Saturday, February 10, 2018

Snow in Madrid! To Pamplona for a press conference, my birthday and other stories.

Sunday 11th February 2018
Me on my birthday in Pamplona by all the Adamo kit on Thursday
Good morning again everyone.

Well what a busy week it has been. 

Last Sunday was wet and cold and we had snow and sleet intermittently although the real snow didn't come until the next day. 

I was up early and as soon as I had published my blog, made our lunch, a lovely winter dish from Madrid called "cocido madrileño", the main ingredients of which are chickpeas, meats and bones of various types and vegetables. I was keen to get it ready early so that I could be free the rest of the morning to go out shopping with Eladio and Olivia. They wanted to buy my birthday presents at the Corté Inglés (main Spanish department store) and I was happy to go along and feel pampered and loved. They preferred me to choose my presents as they had no idea what to get me. I suppose it can't be easy to buy me a present but I would have thought that by now both of them would know that I have a fettish about luxury soap, bathroom towels and that I love jewelry, as well as perfume. But I got what I wanted from Eladio and my Father, a lovely little gold ring with a cultured pearl and a set of soaps and creams by Roger Gallet from Olivia.   From the Corté Inglés, with plenty of time to spare, we went to Ikea. This time it was Eladio who wanted to buy something - very unusual for him. He had got it into his head that plastic tupperwares were not good for storing food and that we should buy glass containers instead. So, he filled up our trolley with about 30 of them in all different sizes hahaha. I wasn't too interested in the glass containers and was much happier buying stuff at the Swedish food store. Ah but I did get something I have wanted to buy for a long time: two wall hangers for all my handbags which took up so much room in my walk in wardrobe.  I have the same problem with shoes and boots. I am no Imelda Marcos though as mine are mostly flat and wide and practical rather than luxurious or glamorous. It's not that I don't like beautiful shoes it's just that my awful bunions don't let me wear them hahaha. Now that's another of my secrets for you.

We came home to a ready made lunch, after which we had our usual siesta. The weather was awful and thus we had to stay indoors and skip on our walk that afternoon. Instead, Oli and I made bread together. Yes, more bread. Oh how we love making it. This was the end result. 
The bread Oli and I made on Sunday afternoon last
While the dough was proving, Oli and I played ludo and I won yet again hahahah. Dinner was delicious. I don't remember what we had but I do remember the bread  we had just after it came out of the oven. I had mine with butter from the giant tub of low fat Danish Lurpak I had bought in Sainsbury's in Keighley and which you can't buy here. Oh how I love Lurpak butter. 

We didn't watch the TV that afternoon or evening but if we had we would have been able to see me on the "box". Believe it or not, the TV programme, the Spanish edition of Undercover Boss which I starred in for Yoigo in September 2015,  was being broadcast yet again. It has been repeated between 10 and 15 times and I always know when it's been on because I suddenly get lots of Twitter and Messenger messages, mostly from people asking for a job, as if I could give them one!  I'm not sure I like it being shown now that I have left the company. I bet Yoigo doesn't like it either hahaha. 

Monday came and it was a busy morning for me. I would be busy all week working on the organisation of the press conference for Adamo in Pamplona on Thursday. I hardly noticed it was snowing until Lucy called me to ask me to take a photo of her in the snow.  Lucy, being from Paraguay, had never ever seen snow and she was very excited. I was excited too as snow is so rare in Madrid. I think the last time we had a proper snowfall here was some 10 years ago. As the snow fell I didn't think it would settle but it did. Feeling as happy as a child I started snapping photos to remember it, like this one.
Snow in our garden on Monday
I even took a video where you can see just how intensely the snow was falling and settling. This is it. Lucy went outside with her coat and boots on and I took photos of her which she wanted to send to her family in Paraguay. And here she is, like a child too, over the moon enjoying the experience.
Lucy outside in the snow on Monday
Eladio, meanwhile, was fixing the handbag hangers on a wall in the covered gallery of our bedroom, the only place to put them. He was far less interested in the snow. I suppose that's because he's from Montrondo where there is lots of the "white stuff". My handbags overloaded the hangers completely so maybe I shall have to go back for more. Here is the photo where you can see just how many bags I have - far too many. The truth is I only ever really use about 4 of them regularly.
All my handbags on the new wall hangers from Ikea 
It carried on snowing and I carried on working, now oblivious to it but when it came to lunchtime, we realised it would be impossible to push my Father in his wheel chair up the steep path to the kitchen door. Eladio tried but immediately began to slip and it was far too dangerous to carry on so my poor Father had to have lunch on his own on a tray in his room that day. 

Lunch was leftovers as I was far too busy working on the press conference to make anything new. We couldn't go on a walk either because of the snow and also because our snow boots are in Montrondo. I never thought I would need them here until Monday. 

The highlight of the day was watching Homeland Season 6 with Eladio on Netflix that night. We binge watched 3 whole episodes and didn't fall alseep until nearly 1 in the morning. I think I told you it was slow starting but from about episode 3 onwards it gets riveting. We were completely hooked.  

Tuesday was a very tense day working. I realised that we had hardly any confirmations from guests for the Adamo press conference which was to take place in Pamplona. I spent the whole day rallying around the parties involved to make sure they followed up on the invitations. I was not responsible for the guests but for the media but even so I was dreading an empty press conference room. I had to ring the media and it felt like cold calling as I don't know journalists in Pamplona. 

In fact I was so busy on Tuesday I hardly noticed the news of the biggest rocket ever launched into space that day. Everyone else was very excited but I just had no time . I spent most of the day on the phone and whatsapping until really late. At about 10 pm though, there was not much else I could do so I called it a day and joined Eladio to binge watch the last 3 episodes of Homeland Season 6. It's a bit unfair but on Netflix we get to see the seasons a year later than they have been aired on TV in the US. Apparently Season 7 is about to start there in a few days time but there is no way we can see it from here.  I knew I would be feeling bereft when the last episode finished. It's always that way and this time the ending is totally unsatisfactory. There was no real closure and so Season 7 will be a continuation of the same theme. Role on Season 7 please. 

Wednesday dawned and I had plenty of time to pack and prepare for my journey to Pamplona. I left for the Atocha train station at around 10.30 and met up there with Cristina and Julia from my events agency, QuintaEsencia. They were totally loaded down with all the stuff we had to take to set up the event in Pamplona. Normally they would have sent it there but as we only had a mere week to prepare everything there was no time. And here they are with all the gear at the station.

Cristina and Julia with all the stuff for our event, at Atocha train station
The journey on the Alvia (part high speed) train to Pamplona would take 3 hours. It was difficult to work on the way as there is no wifi on the train and no plugs to charge your phone or PC. My phone battery would not last the journey. I was amazed to see so much snow on the way as the train rushed past snow clad villages and fields. It was a sight for sore eyes and it felt like we were in Siberia and not in Spain hahaha.
Snow on the journey to Pamplona by train from Madrid. 
We got to the capital of Navarra, part of the Basque Country, by 14.45. The girls had to rush off to the conference centre, Baluarte, to set up the room where our event would take place the next day. I took a taxi to our hotel as I had to work, mostly on cold calling local journalists and on fine tuning our press release. 

I don't know Pamplona at all. Of course it is famous for the bull run during the San Fermín fiestas in July but that does not attract me at all. I had been there twice before when I worked for Motorola and we sponsored a cycling team. In fact the last time I had been there was during the Tour de France in 1996, Miguel Indurain's last TDF. He is from Navarra and I well remember that scorching day with thousands of his fans lining the road waiting for him to arrive at the finish line after a mountain stage. Everyone was used to him winning and arriving among the first but that day he lagged behind and came in at the back of the peloton which was very sad for the cycling champion who had won 5 Tours on the trot. Even so, his countrymen clapped hard as he did arrive and the atmosphere they created was just amazing.  I'll never forget it

Pamplona in the winter is a different story. It's quite a cold area up in the north east of Spain and snow was forecast. In fact it was freezing. I took a taxi to our hotel, the surprisingly nice Hotel Pamplona Catedral just off the road where the bulls run, Calle Santo Domingo. 

My hotel in Pamplona
Interested in its history I found out that it had been built in the early 19th century as a reformatory for women (awful) but later had been used as a convent. It even had its own chapel which today is the hotel restaurant. It's quite a cool restaurant, all painted in white. I especially loved the stained glass windows.
The amazing dining room at the hotel, previously a chapel
I had lunch there on my own and thoroughly enjoyed a dish of fresh and local vegetables including the famous Navarra artichokes. I didn't want to eat too much and preferred to save my appetite for dinner that night, eating "pinxos" which Pamplona is famous for. 

Delicious vegetables for lunch in Pamplona at my hotel
Later I went up to my comfortable room where I had plenty of time to settle in and get mentally prepared for the event the next day. I was busy though, ringing the journalists and working on the press release. I wouldn't finish making changes to it until about 10 minutes before the press conference the next day. It's always like that with press releases.

When I had finished I had an hour before it was dark and I decided to explore the old part of the city as I had never really seen it and if I had I didn't remember it.  So I ventured out, well wrapped up, as it was freezing outside. I walked to the Plaza Consistorial from where the San Fermin fiesta is inaugurated each year in an act called "el chupinazo" from the "Casa Consistorial".
The Plaza Consistorial in Pamplona
It was freezing cold and snowing lightly as I walked down the old streets to see the cathedral. Being on my own, I didn't really feel like going in. I continued my walk and came upon another famous square, the Plaza del Castillo which is just enormous. Here I took a selfie and you can see the snow flakes on my fur hat. 
Freezing in the Plaza Castillo in Pamplona on Wednesday afternoon
It began to snow harder and all I wanted then was the warmth of my room in the hotel so I walked back. Once in my room, I made more tweaks to the press release and then sent the girls, Julia and Cristina, all the final press materials to print and load into the usb's to give to the journalists the next day. They were now back in the hotel after setting up the room for our event. It was poor Julia who had to do the latter and I caught her on camera as I went to see the girls whose room was a couple of doors down the corridor.  That was very much a behind the scenes of an event moment hahaha. 

Behind the scenes of a press conference, Julia loading the usbs with the press materials in the girls' bedroom at our hotel
While in town Cristina and Julia had bought me a birthday present which they gave to me in their room. It was a beautiful basket of luxury soap, just what I love as I told you earlier. It was to be my first present and one I love. 

We went out to dinner and for the girls to see the centre of the town. We were going to a bar called Gauxo which came highly recommended but it was closed. So we looked up another popular one on Trip Advisor and headed for a place called Iruñazarra. It was obviously very popular and the food was superb. In fact we ate too much as we couldn't get enough of the delicious pinxos, many of them award winning tapas in local competitions. 

Snow was forecast for Thursday, my birthday, but there was only a thin coat of snow on the roofs when I woke up in my hotel bed that morning. It was a strange feeling being in Pamplona on my birthday. All celebrations would be put on hold. However, soon after I started drinking the luke warm coffee I had bought in the bar the night before and put on the radiator to drink as soon as I got up, the birthday greetings started. Lots of friends and colleagues posted their messages on Facebook but there would be many too on whatsapp, messenger, email and LinkedIn, not to mention the phone calls I received. How I love Facebook on my birthday.  Later I would get many more and would enjoy reading them on the train returning to Madrid. I had breakfast in the "chapel" with my colleague Jaume and until checking out I didn't have much to do as all my work was done. That's actually not quite true as I spent some of the time practicing the welcome speech I had written in front of the mirror. I had problems pronouncing the surname of our local partner, "Sescuan" and that of the  lady from the Government organisation, "Irigoien", a very Basque surname I still can't pronounce it. I was saying IRI GO E EN when it should have been IR GOY EN. If only I had known before!

I left the hotel at around 10.45 while the girls went off to print all the materials for the press kits and arrived shortly afterwards at the Baluarte Conference centre. It wasn't my choice and I found it rather large and unwelcoming but apparently it's quite a modern symbol of the city. 

The room we had hired, the "sala de prensa" (press room) was all set up and many of my colleagues were already there. As usual I had to make some minor changes to the press release which is always rather nerve racking. Then it all started. Thankfully the room was nearly full. The press had turned up, not a lot of them as there probably aren't many in Pamplona and there was some Government press event going on at the same time, but enough to pass muster. But of course I would get more press coverage from the nationwide press release I sent out. You are probably wondering what we were announcing. Well it was the start and power up of our network in the region, in villages were no other operator has a network. It wasn't major news, we were only starting up in a handful of villages but more were to come within the project. It was definitely local news though. So I was lucky later to get articles from outside Navarra. I think the main news about Adamo is that it focuses on villages and areas where no other operator would go and which up till now have been bereft of fast internet. So in our own small way we are helping to close the gap of the digital divide in some areas of Spain. 
The press conference in full swing
I welcomed everyone and introduced the 4 speakers. As was to be expected I stumbled over the Basque surnames and had to apologise. Later those affected just laughed thank goodness. They are probably used to it I hope. 

After the presentations I moderated the Q+A session and within 45 minutes or so the press conference was over. I was happy to see some  headlines already published on internet including a photo of the event which I got the photographer we had hired to take and give to Julia to include in the email which I had prepared and which I know caused them some trouble. 
The speakers at the press conference. On the left the man and lady with the difficult Basque surnames. 
Afterwards we could all relax while a cocktail was served. As it was about 1 pm I took advantage and ate some of the delicious Basque food including the "chistorra" (thin fried chorizo) which I thought would serve as my lunch. 
Very soon it was all over and time to pack up and leave Baluarte. We left very laden down with the bulky and heavy rolled up photo calls, etc. We got to the station at least an hour and half before our train was to leave at 15.35. There we found our Barcelona bound colleagues whose train was leaving at 15h but had been delayed until 16h. For us it would be a 3 hour journey to Madrid and for them 4 hours.

We all waited chatting and drinking and feeling hungry, despite the "chistorra", I couldn't resist the amazing "bocadillos" (baguette type sandwiches) with ham and tomato and their amazing Spanish omelet. I would not be hungry that night when I got home. In fact we chatted so much we nearly missed our train which had been standing on the platform for some time. Then it was panic stations, especially getting all our gear on the train. But we managed it and what a relief. 

It was  a long and boring journey back, especially as I was running out of battery on my phone. I was home by 7.30 or so to be greeted by my wonderful husband, Father and by Lucy all wishing me a happy birthday. Eladio suggested we went out to dinner but I was too tired and not hungry and besides we had a planned family birthday dinner for the next night. Lucy had bought me a lovely present. She said it was very humble but it wasn't. I love the red Zara cardigan with pearls for buttons she had bought me and I would wear it the next day. But waiting for me was something  very special, a birthday card had arrived for me and I wasn't going to get many as they are not a tradition in Spain. It was from my darling daughter Suzy from London who I miss so much and it was beautiful. What was even more beautiful was what she had written inside. Let me show you. If you read it you will see she writes: "to the best mother in the world". I don't think I am but it's lovely that she thinks so. Thank you darling. 

Suzy's surprise birthday card which was waiting for me at home when I got back from Pamplona
Beautiful words inside. 

Suzy had rung me in the morning, my first phone call of the day. It was on my birthday that she told me she had bought her ticket to go and live in Bali  and would be leaving on 7th June. That was the date of my  Mother's birthday. I hope it brings her luck. The good news is that she is going in June instead of April and that she will be flying via Madrid and coming here 2 weeks before. 

So on my birthday we didn't go out to dinner  but we did watch a film. We chose one with Angelina Jolie set in Ethiopia called Beyond Borders. It was entertaining but slightly exaggerated but a nice relaxing end to the day which had been tiring and hectic. 

Friday came and I could relax work wise that is. I had breakfast reading the Adamo headlines which always gives me a kick. There were around 20 articles both local and national so not bad at all. I wasn't busy working but I was busy getting ready for a sudden Airbnb reservation which I got at around 11 am. A young South African man was checking in at lunchtime and staying for a week. He wanted somewhere he could work quietly. I had to do the shopping too and Eladio came with me. Life at home resumed and that meant going on our daily walks, in the afternoons at this time of year. It was bitterly cold that day so I put Pippa's red jumper on her. Then I added the harness and that is when she stood still not wanting to move unless I picked up the lead. Thus it was the perfect moment to capture her on camera. Here she is, a little unsure of the jumper too.
Pippa ready for her walk on Friday
I came back to slowly get ready to go out for my birthday dinner to Filandón, one of my favourite places. I had booked a table 2 weeks ago as it is always difficult to get a table. My South African had written to say he wasn't coming until the next day which gave me a bit of a break. 

Our table was booked for 8.30 as we like to dine early. 9 pm is usually the earliest starting time for dinner at restaurants in Spain but Filandón is open all day. We were there on time and while Eladio parked I waited at the impressive entrance with 2 open fires outside. Soon Oli and Miguel joined us and we were led to our table past the equally impressive kitchen which is visible to the public. It was not a busy time but when it is there are so many chefs you cannot count them. 
The kitchen at Filandon.
It was great to see Oli and Miguel again. Oli had another surprise for me, a funny birthday card she had found in Manchester with a sausage dog on the front. I loved it as well as her words inside but neither of us really understood the sentence on the front. 
Oli's lovely birthday card
We shared croquettes and octopus for starters and Oli and I shared a half bottle of Arzuaga (Ribera del Duero) red wine which had me remembering a Nokia team building exercise I once did there. We were lucky to have Miguel with us, our resident photographer, although the poor chap had a bad cold or flu like most of Spain it seems. So I got him to take a photo of the 3 of us at my birthday dinner. I don't know why but I always seem to close my eyes but it's the best he could do and it's not bad.
My birthday dinner at Filandón with Oli and Eladio. 
All in all it was a lovely dinner. It would have been perfect if Suzy had been with us. Oh how I miss her, especially on occasions like this. 

The next day was Saturday when we would celebrate my birthday with my Father too. I told you birthdays in this house are like Indian weddings as they go on for days hahaha. The day started with a family breakfast which would include croissants and donuts, pain au chocolat, all the naughty things I love first thing in the morning but only allow myself on special occasions. And here we are just about to start to devour the things on the table which was laid with all my finery. 
Birthday breakfast on Saturday morning
On birthdays I was brought up as a child to open the cards before the presents which was always frustrating hahaha. However I don't get  many, so I love them just as much these days. Apart from Suzy's and Oli's I got a lovely one from Eladio and my Father which my husband had bought in Manchester too at M+S (of course). It was the words from my nearly 99 year old Father that made a big impact yesterday. You see, my Father doesn't go in for sentimentalism nor for expressing his feelings or emotions. So yesterday was an exception. His handwriting is faint but amazing for someone his age. These are his words:
The words from my Father on my birthday card
This is what he wrote: "A very happy birthday Masha darling. What an inspiration you have been to me all my life, much love from Daddy 8th February 2018" Short but profound don't you think? I don't really know what inspires him about me. When I thanked him, he said "I really meant it". How lovely. Well he has inspired me all his life too in many many ways and I admire him profoundly. Thank you Daddy. I love you.

After the card came the presents. They were no surprise but they were much appreciated, the ring from Eladio and my Father and the Roger Gallet, soap, perfume and body lotion set from Oli and Miguel. I consider myself very very fortunate. 

My beautiful presents
We were very full of croissants after that hahha and I couldn't think about making lunch until much nearer the time. I was pleased to have Miguel with us as he would install the new TV box I had bought on Amazon after his recommendation. It had arrived 2 weeks ago but I needed him to install it. With this tiny little box which works like an Android phone where you download apps from Play Store, we can now watch Amazon Prime, Atresmedia TV, RTVE a la carta and Movistar Plus as well as Netflix. However of all these, only Amazon Prime has subtitles and lets you change the language. 

Just as he had finished, my South African wrote to say he was on his way by metro. Kindly, I suppose, as I have no obligation as an Airbnb host to pick up my guests, I went to get him at the nearest station. I don't usually do that but I am conscious of the fact that our house is not in the best location for using public transport. Also I knew he would be tired after travelling all the way by train from Faro to Lisbon then Lisbon to Madrid. He soon settled in and told me he loved the house. Pippa surprised me by not barking at him, for once. In fact she took to him immediately which is very unusual. 

Lucy was laying the table and making the chips and I would make the fish. Fish and chips is our usual favourite for birthdays and the quickest and easiest to make. It would be followed by my favourite bought cake from a bakery we love near here called "Alverán". It's a light sponge cake with fruit (raspberries) and lots of whipped cream encased in a a white chocolate basket and I adore it. So does my Father. And here I am about to blow out the candles. 61 wow. With yesterday's candles I could easily have changed the numbers to 16 or 19 or even 91 haha.
The birthday cake moment the highlight of any birthday in my mind. 
We were all so full later that we slept, in my case until 4.30. I had to drag Eladio out of bed to go for our walk with the dogs, a much needed walk after all the eating. I bet you think all we ever do is eat hahahah. 

Neither Eladio nor I were hungry at dinner and I made a very light meal. Last night our TV choice was much bigger. We started with the highly acclaimed BBC series called McMafia about the Russian mafia in London. We binge watched that too, seeing the first 3 episodes all in one go and went to sleep really late. We are going to enjoy McMafia immensely. 

 And today is Sunday, time to publish this blog post and enjoy the rest of the day. Of course you will hear all about it next week. It will be quiet though, that's for sure and will definitely include our walk.

So my friends, that's it for this week. Wishing you all the very best, cheers for now, 

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Filming in Manchester for Spanish TV, the end of our trip to the UK, Oli visits the BBC, home again to sun in Spain, another tribute to my Father, Charles Courtenay Lloyd, the mysterious poem on my mother's grave and other stories.

Sunday 4th February, 2018.

Eladio and I on the flight back from Manchester on Monday evening.
Hello again everyone.

It's amazing to think that this time last week we were still in Manchester with the girls  after a wonderful week in Yorkshire with Kathy and Phil. Doesn't time fly?

Last Sunday was our last full day in the UK. The weather was grim in Manchester as is to be expected in the UK in January. In Montrondo, our beloved village in the North West of Spain, it was snowing heavily. I would have loved to be there but had to suffice with photos posted by the villagers like this one of Jénaro knee deep in snow.
Heavy snow in Montrondo this week
Sunday was the end of our 9 day stay in the UK and our precious time with the girls. It started with breakfast together at the Mercure Hotel in Piccadilly Gardens and overlooking the fascinating fountain. Oli went off to film and we agreed to meet her later and even have a walk on part in what she was filming that day.

Our plan was to visit the famous John Rylands Library which Oli had already filmed and highly recommended. It was founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John. In 1889 the architect Basil Champneys designed the "striking gothic building" which took 10 years to build and was opened in 1900. According to the internet, it is described as "the best example of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe and is indisputably one of the finest libraries in the world".  So with this description in mind we were keen to visit it. However, when we got there it was closed and we had to make do with seeing it from the outside. We also took this photo. If I ever go back to Manchester, no doubt it will be high on my list of things to do and see.

Eladio and Suzy outside the John Rylands library in Manchester
It was early and we weren't meeting Oli on Market Street until 12 noon. So with nothing else to do, we decided to find and walk along the famous Manchester Liverpool canal built for the transport of cotton in  the Industrial Revolution. Google Maps quickly took us to "Canal Street! I have never been a great fan of canals. I find them dirty, scary, intimidating and somewhat claustrophobic and I am always worried I will fall in as the tow paths are so narrow. However, many of the paths of the canals in England have been improved, except, we found, the one in Manchester. 
The ugly and filthy canal in Manchester
It is awful, filthy and not recommendable at all. As soon as we could, we left it and made our way to Market Street, a lively commercial hub in the centre of the city to meet Oli and her cameraman. They were filming one of her Spaniards from Madrid, a street musician called "El Primo Juan" who apparently became famous in the UK because of an ironical song he composed called "Despa- Brexit", with satirical lyrics to the tune of the famous song "Despacito" about the British in Spain after Brexit. It got a lot of media coverage such as this article in The Express. 
Oli filming in Manchester for Spanish TV
We were angling, or at least I was angling, for a walk on part in the shooting which hopefully I got. Suzy took a video of Oli filming which you can see here. I'm in it hahha, giving a coin to the Spanish street musician. It was great fun as suddenly, out of nowhere, lots of Spaniards started to appear  and Oli made everyone clap their hands and even dance flamenco, Suzy and I included. Eladio, looked on, discreetly, from a distance, never the protagonist like us. 

Oli had to carry on filming, but the three of us, Eladio, Suzy and I were free to go and have lunch. Yes, eating again. I haven't weighed myself since I have got back but am cutting down on my intake I can assure you. Suzy wanted to eat Spanish food so we happened upon a recommended restaurant called "El Gato Negro". Owned by a Yorkshire man, it is actually only really a qausi Spanish restuarant but the food was fabulous and on a great location in King's Street. We had 3 tapas each and the bill came to 111 pounds which is expensive for England. However, I didn't care as the dessert I had was to die for. It was a sort of raspberry macaroon and sorbet concoction and whoever created it must have had me in mind. This is it!

A dessert to die for at El Gato Negro recommended to us by Kathy's son Tom.
After our wonderful meal and very tired of walking the streets of Manchester, all we wanted to do was go back to our hotel and collapse on our beds which is just what we did. That is how Olivia found us when she finished filming at dusk (4.30 pm in England:-() when she was raring to go and hungry. We spent time in the room together and later went out to dinner to Brown's again although the only hungry member of our party was Olivia hahaha. It was to be our last dinner together. Here are my lovely daughters and husband at Brown's last Sunday in Manchester, a super place by the way.
My lovely daughters, Suzy left and Oli in the centre with Eladio, their father on the right at Brown's in Manchester last Sunday night. 
We didn't have far too walk back to our hotel afterwards and once again I was appalled at the amount of homeless people sleeping on the streets bang in the centre. Suzy, who lives in London, told me that this is normal for England. Is it really? I can't believe it. It really upset me and I am still thinking about it.
There were so many homeless people on the streets of Manchester, it just didn't seem normal. 
Before we went up to our rooms, we said our goodbyes to our favourite concierge, young Harry, aged 19 with a very heavy Lanchashire accent. We just loved him and are now friends on Facebook. I wasn't particularly impressed with our hotel, it was good enough and very central but I have to say the staff were wonderful. But Harry was the best. I just love people from Lancashire and Yorkshire as I told you in last week's post.
Saying goodbye to Harry, our favourite concierge and member of staff at the Mercure Piccadilly hotel in Manchester last Sunday night. 
Monday dawned and it was pouring down in Manchester. Our flight wasn't until the afternoon so we had plenty of time before leaving. Suzy was catching the train at 13 h for London and we would see her off at Piccadilly train station. Oli was up early as she would be staying on until Wednesday doing more filming. We said goodbye to her as she was rushing off to work. That morning would see her filming, believe it or not, the BBC breakfast news live which is broadcast from the BBC HQ in Salford near Manchester. Oli watches this programme live nearly every day, loves the programme and the presenters, Dan Walker and Louise Minchin. For her, filming them that day and getting to meet and talk to them on the set was, in her words, a dream come true. And here she is on the set with them and with the Spaniard she was interviewing for her programme. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall or even there, but my journalist daughter could hardly take her mother along could she? 
Oli at the BBC breakfast news set in Salford Manchester last Monday
Our morning was a lot less thrilling. We spent the time leisurely packing. Or rather I spent the time leisurely packing while Eladio read El País on my iPad and Suzy updated her website on my PC hahahaha. 

When we checked out and left the hotel to walk Suzy to the station it was bucketing it down and we got drenched. Thankfully it was nice and warm inside the station. We had 1.5h to kill and it was nice to spend the time with our daughter Suzy who we miss so much. When she finally got on the train and we saw her off we felt like our hearts had broken. I know London is not that far away but we don't get to see her often and now she is threatening to go and  live in Bali of all places on the other side of the world for us.  Here is a last photo of Suzy with me at the train station.
With Suzy at the Piccadilly train station in Manchester shortly before she had to leave for London
When we could no longer see her on the platform and the train pulled out of the station, we left with heavy hearts wondering when we would next see her again.

All we had left to do in Manchester was to walk back to the Mercure hotel, pick up our luggage and take a taxi to the airport. We had a lot of time to kill there and I must say Terminal 3 doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of shops or restaurants. The only real option for us there was fish and chips again which was even a bit too much for me. Obviously we would not have dinner that night as it left us so full hahaha. I bet you're thinking this blog is all about food. Well, I suppose it is hahahaha. Food glorious food, well I do love it don't I?
Our last and not the best fish and chips - at Manchester airport on Monday
Our flight left at 5.15 with Ryan Air, not my favourite airline I can tell you. It was full but luckily left and arrived on time. We were in Madrid by 8.45 or so but what with all the walking at the airport, passport control, hanging around waiting for luggage, I don't  think we left until past 10 pm!  The taxi drive seemed endless and we were exhausted by the time we got home. But it was a pleasure to be there; home sweet home and to see our dogs, especially little Pippa. My Father and Lucy were asleep so we wouldn't see them until the next day. I did all the unpacking and I think I finally hit the pillow at about midnight. There is nothing better than sleeping in your own bed when you have been away and I actually slept until 7 in the morning on Tuesday. Wow I needed the extra shut eye. 

The next morning I realised I had come home to sunny Spain. What a difference in climate compared to the UK. I don't think I could live in Manchester as the weather is so grim and wet. When I lived in Yorkshire as a child and teenager I just accepted the bad weather and thought that sunshine was only for the holidays. How wrong I was. 

I had lots to do on Tuesday but first things first and I had to go to the hairdresser to have a haircut and yes, dye the roots in my hair. That is the pain of growing old. I wonder if I will still be dying it when I am old or older. When I was young, women aged 60 didn't dye their hair and dressed like old women. Today's 60 year olds look a lot younger and I am determined to keep it that way. I like to look good and well groomed. It's funny as I didn't inherit that from my Bohemian aristocratic Mother who didn't give a damn about her looks. 

That morning, apart from my quick exit to the hairdresser, I was in charge of lunch and had work to do, actually for a prospective customer. Priorities being what they are in my life, when I am permitted, I joined my husband to watch the news and have a short siesta after lunch. This would be Pippa's time too as she also joined us. It's wonderful to be with her again and she hasn´t left my side since I got back. She was over the moon when we arrived and I had to calm her down before picking her up because she was so excited hahaha. This is little Pippa taking a siesta on Tuesday afternoon on her blue blanket on our bed. Love her so much ...
Pippa having a siesta with us 
She also joined us on our first walk after we got back. All three dogs were delighted of course as they hadn't been on one since we had been away. Once home, I had to rush off to pick up my car from the garage then rush back again this time to go and do the food shopping with Lucy. The cupboards were very  bare. I couldn't believe I filled 2 trollies and spent 399 euros. It looked like it was for an army, not just the 5 people, 3 dogs and 1 cat living in this house hahaha.  Hopefully it would last a week but it didn't as you will read later.

With lots of food in the cupboard and fridge, Eladio and I enjoyed a nice quiet dinner together before retiring to our room to watch the news again. We are news freaks hahahah, you will have noticed. Of note that day, the world's oldest man died in Spain aged 113. Francisco Núñez Oliveira, aka Marchena, was born and died in Bienvenida in Badajoz in South West Spain just one month after celebrating his 113th birthday. I wonder what his secret was? In fact I wonder what my Father's secret is too. Everyone wants to live a long life, my husband commented but added that no one wants to be old. How right he is. I do hope that one day scientists will find the key to growing old without all the disadvantages. 
The world's oldest man aged 113 died in Spain this week. RIP
On a lighter note, there was something else on the news which attracted my attention. It was the story of the singers and winning song for Spain's entry into this year's Eurovision Song Contest. The singers, 19 year old Amaia and 20 year old Alfred,  and the song, La Canción, were chosen by viewers on a hugely popular talent show called OT (Operación Triunfo) which doesn't usually interest me. But I just loved the couple, both contestants in the show and who have fallen in love with each other and sing beautifully together. It's quite cheesy maybe but it made my day. I have been humming it ever since. These are the love star struck singers who both play the piano very well too. Their complicity and love for each other is so evident on stage and maybe that is why they were chosen. 
Amaia and Alfred who will represent Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "La Canción" especially written for them. 
You can watch their performance here and judge for yourselves if you haven't already seen or heard it.  

After the news we fell asleep watching Episode 2 of Homeland Season 6. I do love Carrie and co but this season doesn't seem as good as the previous ones, at least so far. 

Wednesday started quietly. I even had time to make some bread. This is what the loaves looked like when they came out of the oven. The smell was amazing as was the taste.
The multi cereal bread loaves I made on Wednesday morning
While I was making the bread, the dogs were with me as usual. Norah, our beagle, was playing with Elsa our lab or rather the former was showing her love to the latter. I had to catch them on camera to share with you. I entitled the photo "pure love" on Instagram.
Norah showing Elsa her love the doggy way
I only post photos about Pippa so it's about time the other two dogs get a bit of protagonism on my blog don't you think?

I was having a quiet morning, making bread and then lunch when I was suddenly interrupted by news that I had to organise a big press conference in a regional town in Spain next week and on my birthday too, 8th February. That was a bit of a blow and a repeat of last year when I did a press conference for Genaker in Barcelona on my 60th birthday. Being the professional I am, I just sprang into action and it has been non stop organising since the moment I was asked to do the project.  There will be a lot to do but no doubt everything will be alright on the day or at least I hope so.

But the news was not going to stop me going on my walk that afternoon. Eladio was mowing the lawn in the sunshine so I set off with little Pippa, feeling guilty about leaving the others behind. As Pippa and I were returning I spied the moon shining very brightly and it looked bigger than usual. This is my photo, the best I could get.

The super moon as seen by me just after sunset on Wednesday evening on my walk
I had heard on the news that that evening a rare "super blue blood moon eclipse" would make its appearance but in Spain we just got a bigger and brighter moon. Eladio and I had dinner and rather daringly I had a glass of red wine which, as happens often, gave me a splitting headache which would linger on afterwards until the weekend. I should avoid wine and never learn my lesson.  

Wednesday was one of my favourite reader's birthday, Phil, our friend and husband to my school friend Kathy with whom we stayed in Yorkshire when we went to England. He and Kathy certainly know how to celebrate a birthday. They went off to stay in a lovely pub hotel in the Dales and will soon continue celebrating by flying off to Morocco. Enjoy my friends. My birthday shall be a lot more humble and I won't even be at home. 

I should mention that on Wednesday afternoon Oli returned from Manchester although we wouldn't see her until Friday evening. From now on she will be editing all she filmed there and I can't wait to see the finished programme where I hope our walking on part gets through the "final cut". 

Thursday was busy as was the norm this week. I had so much to do to put the press conference in place and in a city in the north of Spain I have only ever been to once. But I had to take time off to go into Madrid for a meeting with another prospective customer. Thus I got up at 6 in the morning and got the most out of the morning, even leaving lunch made for the family. I was home by 2.30 and it felt like I had been on a marathon. I tried to sleep a little after lunch but I had a headache and so much in my head that I returned to my PC. We managed another walk, this time all together and good grief it was freezing and extremely windy, so much so that I had to pick up Pippa occasionally as the wind was nearly blowing her over as she only weighs 5 kilos hahaha. 

I had Airbnb guests arriving that night, 3 French girl students who were repeat guests. They arrived late at night, well late for us, at about 9.30. Unfortunately the new boiler won't be installed until 12th February and we can only use the hot water upon demand until it is which is rather embarrassing when you have guests in the house. Fortunately they completely understood.  

On Friday I had another very productive morning. I was up at 6.15 and by 8.30 had written and sent the media coverage report on Adamo's recent press conference. As you know I am working on another one now and hope for equally good results. That morning I was able to tick more items off my to do list. I had time too to buy tickets to go to the cinema with Olivia and Eladio that evening to see a new Spanish film called "El Cuaderno de Sara" (Sara's diary). I don't remember the last time we went to the cinema but it's always nice to do so if the film is good. 

As I was working I got a surprise email from yet another ex pupil of my Father's from Bradford Grammar School where he taught French, German and Russian. So many of his ex pupils have reached out to him over the years as he left othem all a very positive mark on their lives and careers. I was so proud of him and am so proud of him. The emails he has received make me see a side of my Father I didn't know, an inspiring and dedicated teacher. This was the email he wrote. I will keep his anonymity for ethic's sake only naming him as John. A: "I was at Bradford Grammar School from 1968 to 1975. After an evening of reminiscing with friends recently, I searched for Courtenay Lloyd on the internet, found your Blog, and thus discovered with great pleasure that your father is still alive and approaching 100 years old.
At school Courtenay - or Clarence as for some reason we all called him - taught me both French and Russian, but it is especially for his enthusiasm and determination as a Russian teacher that I remember him. He spent hours coaching me outside of school-time to acquire a good accent and delivery for a Russian Speaking Competition (which I won) and many more hours ensuring that I had the necessary grounding to make further study of the language a success.

He also lent me records of Russian operas and choral music and so sparked a lifelong interest in this field. In fact I now work as an opera coach specialising in Russian repertoire as well as being a choral conductor. In recent years I have conducted concerts in Moscow and St Petersburg, appeared with Russian ensembles here in the UK, and on one occasion stood in for a soloist at the State Glinka Capella in St Petersburg to perform Rimsky Korsakov's "Song of the Varangian Guest" - first heard on one of your father's records back in about 1974.
I remember too the basic lessons in over a dozen European languages which fired my own thirst for knowledge and led to further study. As concert engagements have taken me to Hungary, Poland, Romania, Finland, Argentina and many other countries, this basic grounding proved an invaluable foundation on which to build, even after the passage of many years.  
I am lucky to have an interesting and rewarding career that has taken me to many different countries, and owe much of the success I have had to Courtenay's teaching. I should be grateful if you could pass my thanks and my very best wishes on to him".

I posted it on Facebook and he got some lovely comments. I printed it all out for him to read and I hope it made nice reading for him. I asked for a reply to John A and this is what he said: he was thrilled by his positive comments and couldn't really get over his email. He congratulated John on his achievements and his knowledge of Russian music which he thought was incredibly. He also asked me to tell him he would be 99 in May, not quite a 100! The email and comments made me feel pretty emotional most of the day. I'm so proud of my Father. Not many ex pupils reach out to a teacher that way after 40 years. He must have made a very big impression. Thanks John and thanks all the other ex pupils who have reached out over the years. He remembers you all. 

In between all this week and my work, I had to make our lunch. It was while I was making coq au vin in the kitchen with the dogs in their beds that I had to catch Pippa on camera licking and loving Elsa her surrogate mother, while Norah slept peacefully in the bed beside them. In fact I filmed the sequence and uploaded it on You Tube and you can see it here. It's so cute isn't it? Again I entitled the post "love pure love". 
Pippa licking and loving Elsa - so cute
The morning was hectic but the afternoon, with my work out of the way or at least the ball now in the court of my customer, I was able to relax a bit. Oli was home just as we were about to set off on our walk. But she curtailed it as she has come down with a light flu and wanted time with her Mother. Very soon it was time to leave for the cinema. The film was very good but also very violent with some awfully gory scenes which left me feeling terrible. It was about a woman, played by Belén Rueda, looking for her missing NGO doctor sister in the The Congo where coltan is mined. I didn't like the end but I did like going to the cinema with my family and of course having dinner out afterwards. We chose Ginos, a quasi Italian restaurant where we all ate heartily as we were starving. 

All in all, Friday was a long, productive and emotional day with a great ending, dinner with my family. Only Suzy was missing.

Saturday was a day at home with the family. The evening before I had received an email from a friend and ex Russian pupil of my parents, Andy D, who learned Russian from them at the famous UEA (University of East Anglia) Norwich Russian summer courses which began in the 70's. I used to go every year with my parents and my Aunty Masha and met many interesting people there, students of Russian from all over the world who attended the courses as they were the best option outside Russia where it was difficult to go. Well I had turned to Andy last week to unravel the mystery of the poem on my Mother's grave that I had visited in Yorkshire. and asked him to translate it into English which he very kindly did.  I thought it was by my Grandfather but he thought it was by the Russian poet Alexander Blok. When I got home from Manchester I asked my Father and he said he thought it was by my Grandfather too but was a bit confused as it was a long time ago. So I turned to the one person who could clarify this and who was at the funeral; a lecturer and former colleague of my Mother's at Leeds University. Richard D had helped my mother publish the second and last volume of her father's poetry although she did not live to see the last one published. He confirmed the poem was by her Father and that the mysterious date on the tomb (27.101942) was the date he had written it. Mystery solved. But I still wondered why that particular poem of all her father's poetry was the one chosen to  be engraved on her tombstone. Here Andy suggested it was her father's voice, lost to her forever in 1942 when she left Bulgaria during WW2 never to see him again, calling out to her over the decades. 
The poem on my Mother's grave is by her Father
That makes sense as you will see. My Grandfather who was an artistocrat  (HSH Prince Andrei Lieven) turned priest after the sufferings of the Bolshevik revolution, wrote, according to my mother, his poetry in secret, worried it was not religious and would be frowned upon by the church. She in turn, the black sheep of 6 siblings, craved for his love and attention and one day she came upon his poems, read them, loved them and learned them off by heart. Then one day she walked into her father's study and recited one to him. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. From then on, he shared them all with her and thus their love, mutual appreciation and complicity bloomed and grew, just what my mother craved. However as a young woman, in her very early 20's she had to escape Nazi Bulgaria which would soon be occupied by the Russians. Her parents of course stayed behind. She said goodbye to her Father before leaving on their doorstop and was never to see him again. When she learned of his death while in exile in England after the war she walked the streets of London in complete distress and decided to take her final vows to become a nun. Her older sister, Olga, a fanatical Russian Orthodox believer who became a Mother Superior had groomed her to be one. Thankfully she was able to break her vows a few years later when she met my Father in Cambridge, although she had to ask for Olga's permission! Thus we have to understand the importance of her Father's poetry which she promised to herself she would get published in Russia before she died. She did and now I understand  why her Father's poem about calling out to her is on her grave.  It is because because she always missed him. I'm so glad the mystery of the poem on my Mother's grave has been unraveled. Thank you Richard and thank you Andy. 

It has indeed been an emotional week. 

On Saturday morning I woke up with a bit of a headache but soon cheered up when I saw a new Airbnb booking from a French family of 4 for 2 weeks in August. That's August's income settled then I thought. Later in the day they extended it to another week so the house will be occupied for most of August. But not to mind, no doubt we shall be in Montrondo and of course Santa Pola.

It was a family day. Oli was with us, with her cold, poor thing. The dogs had been left to their own devices in our absence, no walks, no treats and of course no bath. So on Saturday they had all three. Eladio bathed both Elsa and Norah in the morning in our bath tub and I bathed Pippa.  Elsa and Norah put up with the bath and I think they secretly like it although Elsa's face says something different as you can see in the photo below hahaha.

Eladio bathing Elsa

Eladio bathing Norah our beagle
Oli was with us but on the phone to Suzy via a whatsapp video so it nearly felt as if she was with us too hahaha.
Oli on the phone with Suzy and holding our adored little Pippa
I had to think what to make for lunch that morning and decided on home made pizza including the base. But I needed to buy a few provisions thus Oli, well wrapped up, came with me to Mercadona, to the chemist and to an organic health shop, the kind Suzy loves but I'm not that keen on hahaha. 

We came home late and I made the pizza base in a jiffy, even leaving the dough to prove for an hour in the boiler room. Both Oli and Lucy helped me put the toppings on and this is what my 2 pizzas looked like before we devoured most of them hahahah.
Homemade pizza for lunch on Saturday
After a rather heavy lunch, we all retired to our bedrooms. Eladio and I watched the news and then we both fell asleep watching a James Bond film, Casino Royale. It gave me nightmares as during my siesta I dreamed I had lost my phone charger, my glasses and even my leggings and that a man had to lend me his boxer shorts which were too tight. Then James Bond drove me to a place with a house full of Russian mafia. I woke up in a dreadful state and it was nearly 6pm. Feeling groggy I had a cup of tea to restore me and we went for our walk with the dogs. 

Eladio and I had a small dinner together in the kitchen with the dogs at our feet as always and went to bed early. Having slept a siesta from 4 to 6 pm,  we were able to watch a whole episode of Homeland without falling asleep. I have to say it is now getting more interesting. 

Today, Sunday, will be another family day but of course I shall tell you all about it in next week's post. Next week will be a challenge for me with the press conference coming up. Wish me luck.

Cheers my friends and readers until next Sunday!