diary or updating a vocabulary exercise book I used to take everywhere with me. There were no window seats available unfortunately yesterday. There was a bit of a queue, this time with numbers but we were soon sitting down in La Mallorquina. The downstairs part of the cafe where you can eat and drink standing up or purchase some of the cakes and pastries was very full as you can see in the photo below. Thankfully upstairs was much quieter. See if you can spot my husband in the photo below hahaha. 
Eladio queuing at the busy La Mallorquina cafe on Saturday morning
I would have loved one of their delicious pastries but had brought an apple from home which would have to suffice to quash my hunger. And here I am having my coffee at possibly my favourite coffee shop in Spain.
Coffee at the quaint La Mallorquina cafe in Puerta del Sol
Outside the square, Puerta del Sol, was teeming with people. There were many lottery sellers, mainly gypsies reselling El Gordo, the Spanish Christmas lottery, tickets from the famous lottery shop Doña Manolita. If you buy from them, there is an extra charge, so Eladio refused to. The alternative was to queue up at Doña Manolita itself but the queues were hours long. So we didn't buy any lottery tickets that day. Eladio will do so nearer home. The "El Gordo" (the fat one)  lottery which is drawn on 22nd December is perhaps Spain's biggest Christmas traditions.
Lottery tickets for El Gordo in the Puerta del Sol on Friday
From the Puerta del Sol we walked to the nearby Plaza Mayor to see the Christmas Market. It's not a patch on the ones you get in Northern Europe but it's what we have here. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me at the Plaza Mayor. All the stalls sell practically the same things, either Christmas trees, decorations, Nativity Crib figures, objects for jokes and lots of cheapo hats and masks. But there is one particular stall, one I always go to, that does sell different and better products. It's from this stall I have lots of fun Christmas figures and objects I have collected over the years such as a hat that sings, a snowman that dances,  Santa on a motorbike revving up, etc. Well, on Friday, I added a new moving and singing Father Christmas to my collection as well as a set of 3 red candles made with real wax but electric powered flames that you switch on with a remote control. They are super. It was great having Eladio trailing behind me as he paid for and carried everything. Here he is with our bag of goodies.
Eladio at the Christmas Market in the Plaza Mayor on Friday
It was a lovely sunny morning but not too cold thankfully. After purchasing my new Christmas items, we walked slowly back towards the Puerta del Sol. I wanted to find a "turrón" (Spanish Christmas nougat) shop where I had bought French style nougat  last year.  It's called  "Turrones Vicens and is on Calle Mayor, 41.  I far prefer the softer French nougat. Turrón is another big Spanish Christmas tradition but I don't really like the 2 most popular varieties here, the hard one with almonds and the soft one with crushed almonds. I find the first one too hard and the second sickly sweet. And here I am with my prized nougat which I won't touch until Christmas Eve.
Buying French style nougat on Saturday in Madrid
From Turrones Vicens, we walked back to the Puerta del Sol to take the metro to Tribunal and from there another train to Colonia Jardín, all of which took under half an hour. We were home by 13h after a lovely morning in the city enjoying the atmosphere. Dear Lucy had made the lunch, the table was laid and everything was ready to serve by the time we were sitting down with my Father at 2 pm on the dot. 

On Saturday I could feel my cold was really coming on. I had either caught it from Lucy or from Oli, so later that afternoon, when I went food shopping to Mercadona with Lucy, we visited the chemist to stock up on Frenadol. Frenadol is Spain's main cure for a cold. 

Our Chinese guests were out all day, visiting Madrid too from what they told me later. Luckily, we were able to make our dinner and finish it before they had theirs, but only just and I had to hold Pippa on my lap again as I ate as she did tend to bark at the two kids. She does not like children which is a bit awkward when you are an Airbnb host like me. 

It was early to bed as usual on Friday but it was very early up in the morning on Saturday. I woke up at 4.30 and couldn't sleep any more so got up at 5. I had lots to do that morning so I decided to get up and get on with the day. 

By 8.45 I had written and sent off the English version of a press release together with my updated social media plan. With that out of the way I was able to get on with other things. It's true that the early bird catches the worm but I knew I would be tired later and I was. Yesterday morning our Chinese family of 6 left and we were relieved because they had not been good guests. Apart from 6 arriving instead of 4, they were not clean and to top it all had soiled a mattress. I'm afraid to say they got my worst review ever on Airbnb. 

We then had to get ready for our new arrivals, a young brother and sister from Florida and later in the day a young Colombian student. I also had to make the lunch and at 12 I had my weekly French lesson. With Oli being away we always have a conversation lesson. 

Helene and I spoke about what was happening in Paris and other cities in France that day. The "gilets jaunes" were out in force for the 4th weekend, yet Emanuel Macron remained in his palace. Paris was in lock down with many of its most famous landmarks closed. They even shut the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the famous Lafayette Galleries. Tourists cancelled trips and those in the the capital stayed away. This time Macron was slightly better prepared for the demonstrations. The "gilets juanes" movement has laudable claims and they are protesting against increasing poverty. However they are infiltrated  by vandals from both the extreme left and the extreme right and there was and has been much violence, probably never seen since the French Revolution. Their movement spread to Belgium and Holland and who knows where it will end up. Their basic objective is to topple Macron and his government. So that day, while I was having my peaceful French lesson, about 125.000 people marched across the country, backed, it is said by about 66% of the population. Macron deployed approximately 90.000 police officers including 8000 in Paris alone outnumbering the protesters there estimated at 10.000  and where they made use of 12 armoured vehicles.  They also had to use tear gas and water canons to disperse the demonstrators. The scenes of violence were horrific, shop windows smashed, shops looted, cars burned, bus stops vandalised although it is true that most of the 125.000 protesters were peaceful. However, their cause is tainted by violence.
More riots in Paris and other big cities in France yesterday
I'm not sure what such violence can achieve but I can tell you I wouldn't want to be in Macron's shoes today or any day. He is not in touch with his people and is reacting too late. 

One of the protests of the movement is about how the government favours the rich and how the poor and middle class just get poorer. In our lesson yesterday, we had a conversation about the rich in France which seemed quite appropriate given what was happening in that country. It shocks me actually. 

Meanwhile, our guests from Lake Worth in Florida were arriving by bus nearby and Eladio went to pick them up. The poor kids - they are in their 20's - had not been able to hire a car as they don't have an international driving licence, something new for me and them. Thus they had to bus it and that's not easy from the airport to our house. That's why I offered to pick them up. After my lesson was over, I greeted them. They are nice kids but were so tired they slept most of yesterday and then ventured out and went into Madrid for dinner. They are here for 3 nights. 

Eladio and I had a quiet lunch with my Father and later a much needed siesta - at least for me - although I don't think I got more than about 10 minutes shut eye. I am a bit hyper active and just needed to relax. As I couldn't sleep I continued watching The Family on Amazon Prime. Later we went for our walk. Our next guest was supposed to arrive around 6 or 7 pm but there was no sign of him when we came back. Thankfully he answered my messages. He too was coming from the airport by bus and got lost. Being me, a sort surrogate mother, I went to find him, about 7 km from here. I felt sorry for him, a young boy lost around here in the dark of the night. I finally found him with his huge luggage and a pizza he had bought for his dinner and drove him home. He's from Medellin so of course on the drive back my only reference point about his country was the Netflix series "Narcos" hahaha. He got given an upgrade to Suzy's room, the biggest in the house after ours and perhaps the most beautiful. I hope he had a good night's sleep. 

With all my guests taken care of, Eladio and I had a simple dinner and went to bed to watch the news, especially about events in France. Later we watched a new episode of "La República". Thankfully last night I slept a bit better and got up this morning at 6.20. 

Today should be quiet. I have no work to do and thus I can relax. Let's see how things pan out. I am also eager to know how Oli is getting on in Zurich. Soon we will all be together after Suzy arrives on Wednesday and Oli returns Saturday. My Christmas preparations are well underway and by the time I write next week, hopefully I'll have everything done.

So, my friends and readers, it's time to sign off now and wish you all a happy Sunday.

Cheers till next week.
Masha

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Queueing in Spain, a smile from Bali, Mariano's memoirs, Christmas cracker shopping and traffic in Madrid, a letter from Bradford Grammar School, a choir rehearsal at St. Michael's and other stories.

Sunday 2nd December 2018
A coffee break and half an apple to keep me going  when we went Christmas shopping on Friday to Gran Plaza 2.
Good morning everyone.

December is here now and that's great because it means Christmas is coming and for us it means that Suzy, my beloved older daughter who upped and left Western society on 7th June for a "more simple life" in Bali, will be home in 10 days time and with us for Christmas. I cannot ever envisage Christmas without her or any of my family. Can you?  A lot of you are putting up your Christmas trees and decorations today or will have done so already.  I would love to also. However, I have promised Suzy, who is coming on the 12th, to wait for her to do it together and I shall keep my promise. 

Last Sunday was the International day for the elimination of violence against women. In Madrid, as in many other parts of the world, there were demonstrations to support the day. I wasn't there physically but I was there in spirit as it is a subject that worries me. 
An image, courtesy of The Guardian, of the demonstration in Madrid last Sunday
It's terrible to think that one in every 3 women in the world has suffered some sort of violence from men during their life. I am one of them. I bet you are too. It's something that is not going to go away ever but the good thing now is that society is taking a stance. When something is being talked about, something can be done.

Our 3 Airbnb guests had left and Andy our lodger wouldn't be back until Monday evening. That meant that for the first time in a long time, the house was just for us. It was nice for a change. 

I spent part of the morning beginning to plan our trip to South East Asia to visit Suzy in Bali most probably towards the end of March after the rainy season. While in that part of the world we want to explore other countries and I am looking at Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. I have discarded The Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, far preferring the former. I think it's because these 3 countries are so ingrained in my childhood memory of the Vietnam War. Watch this space. It's so exciting to be planning such an exotic trip. 

I then turned my hand to making lunch. Oli and Miguel would be joining us and I made roast chicken on a bed of vegetables. They arrived just as everything was ready to sit down. I do love family meals. Later I had some mother and daughter time with Oli but far too short really as, after our siesta, they were out again to see friends. 

Pippa, meanwhile, lay on Oli's bed among her pretty black and white cushions. Pippa always chooses the most luxurious corners of the house and this is one of them. She particularly likes the black velvet cushion. In a way she was posing so Miguel and I just had to take a photo. Here is Miguel's, much better than mine, by the way. After all, he is a professional cameraman. 
Pippa lying on the plush cushions on Oli's bed ready for a siesta last Sunday
We, on the other hand, continued our routines. Actually Eladio slept while I took the chance to continue watching The Good Doctor and in English for once. At about 5.15, before it got dark, off we went for our daily walk which is so good for us. We were the only walkers out with our dogs last Sunday.

We came back to a quiet house. I lit the new Ikea led candles in the lounge and Eladio and I sat down to read, joined, of course, by little Pippa. I continued reading Michele  Obama's biography. That day I got to the part when she first met Barack Obama. It's a beautiful love story.

We had dinner on our own and then went up to watch the news. The main news on Sunday was rather sad for me as it signified another nail in the coffin of the end of my home country, Great Britain,  belonging to the EU. That day the 27 member states  voted in favour of the agreement for leaving. However, Teresa May, is not going to have it so easy at Westminster when Parliament will vote for or against it on 11th December. It was sad but I suppose inevitable after the referendum which in my mind was far too close in its results and in which I could  not vote although it affects me seriously. 

That night we watched an interview with Andrés Iniesta, the man who scored Spain's winning goal in the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. He left Barça, the team of his whole profession, last year to join a team in Japan, aged 34 and deemed in sport to be at the end of his golden career. He is much loved in Spain as a once integral part of the national team and it was interesting to see what his life is like in Japan where he is revered by all football fans. When a political debate started later, I soon fell asleep.

Monday came and it was sunny although cold and blustery but at least it wasn't raining for once. I started work on a media coverage report of the clippings gathered from the Lobster Press release and would finish it in the afternoon. All in all 50 odd clippings. Not bad at all. I had various phone calls with my new customer who wanted me to work on the next press release to go out this month.  I hoped it wouldn't take  too long to get through the approval process.

At about 11, we went off the Monday market in Villaviciosa. It was freezing and thankfully we were well wrapped up. The queues were endless and tomorrow we shall aim to get there earlier. Here is Eladio standing patiently in what looks like a disorderly queue but isn't.
At the market on Monday morning
The system for queueing  in Spain may look chaotic but it isn't.  There is not usually an actual physical queue so that's why it looks disorderly although it isn't. The Spaniards just have a different system and woe betide you if you don't respect it. The thing to do when you arrive is to ask who is the last person so you know when it's your turn. You can either say "quién es el último?", (who is the last person?) or "quien da la vez" (who gives you your turn?). Then other people arriving will ask the same question and you say it's you and thus order is established.  Once you know your turn you can even leave and then come back and your turn is respected. Anyone trying to jump the queue gets into huge trouble. We had quite a few people before us and then a very long order to make which would fill 2 whole fruit and vegetable boxes before we could head off home. On our way back we stopped at Carrefour Market, the local gourmet store I am always raving about. Here we got some fresh fish, among other things, for the week. Unloading and then making the lunch was a bit of a rush but Lucy was there to help.

The news was varied on Monday. First there was Trump threatening to close the Mexican border even permanently after some 500 central american asylum seekers tried to cross the border. They were met with smoke bombs and promptly returned. Then there was the bizarre news about a Chinese scientist who claimed two genetically modified babies had been born - twins - after modifying their embryos to remove the possibility of them getting Aids. This is the first claim to a birth of human beings after genetic engineering and it caused a hoo-ha from scientists all over the world. It's illegal in most countries in the world.

The most spectacular news came from Mars when the robot Insight made a landing  -the 8th landing on the red planet. It's there for 2 years to take pictures and to study the planet's interior. It even sent back a picture 8 minutes after landing. The picture, for me at least, is rather grainy and disappointing but I suppose it is  a great feat for astronauts and The Nasa.
The grainy picture from Mars beamed down to earth from the Insight robot that landed on the red planet on Monday.
My life was much more mundane and I continued work on the media report, sending it to my customer in the late afternoon, just before our walk. Thankfully the wind had receded and the afternoon was  sunny but with a definite bite in the air. We wrapped up well but at the half way point I unbuttoned my coat and took my gloves off.

We were home just when it got dark at 6.30. There was more work to be done before dinner but I wasn't complaining as, no doubt, I had got in as much work in a day as most people do at an office, except that I had been able to go out to the market and on our walk as I am free to do my work when I want without being constrained to office hours. I think I could never go back to office work or being tied to a desk.

We had dinner on our own and the kitchen to ourselves as there were no guests for once, although Andy would return that night. We had our usual salad,  with wonderful Ibérico ham again. Then it was upstairs to see the news. Eladio soon fell asleep while I watched more of The Good Doctor. I have to admit I was so hooked on it, I think I was awake watching it until nearly 2 in the morning. Thus I did not get a good night's sleep but this time it was my fault.

Tuesday came. I was up late after a short night's sleep - at 7.30 and thus coincided with Andy at breakfast who had come back full of energy after being with his family in Antibes, France, this weekend.

I had lots of work to do that morning and immediately plunged into drafting the press release my new customer had asked me to do. I had to do it in English and in Spanish and wasn't sure which language to start with. Either way round means the other version is always a translated one and that's never a good thing. In the end I wrote it in English. It took up most of the  morning. Being in charge of making lunch everyday means I always have to juggle for time in the morning. I can't remember what we had but I know it was healthy with plenty of vegetables.

The news that day was as usual about Brexit but one piece of news  emerged this week which threatens peace in Europe and in the world. Last weekend, Russia seized three Ukrainian ships they claimed were in Russian waters and detained 24 Ukrainian sailors. I mean can you imagine something like that happening between France and England or Germany and France? No you can't. That means Russia under Putin is behaving just like it used to in the Cold War and is as dangerous as ever. This was the week's ongoing story without looking like there would be a happy ending.
Tension in the Black Sea
There has not been much news from the girls this week and I am missing them. We did, though, at least, get a photo that day from Suzy from far away Bali showing us a scene in the street where she is ordering water with iced ginger. She does have peculiar tastes. I have never liked ginger. But I did like to see the smile on her face which tells  me she is happy overall.
Suzy sent us this photo of her ordering iced water with ginger in the street
She had been on a 3 day fasting diet, literally only drinking liquids but at the end of day 2  had to give up. Well of course.  I don't think I could even do one day.  She is now doing intermittent fasting. I did that once a few years ago and it sort of worked, except that on the non fasting days I tended to over eat hahaha. Let's hope she doesn't fast when she comes back to Spain for Christmas.

I did speak to Oli on the phone on Tuesday. That shouldn't be news but it is as I am not good on the phone - despite being from the mobile phone industry hahahaha - far preferring texting and we hardly ever call. She told me her next trip with her TV programme, Madrileños por el Mundo - is to Zurich in Switzerland. She has never been there so no doubt will like Switzerland. We also agreed to meet on Friday and for me to go and watch the St. Michael School choir rehearsal at the girls' old school for the Christmas concert on 14th June.  I haven't been there since the day Suzy graduated. It would be a wonderful trip down memory lane.

We had a great walk that afternoon with the path all to ourselves. It was sunny but very cold and I kept my gloves on throughout. I came back to enjoy some free time, time for myself. I chose to read. I would have continued with Michele Obama's book but was curious to see whether the memoirs of our journalist friend, Mariano Guindal where I am  mentioned, was out yet on kindle. In Spanish it is called "Un hombre con buena suerte" (a man with good luck). It was and I immediately downloaded it. I read the introduction and first chapter before dinner. I must say the book is fascinating. He had very humble beginnings and ended up rubbing shoulders with Spain's political elite. He is a very interesting and charismatic person and journalist and we love him and his family dearly. In one of the chapters entitled "the mobile phone", he describes how it was thanks to me during a press trip to Scotland with Motorola, that he became addicted. There are 12 pages in the chapter and I am often mentioned as our Suzy, Oli and my husband. I chuckled as I read it.
"A man with good luck" the memoirs of our friend and journalist, Mariano Guindal
I couldn't put it down and would have carried on reading until late but I had to make dinner  -how prosaic. It was more vegetables for dinner - they are coming out of our ears. It's funny but Eladio, who is on the same diet as me, as he eats what I make but also has bread and a slice of turrón after lunch every day, is actually losing more weight than I am. He didn't embark on a diet or doesn't need to lose weight - well a bit of his paunch maybe - yet he's the one of the two of us losing weight faster. Isn't that unfair? If I ate bread and turrón every day I would put on weight. Aagghh.

That night Real Madrid were playing Rome in the Champions League in a match that would determine the head of the group in the next round. I was happy to read the next day that Madrid won 2-0 and that one of the goals was scored by Gareth Bale, especially after the dismal loss against a minor team in La Liga, "Eibar", last week. We didn't watch it of course as most football these days is pay per view. Instead we watched the news and then something on Netflix about Nazi Germany. It was a documentary and documentaries send me to sleep. Maybe I should watch more as for once, that night, I got a good night's kip.

Wednesday came and it was another sunny, cold and crisp autumn day. The leaves continue to fall from the trees and it is Zena, our Ukrainian weekend carer, who sweeps them away each weekend. We don't ask her to do that but she says she can't bear to see our garden covered in leaves and must clear them away. Thank you Zena. You are a treasure. I'm sure Zena has a lot to say about the conflict of Russia with her country. Being in her late 50's, she was brought up to speak Russian at school but, I suppose, like many of her generation, she has her reasons not to trust Russia. I totally understand her.

With work out of the way and nothing urgent to do until Thursday morning, I suggested to Eladio that we spent the morning in Madrid. I wanted to buy some Christmas crackers from the only English shop in the city, a place called "Living in London". It's normally a 20 to 25 minute drive into the centre but on Wednesday took a lot longer. We parked near the Bilbao metro stop and decided to have a coffee in the newly refurbished legendary café, "Café Comercial". I love the place. And here is Eladio in the café.
Eladio in Café Comercial on Wednesday morning.
Bad luck had it that the shop had changed premises and was no longer located in the Santa Engracia street but had moved to Núñez de Balboa 76. We debated over going by metro or taking the car and opted for the latter. It was a wrong move. For some reason there was a lot of traffic which we didn't feel was normal for a Wednesday morning in Madrid.

Traffic and pollution are pretty bad in downtown Madrid but this week the local government announced measures to decrease it. In a project called "Madrid Central", a huge chunk of the city centre will be a no go area for polluting vehicles. Only zero emissions vehicles, of which there are very few, and residents will be allowed to drive there with some exceptions.  It was big news in Spain this week. Neither of our cars, my old Nokia diesel Volvo nor my new unleaded petrol Mini will qualify so perhaps from now on we shall just park our car at the local station and take the metro into town.

Later we would hear that that day was particularly bad  due to the Chinese Premiere, Xi Jinping's visit to the city and that lots of streets had been cut off. Damn the man I thought. He is here to tighten commercial relations with Spain, the  main objective being to import Spanish "bellota" (Ibérico) ham with the bone on. Until now the Chinese could only import vacuum packed sliced ham. It's great that the Chinese love Spain's ham and apparently consume an awful lot of it. A ham with a bone here can cost around 300 euros but in Beijing you can pay up to 4 times that price. Sounds like a good deal right? Well, maybe not, as the Chinese are mad about this iconic Spanish product of which only a certain quantity can be produced. Experts say that if exports increase to China  the price for ham in Spain is certain to go up which was why I wasn't too happy with the deal.

We finally got to Núñez de Balboa and of course there was nowhere to park in Madrid's "barrio de Salamanca", so Eladio stayed outside in the car and I went in. There were lots of crackers to choose from and I ended up with 2 boxes made by Robin Reed. I also wanted Christmas pudding, cranberry sauce and sage and onion stuffing, essential ingredients for a traditional English Christmas Day menu but they only had Christmas pudding, 2 miserly little tubs and one enormous and very expensive one. I took the former.
Inside the shop Living in London where I got my crackers
The drive home with so much traffic took a while. However, it was brightened up for me enormously when I received an email from Bradford Grammar School, the school where my Father taught from the early 60's to the early 80's. He was a language teacher there of French, German and Russian, Russian being his passion.
Bradford Grammar School where my Father taught Modern Languages from the early 60's to the early 80's
Over the years, many old pupils have reached out to him to tell him how much they appreciated him and what a lasting impression he had made on them. I think you would only reach out to a teacher some 30 or 40 years later if that teacher had been really special. My Father was most obviously special as he lived his lessons with passion and went over and above by taking an interest in his pupils, teaching them another language during lunch times and lending them Russian music from his LP collection.  The email came totally out of the blue. You can read it here. The school wants to commemorate his upcoming 100th birthday. That is so amazing and has touched my heart. Here is the email which I printed out for my Father. I'm sure it made his day. It certainly did mine.

"Please allow me to introduce myself as Bradford Grammar School’s new Development Director. 
Since being offered the role, I’ve been learning lots about the school’s incredible history and inspiring former teachers, and a number of Old Bradfordians have mentioned your father, Mr Charles Courtenay Lloyd. He clearly made a tremendous impression on the boys he taught French and Russian, and the likes of John xxx have asked to be remembered to him (John is working on a Hungarian classical music project based around a cantata which sets to music a Hungarian poem, and has recently conducted at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, so remains very much the linguist your father inspired!).

I hope that your father is keeping well. I write today as we are keen to send your father birthday tidings next year – I gather it is a very big birthday! Not only would it be fantastic to write to him and keep him in touch with school activities, it would also be lovely to profile him and celebrate his 100th Birthday in a forthcoming Old Bradfordian publication, with his permission of course. I wondered if you might discuss this with him? I’d be happy to call you and chat further if that would be useful. We really do want to stay connected to all members of the BGS family, and it is clear that as a teacher, your father’s influence continues to enrich lives, so very much hope we are able to stay in touch".

I replied immediately and look forward to talking to the school. Bradford Grammar School is one of the UK's best schools and in my Father's day all his Russian A level pupils got a place at either Cambridge or Oxford. I don't think any of us thought that was special at the time but of course it was. For me, BGS, was where I got most of my boyfriends, haha. Our school, St. Joseph's College was right next door and my friend Amanda's brother Simon went to BGS. Through him our social life was very much connected to my Father's old school in my teenage years. I remember once, bringing a new boyfriend home, Kevin xxxxx and when my Father opened the door, Kevin nearly had a heart attack, saying "you never told me your Father was my teacher". When I used to hold parties at our house, my Father would hide from his pupils. It must have been very embarrassing for him but I never thought about that as I was selfish and young. Today I am proud of my Father's career at the school and his influence in the careers of many of his pupils. 

We watched the news after lunch and promptly fell asleep. I woke some 20 minutes later to see a new Airbnb reservation for next week. There  has been a lull in booking recently as it's the low season so I was happy to see a new one. It's a family of 4 from China. The bad news is they have bad reviews on cleanliness from other hosts, including mentions that their children drew on their walls. So I'm a bit wary about this booking. Watch this space hahaha. 

Later we went on our  sunny walk again and came back for free time for me before dinner. I continued reading Mariano Guindal's biography. I  am thoroughly enjoying his tale. Earlier that day his wife, Mar, invited us to the official presentation of the book on 21st December. It will be presented by the former Spanish Minister for Finance, Luis de Guindos as well as a famous journalist, Victoria Prego. I really look forward to that. 

We had dinner together and alone as nearly always. Eladio told me on our walk that day that he loves our dinners together. So do I. That night we had grilled mushrooms with sliced thin cooked ham which is called "York ham" (jamón de York) in Spain for some reason. 

This week the famous Italian Director, Bertolucci died, only in his 70's, so that night his most celebrated film, 1900, was on TVE. I had always wanted to watch it. It's full of famous stars from the times, Burt Lancaster and Robert de Niro to mention two but unfortunately we didn't find it interesting enough to stay awake and we both nodded off quite early.

Thursday came, almost the end of the week, and I was busy working again, a good sign of our times. I was working on an the release and the corresponding questions and answers a document all PR people should do when issuing a release. It took up most of the morning. I had to juggle work and cooking and that day made bean stew (fabada) followed by baked apples for lunch; neither of which I would eat. Sticking to my diet, I had fish and artichokes. I love artichokes don't you?

There's not much else to tell about Thursday but you might be interested to know I got an invitation that day from a modelling agency to take part in an audition to appear in a British TV ad for a cleaning product called Cilli Bang. I'm still debating on whether to go. They want women from 45-65 with a British accent and I can't imagine there are many of us in Madrid and who are also on the modelling agency's records. Shall I go or shan't I? The audition is on Monday afternoon in Madrid but the shooting, if they choose me, would be in Barcelona any day between the 17th and 21st December which is just when Suzy is here. On the other hand, the pay is good. For one day's work and my rights, I would get 1500 euros. For the audition I have to learn the script off by heart. This is it and it's not particularly inspiring.

 "Always struggled to get rid of LIMESCALE. Makes my bathroom look so ugly .... Then I discovered Cillit Bang literally blasts through LIMESCALE! I love it! Amazing results and a lovely fresh smell".

I looked up some of Cillet Bang's TV spots on You Tube to see the sort of tone of voice needed and practiced the script, learning it off by heart in the bathroom. I am still debating whether to go. Should I? Shouldn't I? For the record, Eladio and I once bought this product to get rid of the scale from our shower and it never worked. I hate cleaning ads, hahahah. Watch this space. I bet that made you laugh.

Our afternoon was very much a routine one, i.e. walk with the dogs, home to work and read, dinner together in the kitchen, then the news in bed and something on Netflix. Not a bad routine but I would like a change actually. Friday would bring that.

The news that day came from Buenos Aires. First the lesser important news. The final of the "Copa de Libertadores" which is like the American continent's Champions League, between the 2 rival football teams of the capital, Boca Juniors and River Plate, is to be played in Madrid at the Bernabeu Stadium belonging to Real Madrid on 9th December. There has been so much violence between the hooligans of the two teams that it was deemed impossible for the final to be played in Argentina. I just do not understand how football provokes so much passion and violence. Thus the Spanish capital will be inundated with rival fans who could spark a lot of violence and I don't want to see that. I really don't know why they want to hold the high risk match here. Maybe one of the reasons is that there are 250.000 Argentinians in Spain, the largest community outside their own country. The latest news on this is that neither team want to play the match outside Argentina. Let's see what happens.

The other news from Buenos Aires was the arrival of the G20 leaders for their annual summit. That means that MBS (Mohammed Bin Salam), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who is linked to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, would be pretty much central stage, at least in people's thoughts and  I read later he was pretty much shunned by the other leaders and so he should be, but not enough, I am afraid, for the majority of the G20 countries to ban arms exports to Riyadh.   Putin was there too and he even high fived MBS!  He is under fire for the tension with the Ukraine. It's horrible to think that there are murderers and criminals and madmen in this group of leaders from the 20 richest countries in the world. There will be many protests but will things change? Not one iota I am sure.

If you look at the picture you will see that there are only 2 women there. Theresa May is in it of course and probably happy to have had a break from the Brexit issues back in the UK. The head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde is there too but Angela Merkel was missing as her plane had problems. That makes for only 2 women leaders of the 20 countries of the G20 - pretty bad statistics. It's also quite disgusting to know that the 20 countries together, out of approximately 190 in the world, represent about 85% of the world's GDP. Wealth is so badly spread in the world.

After the news we started watching Season 2 of Dr. Foster. It was about that time that Javi, a student from Valencia, arrived. Having been here before I was able to leave him the keys outside in a hidden place and didn't have to get up and go outside, in the rain, in my dressing gown to receive him hahaha.

Finally it was Friday which turned out to be the best day of the week. At last my routine changed. I worked in the morning for a while and then took Eladio off Christmas shopping to Gran Plaza 2 to buy his presents - loads of pairs of tight fitting trousers as all of his are too big around the waist now. Of course, I got some things for myself, black trousers at 6 euros, a pair of jeans and a striped hooded jacket I couldn't resist. I now have to wrap them all up to go under the tree for Christmas. However, I couldn't resist trying on the top and trousers when I got home and this is the result.
Trying on my new clothes, even though I can't wear them till Christmas
We deliberately went early to avoid the hoards and it was a good idea. Shopping is tiring and lots of trying on trousers is tiring too so as we left Primark, I made a beeline for the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee to have with the half golden apple I had brought for a mid  morning snack. I can't understand why bars and cafes the world over only sell stodgy food and hardly any fruit or more healthy choices. That's the picture I have chosen for this week's feature photo. I just love my new Zara tartan coat. There's no filter in it nor any make up either. I think it was in The New York Times this week that I read that it is not only cool to be 20 and that you can also be cool at 60 despite wrinkles. Just like me, I thought. The article was about "Instagram Grannies" but made me wake up to the fact that women today in their 60's, 70's and even 80's and 90's are far more trendy and healthier than previous generations. For me, it is a case of attitude, the right diet, exercise and keeping up with the times. So, yes, I 'm not 20 now but feel even cooler today at 60 then when I was much younger. Experience helps too.

From Gran Plaza 2, we drove to Mercadona for the weekly shopping, not the sort I like. But with a list and a bit of organisation, I can get it down to about 15 to 20 minutes. We were home at about 1.30 on plenty of time to make lunch. Just before we sat down, our latest guests arrived. They were from Portsmouth in the UK. My Father met them as Eladio pushed his wheel chair up the drive to join us for lunch in the dining room. He greeted them and said "Oh Pompey" when they told him they were from Portsmouth. They laughed and I wondered what it was all about. Apparently that's the nickname for the town and comes from its relations with the Navy. My Father would know as he was in the RN in WW2. I love to see my Father on form. They were a really nice couple, probably retired as they had driven from England and left yesterday morning to drive down to Estepona, near Malaga, where they have rented a flat until January. I wish I had had more time with Angela and Bob. It's always great to have guests from the UK.

It was another sunny day and I was pleased for our English guests. I was pleased for us too as it made for another wonderful walk that afternoon. Once home, I got ready to go out. Yes, you read that right, I was going out and my routine of the last few months was at last to be changed. I was to meet Oli and an ex school friend, Paula, at the Colonia Jardin metro station and drive them to their old school St. Michael's in Boadilla. The girls attended that lovely school just a few hundred yards from our old house, from the age of 3 and 4 to 17 or 18. There was to be a rehearsal there that night for the Christmas concert where former members of the choir will be singing at on 14th December together with the schools choir today.  It felt like taking the girls to school, like in the old days, except that Oli drove hahah. I hadn't set a foot in the school since Suzy's graduation about 18 years ago. In a way it was a bit of a trip down memory lane. It was amazing to meet Javier Blanco, their choir master and their ex music teacher. I loved their choir years when the St. Michael's school won many prizes under Javier. Today he is a conductor for various choirs and has his own music school. When the girls were in the choir, he was very young, in his early 20's so today he is only in his mid 40's and  looks exactly the same except for a few more white hairs. It was lovely to see the girls, many of whom I knew or recognised, although not all of them could make it to the rehearsal at their old school. Suzy, of course was missing, but will be there for sure at the concert on 14th December at the San Francisco El Grande church in Madrid. I sat and watched and listened mesmerised, recognising many of the songs, although some were new. Miguel, Oli's boyfriend, joined me later and I think he was much impressed. Here is a photo of the group in the school hall where they often used to rehearse because of the good acoustics. I had goose pimples listening to them on those steps. I closed my eyes and could see and hear the girls singing when they were small. Their choir years were happy years and both Suzy and Oli sang a lot at home. Suzy was the soprano and Oli the contralto which made for lovely duets. I can't wait for 14th December. Friday's choir rehearsal was something really special for me.
Photo at the trip down memory lane choir rehearsal at St. Michael's School on Friday evening
The rehearsal finished late and we had to rush off as we had a dinner date. Miguel had booked a table at a restaurant in Villaviciosa, Villacazorla, where Eladio was waiting for us. It was a freezing night and we were happy to be sitting down to eat and enjoying a meal out together. We hadn't been out for dinner for about a month I think and that night I broke my diet which maybe I shouldn't have. The restaurant was disappointing and the food ok. The best thing was being together. During our meal, my dearest girlfriends, Adele and Sandra were meeting in Paris and were out to dinner there too. They video called me and it was great to see their faces, although the connection wasn't that good.

We came home to a full house of guests but everyone was sleeping. I counted and that night there would be 10 people sleeping in the house but it's so big you wouldn't know.

I had  a bit of quality time with Oli and Pippa before retiring to our "chambers" to snuggle into bed. Probably thanks to the wine, I fell asleep quite soon and was up, late for me, at 7 on Saturday morning.

Saturday dawned and I was up at 7, late for me again but still before anyone else in the house. Of the 10 occupants that night, Javi, our student from Valencia, emerged after me. He was leaving early but will be back in two weeks time. Our English guests Bob and Angela were up at about 9.30 and of course met our other English speaking guest, Andy, a Scot, our long term lodger. It was Andy's birthday; he turned 53 yesterday, and I had a little present for him as well as a card to cheer up his day as of course his family wouldn't be with him. It was great to banter in English and the 4 of us native speakers enjoyed great conversation. Our English guests from Portsmouth left at around 11 and would be driving in the direction of Estepona. I was sorry to see them leave as we had really hit if off. I'm sure if we had more time together, they would soon become friends. They left me a lovely review in our guestbook and a glowing one on the Airbnb platform. I have had many good reviews, more than 95% of which are 5 star, but Bob's is one of the best. It made my day. Reviews like this one make sharing our house all worth it.
A lovely review on Airbnb from my English guests this week
Soon all our guests had gone, Oli and Miguel too and we were left "home alone" as I said to Eladio. It didn't feel bad. I took the opportunity to do my French homework on the "comparatif" and the "superlatif" which isn't too difficult but it took at least an hour and a half. Our weekly Saturday French lesson with Helene has been moved to today at 11 am. Thankfully there was hardly any lunch to prepare as it was all leftovers.

One of the main topics on the news that day were the rather violent riots in Paris and demonstrations of the "Gilets Jaunes" movement all around France.  I read later the movement spread on social media and actually doesn't have a leader but is composed of people from the whole political spectrum  and seems to have a lot of approval from the population.  It's their third weekend of protests against rising taxes in fuel costs and increasing poverty.  While the centre of Paris was blazing, the French President, Emmanuel Macron who is losing popularity fast, spoke out from the G20 in Argentina blaming extremists for the violence. Of course there were extremists or rather agitators  but they were not the majority.  Macron, accused of being out of touch with the people,  has a huge problem on his hands and let's see how he deals with it; not very well for the moment I should add. 

Our quiet life continued here as well as the good weather - it has been sunny all week, and of course we went for our walk with the dogs. What would our day be without our walk? In the hour I had to myself after returning from the walk and before dinner, I watched the last episode of Season 1 of the series  The Good Doctor on Amazon Prime.
Love this TV series and can't wait for Season 2. 

I now can't wait for Season 2 to be shown. I love the story but above all I love the character of Shaun Murphy, the autistic but brilliant surgeon, played by the English actor Freddie Highmore who I had never heard of. He's great at the role.

We had a quiet and small dinner before going up to our quarters to watch the news and then settle into bed to continue watching another Doctor series, this time the British made  Doctor Foster. We finished it last night. I don't know what we shall be watching next. It's amazing how television has changed only in the last few years. When I was a very small girl, aged about 5, my parents bought our first TV - black and white of course - and there were only 2 channels. Even then I thought that was amazing. Today you can lie back and choose more or less a la carte, stop and start a film or series and don't have to put up with adverts in between. And not only that, we now have huge colour screens to see them on and can watch TV via video streaming on any of our devices, including our mobile phones.  What a difference; it's like having your own cinema at home.

Today is Sunday and I have got to the end of my tales. All that remains is to wish you all the very best for the coming week. Until Sunday next week my friends and I do hope you have enjoyed this week's read.

Masha