Saturday, November 29, 2008

Goodbye Aunty Masha! The Lieven story, the end of an era. My obituary.

Masha Lieven, Paris 1959 just after defecting from communist Bulgaria

Her Serene Highness Princess Maria von Lieven, more commonly known as “Aunty Masha” was born in Sofia on 21st September 1927. She was the beloved sister of my Mother, Elena and the youngest of 6 brothers and sisters; Alexander (Sasha), Olga, Dorothea (Dara), Helene (Lena), Nicolai (Kolya) and Maria (Masha). She was vivacious, extremely beautiful, glamorous, a total adventurer, somewhat bohemian, a great saver of people in distress, a lover of life but also a very unlucky woman. She was the Mother of Sasha, her only son but also of a daughter who died one week after birth in Germany many years ago and whom, of course, she never forgot. I just wish now I could remember her name. I think it was Sophie, after her Mother.

Aunty Masha died yesterday, 28th November 2008 at a hospital in Villjoyosa in Alicante in her beloved Spain at 06.05 am of acute anaemia and probably of a lack of will to live as she suffered from that dreadful disease Alzheimer. I was given the news by a distraught Sasha on the phone when I was in the middle of a conference in Stockholm and I have not been able to get her out of my head since. Needless to say there has been little joy in my trip with Eladio to Sweden this week.

Maria Lieven (Masha is the diminutive of Maria in Russian) was born in Sofia into a Russian aristocratic family which became poor when they fled Russia at the end of the Revolution. Her Father, my Grand Father, Prince Andrei Lieven, became a priest and the upbringing of the 6 Lieven children was very strict and very religious. My Mother, Lena, had the misfortune of being the black sheep in the family because of her rebellious nature and was sent off to France at the age of 6 to study. The next time she saw her parents was at the age of 11 when she returned. I always remember her saying that the day she did she found her last letter to them crumpled in the waste paper basket.

Aunty Masha, on the other hand, was the darling of the family and the only one who was spoiled. My grandmother, Sophie Stachovich, simply did not know how to run a house hold and bring up children as these things had always been done by servants back in Mother Russia. But probably when Masha was born she had either softened or her patience had run out.

Elena and Masha became thick friends upon Lena’s return from France and this friendship and closeness remained all their lives. So close were they that Lena became her surrogate Mother as their Mother on her deathbed asked Lena to “look after” Masha when she was gone. Lena fulfilled this promise until the day she died.

They were very close and adored each other but I must admit they had their bad moments too and could sometimes fight like cat and dog. I remember Aunty Masha always winning. She had a much stronger character than my Mother.

Masha was strong and brave and nothing frightened her. World circumstances marked her life though. The Lieven family fled Russia to escape the communists. They went to Bulgaria and life was difficult but peaceful until the Second world war broke out and the Russians came and Bulgaria became communist. Elena, Sasha and Nicolas got out and became refugees in Germany. Dara had already gone to London to become a nurse. After the war each of them went a different way; my Mother to London, Dara to Canada from where she eventually moved to the USA, Sasha to Canada and Nicolas to Paris.

My Mother said goodbye to her parents at their house in Sofia in 1944 at the age of 24 and never again saw her adored Father Andrei. The war and communism tore the family apart forever.

Masha stayed at home in Bulgaria as she was only 15 as did Olga who by then had become a nun. Olga remained in Bulgaria all her life and died just a few years ago as the Mother Superior of the Russian Orthodox Convent in Sofia. I never met her. The sisters, however, did meet once in 1990 as old women who had last met when they were in their teens and 20’s.
The 4 sisters reunited as published in the Telegraph and Argus in 1991 from left to right, Masha, Olga, Lena and Dara who also became a nun
But this story is about Aunty Masha. When the war broke out, my brave Aunt, at the age of 15, left home in secret and went to Yugoslavia to fight for Tito! My Mother always said she did that on high heels (because of her beauty). She soon returned to Sofia and after the war was the only one of the 6 to remain at home. She took a degree in engineering, as a surveyor (is that really possible?) at Sofia University, but never used this knowledge. Unsurprisingly she became an actress and actually she was very good at it. She married another actor, Boris Manov, a Bulgarian with whom she bore a son, Sasha. Sasha was born at the wrong time and place. This was communist Bulgaria in the 50’s.

Meanwhile, my Mother, was doing her “refugee apprenticeship” in London to get residency and this consisted in working as a cleaner for 2 years before she could be allowed to have a “proper” job. Apparently the hospital she worked at was full of other Eastern European poverty stricken princesses too. My Mother sent nearly everything she earned to her parents and sister in poor and lacking communist Bulgaria. She always told me she knew London very well as, in order to save money, she went everywhere on foot.

Masha’s other brothers and sisters were all “safe” in the west and she wanted to be there too. But it was nearly impossible to leave a communist country in those days. Masha’s marriage went sour as Boris began to drink. Eventually she found a way of sending Sasha to the west. He was sent to Paris. She soon followed illegally by defecting and risked her life to be reunited with Sasha in Paris in 1959. It was very difficult for her to settle down and they lived like nomads, eventually ending up in Germany.

Another wrong partnership, this time to “Zvonka”, the wrong type of Yugoslav, sent her looking for escape and I well remember Aunty Masha and Sasha arriving homeless and penniless at our house in Bradford in 1968 with just two suitcases. Between them they knew quite a few languages (Russian, German, French, Serbian and Bulgarian) but not English.

They settled in England and Sasha who was 14 at the time soon learned English and studied well and ended up with a degree at Edinburgh University in various languages. He speaks them all perfectly, unlike his Mother who spoke them all pretty badly except Russian and Bulgarian. She did, however, have an amazing knack of making herself understood to anyone of any nationality.

Through my parents, Aunty Masha got a job as a teacher of Russian, first at my school, St. Joseph’s College and latterly at the University of East Anglia. This was probably the happiest period of her life. Here she met another wrong partner, Denton Burkinshaw, an apparently decent enough Englishman but just not the person for her. He liked her exoticism but also expected her to behave like an English housewife, which, of course, was never possible.

Those were the Norwich days. Here Masha came into her own and flourished. At the UEA there was a very famous international Russian course every year where my parents and Aunt taught every summer. I would go along for the ride and in fact I was probably there every year from the age of 11 until my late 20s when Susana and Olivia were born. I loved going. We used to stay at the residences on the campus and made so many friends. I remember Issy, Andy, Sophie, Janet, Pasquale, the course Director, Tony Cross, the course secretary, Beryl and a host of other people.

At these 3 week courses Masha would run and put on the course concert on the last night every year. She single-handedly created a first class Russian choir out of 100 unknown people not one of who was a professional singer. She would put on superb sketches and the actress in her would bloom and she looked magical and beautiful on the stage as the audience applauded wildly.

Those were also the days of Callosa and Bolulla and our Spanish summers. In 1973 Masha bought a ruin of a house for a few hundred pounds in Bolulla, a small village in the mountains of Alicante. My mother bought a slighter bigger place in nearby Callosa. We would spend every summer there and take all our friends. Those were very happy times. We all learned Spanish and fell in love with Spain. It is because of Aunty Masha I live here now. But that’s another story.

Just around the time Aunty Masha was going to retire, Denton announced, right out of the blue, that he wanted a divorce. This destroyed my Aunt. She really loved him I think, in her own way and certainly could not envisage retirement on her own. She retired in Spain and lived alone in a small flat overlooking the sea in Benidorm. I think she couldn’t take the loneliness and slowly went to seed.

She had one moment of joy at this time when she visited Russia in 2003, for the first time in her life even though she was a native Russian. She went to an event together with my Father, organised to celebrate the life of the Lieven family, called “The Lieven Readings”. My Aunty Valya, Nicolas’ wife, also attended. There she was wined and dined as a true Russian aristocrat and visited some of the mansions which had once belonged to the family.
Aunty Masha (in blue) at the Lieven readings in Moscow 2003, my Father is on the far right
She became a little unbalanced but that’s not surprising after the life she had led. She would stay with us at Christmas sometimes. We would visit her too in Benidorm every now and again when we would revisit Callosa and Bolulla together and have lunch at Algar.
In Callosa in 2006 on one of our visits to see Aunty Masha, with my Father and I.
But slowly that dreadful disease Alzheimer crept up on her and last Christmas she wanted to return home just after arriving. We saw her again in August and she was in a bad way. However the twinkle in her eye was still there and she knew immediately who we were and switched seemlessly between Russian, Bulgarian, English and Spanish! As she walked with us to the lift she told me not to forget her. That tore my heart. In September I sent her some flowers for her birthday and the nurse, Zhania, a wonderful Bulgarian lady who looked after her night and day right up until her death, God bless her, rang and Aunty Masha thanked me for the flowers in a very confused state.

I have been living with the threat of Sasha’s phone call and it came on Thursday lunchtime. She had been taken into hospital with acute anaemia. I agreed with Sasha we would go this Sunday to see her for one last time. However that was not to be as he rang yesterday morning, to say she had taken her final breath just after 6 am. Now we will be going, but to the funeral.

It is very sad as her death, to quote my cousin Zuka, Nicolas’ daughter, pointed out yesterday, symbolises the last of the family, the end of an era. Now they are all gone and all we can do is mourn.

Goodbye darling Aunty Masha. I loved you, you know that. You were a difficult woman but you were my beautiful young Aunt from abroad who had been an actress and spoke broken English. You took us in your old cars all over Europe and life was an adventure. I just wish your life had been a happier adventure. However you lived it to the full and the Aunty Masha I will remember is the one on the stage at Norwich in her high heels and evening dress, the centre of my world.

Baby Masha

A trip to Stockholm, India’s 9/11 and another death in the family.

The Christmas market in Gamla Stan where I bought some Cloudberry jam for my Father (later confiscated at the airport:-()
Hello again

This week was supposed to be fun.

It started off with lunch with Roberto at La Txitxarreria on Monday where we gossiped about our days at Nokia and caught up with each other’s lives.

On Wednesday 27th November Eladio and I set off for Stockholm to attend the annual communications conference which was to be all day Thursday and Friday morning. Eladio meanwhile would be preparing his Uned (Open Universty) tutorials or exploring the town and we would have some free time together before returning on Saturday afternoon.

We had both been to Stockholm before so there was no rush to see the tourist sights. As we arrived it was snowing which was great and it was not too cold, just above zero.
Snow on arrival at Arlanda airport.
We were staying at a conference hotel called the Quality Globe Hotel outside town. It is part of the Globen City complex, the “Globe” being Stockholm’s biggest building for sports and other events. While we were there it was hosting the International Horse Show. The building is quite unique and is actually the biggest round building in the world.
The famous Globe
As soon as we had unpacked we took a taxi and hit the town to explore the lovely streets of Gamla Stam that we already knew.
Here we walked up and down the old streets and into the squares and eventually found a little place for dinner.

We actually had a lot of bad luck with restaurants throughout our stay as most of them were always fully booked or the service was extremely slow. In fact on our last night, after 5 attempts at finding a free table at a restaurant we eventually got one at F12 where I had been with journalists on a trip with Nokia a few years ago for some music phone. Mónica and Anne will certainly remember. Here we asked for the “tasting menu” but only when we were on miniature course 4 did we find out that the whole procedure was going to last 3.5 hours! We kept complaining about the slowness until, too tired to fight any more, and halfway through the dinner, we asked for the bill. The management reacted amazingly and had us feeling a bit bad as they refused to charge us. It was quite an experience.

The joy of our stay in Stockholm was soon cut short when we learned about the Mumbai massacre which unfolded in front of our eyes as we turned on CNN on Wednesday night. The massacre is still going on. In what is turning out to be India’s 9/11, it seems two dozen gunmen, possibly linked to Pakistan, have attacked and brought to a standstill, India’s financial capital, a city of 18 million inhabitants and also home to the famous Bollywood. They have attacked some 9 locations including two 5 star hotels, a famous tourist café and a Jewish centre. As I am writing 155 are reported dead and over 327 injured. The Taj Mahal Hotel, one of India’s most famous and a landmark in Bombay is at the heart of the attacks. These attacks are shocking the world as is their intention. Terrorism continues and becomes more sophisticated and difficult to beat.
The Taj Mahal at the heart of the attack
We are going to India in December for our 25th anniversary and now we are a little scared. Scared is what I imagine the whole world is right now. How and when is it going to end?

The conference on Thursday began really well. In fact it was one of the best corporate conferences I have every attended. Maybe it’s because the Swede’s are good at organising.

However at lunch time, as I tell in my next post, I got a call from Sasha to say my poor Aunty Masha had been taken into hospital with acute anaemia and was not expected to live. I agreed with him we would visit her on Sunday after our return. The news was not good.

I carried on as best I could and continued with the conference. In the evening there was a dinner which I was hoping to skip but when I saw I was sitting on the table of the Global Head of Communications I decided otherwise. She turned out to be lovely and the evening was great, as was the show.

The next day, however, I got the phone call from Sasha to say dear Aunty Masha had already died. I felt so sad and so far away. I tried to contact my Father, I contacted my second cousin Masha in Paris and of course, my first cousin, Zuka. And, as usual in these circumstances, I rang Amanda, my best friend in England who I knew would want to know as Aunty Masha was part of her childhood also. But that story is in my next post.

I could no longer concentrate on the conference and just made a quick appearance at the end to say goodbye and give my excuses.

Then there was the rest of the day to get through. So we spent the afternoon in down town Stockholm trying to enjoy ourselves, buying Scandinavian Christmas objects, but Aunty Masha was forever in my mind.

So this morning we went straight to the airport from the hotel and waited there for this flight, the flight I am writing this post on, the flight that would take us home to Madrid.

It just seems that life is bringing a spate of bad luck recently. I do so hope it will end soon. Tomorrow we will leave home early in the morning to go to Altea for the funeral at 3 pm and so say our good byes to my Aunt.

Goodbye Stockholm, I wish it had been better. I just wish there had been no Mumbai massacre and that there had been no fatal call from Sasha.

I wish, I wish.

PS here is the full set of photos of our trip to Stockholm posted on Facebook

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A film, more lunches, preparing Christmas, a surprise party, 45 years since JFK was killed, Spain in the Davis Cup final, off to Stockholm and more.

Balloons for the surprise party for Gaby on Saturday night.
Hi again,

From this week’s headline, you can probably suss out that the week was busy on the work and home front and so it was.

Last Sunday we went to see La Buena Nueva a film set in a village in the north of Spain (Asturias) in 1936 during the Civil War. I don’t think the film will become famous but the storyline was right up our street; war, love and religion being the main ingredients.
On Tuesday I had lunch with María at the Asador Imanol in Diversia. I arrived late which is highly unlike me, but I had to get together a sudden press release when I was in town on an errand. María is a colleague from work and this was our first lunch together. We spent the time talking non stop from beginning to end about work, mutual ex colleagues, current colleagues and a hundred other things that women talk about when they get together! No doubt this lunch will be repeated.

Wednesday was a girly lunch again, this time with my ex Nokia colleagues, Jill and Susana. We went to La Leyenda and thoroughly enjoyed catching up on each other’s news. It was great to hear work gossip too; always highly interesting.

And on Thursday I took my PR agency team to Aspen after a morning working session together to plan for the next few months.

Oli meanwhile, had just started her PhD lectures at the Madrid Complutense University which she will try to juggle with her work at RTVE. She has begun a PhD in Film Studies! They keep changing her timetable and for the past fortnight she has been working on the 17h to midnight shift. This fortnight coming up, starting tonight, she will be working at nights, from midnight to 7 am. I wish her luck as I know it’s going to be tough.

On Friday she had an interesting experience at work as she had to chair the voting table at RTVE for the Trade Union representatives and here you can see her in this video which they published on the RTVE website.

At work I am immersed in plans for Christmas activities; a children’s party at the office premises, the employee annual office blast with partners, as well as all the actual Christmas gifts, on-line cards etc. It’s amazing how Christmas creeps up on you and how it maintains its magic year after year. I like preparing Christmas at work but enjoy the home preparations much more. This year Eladio and I will be going away on Boxing Day, to India, of course and it will be the first time we have ever travelled at Christmas. I did once before I was married and that was to Mexico with my Mother to visit George who was living in Veracruz. But that’s another story.

Suzy sprung a surprise party for Gaby last night, at our house, of course. It was for his birthday which had actually been about a month ago so I imagine he wasn’t expecting anything at all. Each person was supposed to make and bring food but, as we were eating the left overs all together today, it transpired that most of the guests had delegated this task to the Mothers; the Mothers of course who were not invited. I made the potato salad and I wasn’t invited either.

Instead Eladio and I went out to dinner to Mood with our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen. Before that, though I must mention the wonderful siesta and Jacuzzi I had to recover from the week’s hectic activity. We own a lovely Jacuzzi in our bathroom which hardly ever gets used but yesterday was one of those times.

Dinner was great as the food is always original and tasty at Mood. We were all in the talking “mood”, ha, ha, specially Eladio who had us all thinking when he announced that Christianity was only really a continuation of Judaism, from the point of view of sex. And yes, he’s right. Did that get you thinking too?
Eladio and his friend Roberto at Mood on Saturday night
On the news front, this week marks two important dates in history. November 20th was the 33rd anniversary of the death of Francisco Franco Bahamonde, also known as “El Caudillo” and November 21st was the 45th anniversary of the death of the world famous JFK, John Fitzgerald Kennedy who these days seems to be equated with Barack Obama. And certainly there are fears that his life may end in a similar way. I hope not!

On a lighter note, but of great importance in the world of tennis, Spain is playing the final of the Davis Cup against Argentina on their home territory. Unfortunately the super star player, Rafa Nadal, is injured and cannot take part so no one really thinks Spain can win. However, halfway through the championship, Spain is leading 3-2. There are two matches left to play before the winner is decided and here I would like to copy Obama and say: “yes we can!”.

This week coming up we will be going to Stockholm as I will be attending the communications kick off. We have travelled so much this year; it could well be our record. Well, I was always a “travelling girl” and inherited the itch from my Father, who, if we asked, would probably jump at the chance to come too as he is addicted to travelling and also loves Stockholm.

There will be a full report, of course, in next week’s post.

Cheers till then,

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another week in November and news from Havana, Zagreb, Belgrade, Switzerland and Helsinki and stories about other places.

Suzy working at the Instituto del Frío
Hi again

We are now well into November and soon it will be Christmas and we will be off on our wonderful trip to India. But actually before that we will be visiting another part of the world, Stockholm again. I’ll be there for the annual Communications Kick-off (a bit strange having a kick off at the end of the year) and will, of course, be taking Eladio with me. Being the end of November I can only imagine it being dark, cold and probably wet but that should not deter the Anglo Saxan in me.

Regarding India, I sort of thought all the plans were finalised and hotels booked but Raju, the owner of the travel agency, Incredible Real India we are using and which comes highly recommended by friends and specialises in tourists from Spain, has yet again changed one of the hotels, this time in Jaipur. This seems to happen on a weekly basis and I am faced with a choice of 3 new hotels to choose from because yet again the original one is now fully booked owing to the fact that December is apparently the high season. Had we known, I think we would have gone at another time of the year. So there you have me, nearly a specialist in consulting Trip Advisor.

Talking about “foreign” destinations, this week has been a week of news from abroad. News from Havana is always news from our newly found cousin, Rosy. We correspond quite often and this week she was very worried about the “Paloma” hurricane which thankfully didn’t do as much damage as predicted.

There was news from the former Yugoslavia too this week, first from Zagreb from Mladen, Sanya’s step brother who got in touch with me after her funeral in London. It's strange as I have only ever met him at funerals, my brother's and Sanya's.

Then out of the blue I received two very touching emails from a girl called Milena, the daughter of friends of Sanya’s Mother, as well as from Sanya’s Mother, herself, Jancic. Both live in Belgrade, Sanya’s former hometown. The content of their messages has remained in my head and heart most of the week. In a way it was like being in touch with Sanya, or at least being in touch with “her world”, the world I didn’t know, which brought me some comfort. Truth to say I am still grieving for her. God bless you darling Sanya.

News from Switzerland (or is it France?) came from Andrew, a friend from our past who, I take it, is an avid reader of my blog. Andrew I still have to answer your email, but yes, of course you are welcome to stay in December.

News from Helsinki, was, of course, from my darling friend Anne, my ex boss and colleague but also a sort of surrogate sister cum daughter cum fellow soul. I am desperately in need of a visit from her soon. When are you coming my dear??

Meanwhile life at home took a bit of a lift this week after all the recent spate of bad luck. At least my spirits are now on their way up.

The post should really have started with a mention of our dinner last Saturday evening with old Motorola (old as in past, as my friends are not yet “old”, ha, ha, ha) colleagues, Gustavo and Susana and Marian and her new partner, Ovi. Susana booked a little place they know and which seems to be marketed only by word of mouth. It’s called Jiménez and is actually in the former railway station in Majadahonda. The cuisine was exquisite, the place very cosy but the portions, to quote Eladio “a bit mean”.
Dinner at Jiménez with Susana, Gustavo, Marian and Ovi.
Gustavo and Susana are literally immersed in bringing up their two small children and Susana, who is one of the most practical and intelligent women I know, seems quite happy to be a housewife and opt out of the corporate world. She has learned to play the piano in two years and I am sure she is by now an excellent pianist.

Marian, another practical and enterprising woman , I must say, has set up her own business, called Team Assistant which offers virtual secretarial and administrative assistance to companies and seems to be flourishing. I must say I admire her as she did this from scratch after the company she was working for went bankrupt and also as a single Mother with two small children and a mortgage! It was good to see her doing so well and in love again too!!

That was Saturday and on Sunday we dedicated the day to the family. You know, household chores, a lovely Sunday lunch with all 5 of us around the table which always makes me content and then the 4 of us went out to the cinema. It’s my recent tactic to do things with the girls. Otherwise they seem to lead their own lives and we do too and I often feel I have to make the effort to do things together as a family.
Me cooking for the family last Sunday
The girls in the kitchen helping with the finishing touches for Sunday lunch.
We went to see a superb film called
Children of Huang Shi about an Englishman called George Hogg and his adventures in China in the 1930’s during the Japanese invasion. It’s a film worth watching with all the ingredients I love, such as adventure, children, love and war as well as an exotic foreign country as the back drop.

The photo illustrating this week's post is of Suzy during her work placement. This week, she finished her stint with the Instituto del Frío a research institute mainly dedicated to science and food technology which is her speciality. She had been working there for 2 months as part of her (never ending) University Degree in this subject. The pictures of her are great in a lab with the lab coat and rubber gloves pouring some liquid into a sort of test tube. I heard at one stage that she had been measuring the fat in some sausages!!!

Anyway, she looks very professional as you can see from the photos and let’s hope she doesn’t read what I’ve just written about sausages as I might be in trouble!
Suzy at the Instituto del Frío
On Wednesday I had lunch with Vicente, a good journalist friend and I think the lunch did us both a lot of good. Over steak at De María in Majadahonda, we reminisced about the past and our trips together when I was with Motorola and Nokia as well as the state of the media in Spain today; not too buoyant I’m afraid.

On the work front, the week has been quiet. The press is very low key at the moment and I spent most of the time on preparations for Christmas activities, which, of course, if they are to have my “stamp” must be even more creative than last year. I don’t need my boss or anyone to set me the challenge as I generally set my own!

As I write here this Saturday evening, the weekend seems to be going quietly. The girls are not at home; they are out on the tiles in the centre of Madrid and even “abandoned” us for lunch. But we have our own social life so I can’t complain.

Last night we went out with Pedro (of cycling fame) and Ludy and their friend, Enrique, a notary, that most distinguished of Spanish professions. Fátima, my best friend, had joined us on other occasions and I think I secretly had hoped Cupid might have done his job to bring them together. But that was not to be as when we arrived at the Indian restaurant, Annapurna, there was Enrique sitting at the table waiting for us with a beautiful and perfectly groomed young looking woman called Lola. It soon became apparent that they were more than friends. The evening went well, the conversation was fluid and fun and the food, as ever, superb. Not for nothing is the place called “Annapurna” which apparently means “food of the Gods” or so the restaurant website says. I thought it was just the name of a mountain.

Dinner at Annapurna
And now I must stop writing as Eladio and I are off to the cinema again, this time to see a new Spanish film called La Buena Nueva
set in the Spanish civil war which again has some of our favourite ingredients: love, religion and war and sounds very promising.

Just before I end, I must say happy birthday to my dear friend Juana over the ocean in Mexico. !Felicidades Juana! She tells me her birthday present is 4 days in the “Riviera Maya” which must mean the crisis has not yet reached Mexico.

Or maybe it has as I am sure Mexico is at the Financial Summit today in Washington. As I write it must be nearly finishing. The credit crunch is certainly making its mark here in Spain and today the papers say that Europe is now officially in recession. Let’s see if anything good comes out of Washington today and in the months to follow in all the committees the summit will form.

Cheers till next time

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Remember, remember the 5th of November and so to London with a heavy heart, but young again. Good bits and bad and other stuff, of course.

St. Silas Church in Kentish Town where the funeral took place.
Hi again,

This week was mostly taken up with my trip to London for dear Sanya’s funeral and it's going to be long as there is an awful lot to write about. Sanya was my sister-in-law, the wife of my only and late brother George. She was found dead in her flat on 14th October and I just had to be there for her.

Monday was a bit of a let down as my 2 best friends forgot their lunch appointment with me. I was already a bit down so that didn’t help.

The trip from Tuesday to Thursday was going to be difficult and I was going on my own but I was going back to my country which I don’t do very often so there were going to be good bits about this trip too.

I was going to stay at my niece Sara’s flat round the corner from Marble Arch – what a great location – and she was there to welcome me with open arms as I arrived on Tuesday evening. She showed me round her lovely little pad which she shares with Sibil, her extrovert and lively German Turkish flatmate who works for G+J in London but apparently does most of it at parties!! These two girls brought me back my youth and for two days I felt a bit like them at times, independent and with London at my feet.

Well it is a great city which I have never lived in and only ever pass through but if you think about it, it’s the capital of the world in very many ways, not least because of its melting pot population. I was therefore determined to make the best of this difficult trip and most of that was thanks to Sarita.

On the first night I took Sara out to dinner and as I didn't know the area she showed me a street (James Street) with restaurants from at least 10 countries. We settled for a Turkish place she had been to before called Grand Bazaar where the wine was awful but the food was superb. It was very cosy and decorated with Turkish lamps and quite authentic.
Sara and I outside the Grand Bazaar restaurant.
Sanya’s funeral was to take place the next day, an important day in English life, the 5th November being Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire night as it is often called, but it also turned out to be an important day in world history; the day the first black man was elected President of the United States. Yes, Barack Hussein Obama had won the elections the day before and London was brimming with the news.

The funeral was taking place at 11.30 at St. Silas Church in Kentish Town. Of course I used public transport and picked up an Oyster Card, recommended by my cost conscious niece for discount travelling in London. It was raining and I wanted to get to the church early to talk to Father G but I also had to find some flowers. I was not in luck as I left Chalk Farm Underground station and went from one Asian-run off licence to another. Some had flowers but none were good enough for Sanya. So I walked down the burka lined street off Haverstock Hill and finally found a Sainsbury’s where I got an ok only looking bunch of flowers. There was no way you could remove the label though so they had to be placed the wrong side up at Church and you couldn’t even see them. I felt so bad about that!!

I arrived at the church which was a typical early 20th century structure and rather grim looking at least from the outside. And there on the entrance was a poster announcing Sanya’s funeral. Father G certainly had certainly made a great effort.
Notice on the church door
And there he was inside the church as I walked in, laying the finishing touches on all the preparations for a full blown Church of England funeral. And full blown it was and very traditional too but I'm not too sure about the C of E part. St. Silas is officially C of E but is very obviously High Church judging by many of the things I saw and heard, not least the vocabulary as they talked about “mass” rather than “service” and “priest” or “Father” rather than “Vicar”. What was also rather telling was the inclusion of the very Catholic prayer, “Hail Mary” which I recognised from my Catholic school days. Don't think I mind at all, which I don't, these are just curious observations.

Father G was a treat to meet. He must be in his 60’s and is a dedicated clergyman who makes you feel very welcome. I can see what attracted Sanya to him and am extremely grateful for how he cared for her when she was alive and how he went all out to put on a very good funeral for her.

He wears the traditional vestments, including the old fashioned round clergy hat, yet he is also a man of his times. I mean he uses e-mail and looks very practical.

The funeral seemed old fashioned but was very special. It was also somber and solemn, very intense but not dismal like the Orthodox funerals for my Mother and my Brother. Father G was definitely dressed for the occasion with his black and silver funeral vestments. The same material was used to cover the coffin which was brought in by 4 professional pall bearers! Father G had printed a small order of the day for us all to follow which was another sign of how well he had prepared the funeral.

The small sprinkling of attendants emphasised the church’s big size. On one side were a few people from the congregation, including “Win”, the lady church warden who had been Sanya’s friend and “Lucas”, a “spaced out” and ungroomed middle aged bloke who I knew to be Sanya’s friend too. He told me he was her “new partner” and I felt terribly sorry for him.

On the other side sat Sanya’s step family. I sat next to her step mother, Mira, a good looking Bosnian woman who lives in London and her son and Sanya’s step brother, Mladen who lives in Zagreb but frequently visited Sanya in London. He told me strickenly how he had tried to contact her at the end of September unsuccessfully. They were joined by 4 of Mira’s Bosnian friends who seemed very kind ladies.

The funeral included communion and here I had an inner debate with myself. I hadn’t taken communion for about 30 years and finally decided I should do so for Sanya and for me, I suppose. I made the faux pas of going up to the altar as I used to when I went to church in England and the famous Brandon Jackson was my vicar. Embarrassedly I had to walk down again to the first pew to receive Holy Communion. Suffice it to say it was an emotional moment.

The coffin was sprinkled with holy water and with incense and then left the church in a cortege carried by the pall bearers with Father G in front. We all followed behind and outside there was a big black funeral car for the coffin and two similar big black limousines to carry us to the cemetery in East Finchley. Father G and the pall bearers walked ahead of the cortege and the cars followed at a snails pace for a few hundred yards until they got in and the engines were turned on and the cortege drove off to cemetery which all seemed quite Dickensian to me or so I thought.

I went in the car with Win and Lucas and Lucas’ care nurse and we went past opulent London houses in places like Bishop’s Avenue and the contrast was bizarre. It was very much a repeat experience of when we took my Brother George’s coffin to the cemetery because Sanya was to be buried in the plot next to him.

When we arrived I saw David. David was Sanya and George’s friend and had been my brother’s best man at their wedding. I hadn’t seen him at the funeral and was worried he didn’t know about it. When I used to visit Sanya I would also visit David and the 3 of us would spend time together. I used to take them flowers, chocolates and cigarettes and I always knew I had made their day. David is a man with many problems, mental and other, including gambling and the poor chap is very unkempt. Every time I see him I feel like taking him to the baths and then buying him a new set of clothes. He needs both desperately but neither seem possible in the life he leads, that is, if you can call it a life! I was very pleased to see him as I am extremely fond of him.

The cemetery threw me emotionally. Seeing the tombstone on my brother’s grave made me break down. I didn’t listen to the priest’s words, just kept looking at my brother’s name in gold letters, “George Lloyd” and the inscription, “In loving memory of George Lloyd, who died on 15th May 2001, aged 46, beloved husband of Sanja”. Amazingly Sanya was also 46 on the day she died as Mladin pointed out. We threw white roses and earth on her coffin and Mladin and I put some of the flowers on George’s grave too.
George and Sanya's graves at East Finchley Cemetery

Sadly we all left and went back to the church in the same cortege. This time David came with me. I must admit that between him and Lucas the sleek and luxurious jaguar began to reek of unclean bodily skin which I was actually to put up with for the next few hours.
David Waring
We couldn’t part without a “send off” which is a very typical way to end funerals in England. So I suggested a cup of tea at the Church Hall and both Father G and Win thought that was a good idea. Being in that church hall, making the tea with Win and laying the table took me back to my days of Sunday school and Guides when I was a child in England. Making the tea for Sanya’s Bosnian step family and David who kept asking them all to repeat their foreign names was a funny experience. We all sat round a small square Sunday school table for children in the middle of a big room next to the church with children’s drawings on the wall and we all had English tea and biscuits and tried to make polite conversation.

When the family left, Win, David and I stayed on chatting. David was in obvious need of company and asked me how long I had. I said, “for you David, one hour”. In the end I think I was there for nearly 3 during which we talked about George, about Sanya, about God and about mundane things in life. There I promised to be David’s friend and to write to both him and Win. When we were leaving, he said: “I don’t just want a Christmas card, I want a 3 or 4 page letter”. Now I have to keep to my promise!
Dear Win, the Church Warden and Sanya's friend.
David took me all the way back to Marble Arch, he was such a gentleman. I felt sad to leave him. He actually told me, “you cheer me up” which was very special to hear. Dear David, I will write to you and I won’t forget you, I promise.

As I parted with a heavy heart from David at Marble Arch, I came back to my world and decidedly needed some comforting activity. So what better than an hour or so in Marks and Spencers before Sarita came back from work?

Marks and Spencers certainly brought me back to my world of consumer goods and earthly things and I acquired a lovely winter coat and an assortment of Mark’s best underwear, creams and potions.

Sara and I decided we wanted an Indian meal this time and after a bit of a search, came across a great little place called Rajdoot restaurant in Paddington Street. The onion bajis, the chicken tikka masala and lamb korma were superb. We walked home through typical London streets and laughed at a sign outside on some gardens which boasted having “the best loo of the year”!

Once at home, we both connected to our computers and Sara spoke to her parents, José Antonio (Eladio’s beloved brother) and Dolores on Skype. 

I wasn’t leaving for Madrid until Thursday afternoon so decided to visit a museum, instead of spending money, before I left. I thought of going to the Victoria and Albert Museum or the Natural History and Natural Science museums but suddenly remembered that I had a debt with my Mother to visit

The Wallace Collection. My Mother had lived in London in the 40’s when she came to England as a war refugee and before she was married to my Father, of course. She always told me the Wallace Collection was her favourite museum. It turned out to be a stone’s throw from Sarita’s flat. My Mother’s judgement was not wrong. The Wallace Collection is supposedly “the finest collection of art ever assembled by one family. Five generations of collectors, four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, each made their special contribution". The collection is housed in the family home of Hertford House, a magnificent building in itself, in Manchester Place. The “collection” comprises artefacts of all sorts; furniture and paintings. Amazingly they include Velazquez’s, Murillo’s, Titians as well as a portrait made world famous by a chocolate company, the Laughing Cavailer by Hals.
Hertford House, the home of the Wallace Collection.

Too soon my time was up and I had to go back to the flat to pick up my things and take my suitcase and laptop down the steep British stairs to the street and so by foot to Park Lane to catch the number 73 bus to Victoria Station. There I cashed in my Oyster card and made a quick foray into Smith’s to get some chocolates for my Father and some very British Christmas cards.

As I made my way through the station to the Gatwick Express platform I went past the omnipresent Poppy Appeal stall. In England in the month of November poppies are sold everywhere to make money for the British Legion which looks after army families and are worn in rememberance of the fallen in the "Great War" which is actually the First World War. It was so quaint, I just had to take a picture. The 4 gentlemen were very representative and I gave them my remaining British coins and got 5 paper poppies in exchange to take back home for the family. If all of England were wearing poppies, my Father and I and my family were not to be less. Of course, no one in Spain will understand but that is to be expected.
The Poppy Appeal stand at Victoria Station
Eladio was at the airport to greet me and bring me home to my real world. Home for me is always “home sweet home” wherever I have been so it was good to be back.

I think I am still under the impression of Sanya’s death and the experience of the funeral and all it entailed. I will need some time to feel normal again. Family and work life of course will contribute to that happening.

Home again, was another story of a problem car. The old Lancia had broken down, so now from 4 cars we are down to 2 which is a bit of a problem when you live far out like we do. This week coming up will be challenging.

Friday was spent catching up with my work and also meeting my friend Elena for our monthly chat. This time she was cheering me up rather than her!

Tonight we will be going out to dinner with ex Motorola friends, Susana and Gustavo and Marian and her new partner. No doubt we will talk about the news of Motorola Spain laying off 30% of its workforce this last week as that includes some of our friends. We are going to a new place called Jiménez in Majadahonda. But more about that in my next post.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

A week of good news and bad

José Antonio, me and Miguel on the walk in the snow in Montrondo on Saturday morning..
Hello again

I have just written the post on Sanya’s story, this week’s really bad news and which deserved a post in its own right. I could hardly tell poor dear Sanya’s story as just something else that happened this week. I won’t go in to that as you can read it below. But will move on to the other things that happened this week.

Tuesday was sort of Black Tuesday because of Sanya’s news. But that day also the majority shareholder of my company announced it might be selling our company off. I had to deal with that with the press and will continue to do so as the story will not go away which is certainly not my favourite sort of PR. That one sentence felt like a jug of cold water over my work of the past 2 years.

But Tuesday was not all black as that day I spoke and heard the voice of one of my favourite colleagues of all times, Joao MD. Joao was the country manager in Portugal at Motorola and we worked very closely together in the mid 90’s. He later left to work for the American owned operator, Telecel which later became Vodafone. We kept in touch for a while but the years went by and I stopped going to Lisbon with my new jobs and so “lost” Joao. I tried to find him on Facebook and LinkedIn but, surprisingly, he wasn’t there. I found him through Fátima on Tuesday who was at the Penha Longa Hotel for some company gathering and Joao was there. It was from there that they rang me and I heard Joao’s voice. It was quite emotional to hear him and also to think he was calling from the very place where we had launched the StarTac some years ago together. I will never forget bringing a puma (real live animal) from Spain in a van for that event and what an adventure that was in itself. Remember Joao??? (I'm editing this this Monday morning as I remembered later that Joao had actually left Motorola when that event took place but he came as our star guest so he will remember everything, including the puma!

Other things that happened this week, was lunch with Santi at La Albufera and lunch with Juan and Susana at Aspen. Santi was fine, happy to have to have moved into his new flat and working on Christmas stuff for me which looks very promising. Juan and Susana were looking good. They worked on my account at the previous PR agency and are two of the best account executives I have ever come across. I still miss them which is why we make the effort to meet regularly.

Wednesday was a special day as it was Marguerite’s 100th birthday. Marguerite was our neighbour in England, at 5 Heaton Grove. When my parents moved to 6 Heaton Grove in the mid 60’s, the Wrights had been there already for many years. Mr. Wright died when I was quite young, during the miners’ strike in the 70’s and after that Susan, the daughter, and Marguerite carried on living there and still do today. They were very good neighbours, specially when my Father became a widower. Daddy and I sent Marguerite some flowers and we rang her on Wednesday. It seemed she had a big family party going and sounded very happy. I asked her what it felt like to be 100 and she said “just the same my dear”.
Mrs. Wright as she was in May when I went to see her during the St. Joseph's College reunion.
Wednesday was also my sister-in-law, Yoli’s birthday. We were able to celebrate it all together this Saturday in Montrondo when the family gathered together for All Saints’ day in the family village. Yoli, by the way, is Isidro’s wife, Isidro being Eladio’s youngest brother.

Friday was Halloween. The girls plan their Halloween celebration with great care and detail and I am sure you will agree when you see how they looked this year.

We did not celebrate Halloween as such, but did celebrate All Saints’ day and All Souls’ day by going to Montrondo to be with the family and take flowers to the “abuelo’s” grave. We were not able to take my Father as he is still recovering from the operation from his foot. Fortunately as I write upon our return today on Sunday he seems to have taken a turn for the better.

The trip to Montrondo for me was a tonic to get over the recent bad news and it certainly did me some good. Eladio and I drove out on Friday to join José Antonio, his beloved brother, and Miguel, my beloved nephew, at their new house next to the main family house. It rained all the way and the journey was broken with a stop for lunch at the Parador in Tordesillas.

We arrived in Montrondo late on Friday afternoon to a temperature of 0ºC. That did not stop us venturing out and walking to Murias and back in the cold and dark. We needed to work up an appetite for dinner and move our legs after the car trip. I enjoyed cooking for those 3 lovely men and we had a great meal of tortilla, jamón and salad washed down by one of the bottles of wine from my new collection.

The next morning we woke up to snow. The village was covered in white and I sincerely hoped we would be snow bound and imagined being rescued by a helicopter and coming out on the news. But that was not to be as the snow soon melted. The rest of the family were coming for lunch so there was just time to cook lentils on the Aga and go for a 2 hour walk up the mountains to the “Abedular” plain and back before the family arrived.

Waking up to snow in Montrondo on Saturday was pure joy!
Miguel, Eladio and José Antonio having breakfast on Saturday morning.

It was during lunch that the good news of the week was announced. It was unexpected too. There we were, Eladio and his 2 sisters and 3 brothers, their partners, his Mother and a sprinkling of the older generation of nieces and nephews (Roberto, Ana, Marta, Fernando and Miguel) when suddenly we heard that Ana was pregnant (Ana is the wife of Roberto who is the son of Adela who is the sister of Eladio). Adela was sitting in front of me and saying “this is first time I am hearing this” which I found quite amazing. Suddenly she was going to be a Grand Mother!!! The whole moment was quite emotional and extremely happy too. Congratulations Roberto and Ana and Adela and Primo, long live the Freijo family.
The happy couple, Roberto and Ana
So from thinking about a future member of the family, we went on to thinking about a past one, of Antonio, Eladio’s Father who died in 2005. It is Antonio who always reunites us and reunite us he did once again on Saturday as we all walked together after lunch to the cemetery in Montrondo to place 6 red roses, one from each son and daughter, on his grave.
Some of the family on our way to the cemetery on Saturday
We found other people tending graves there as we knew to be happening all over graves in Spain that day. If you have seen that marvellous film, Volver, by Almodóvar, you will know what I mean.
The cemetery on Saturday in Montrondo.
Antonio's grave with the 6 red roses
Soon the family left as it was dark and beginning to snow. Despite the weather, once again, the 3 men and I ventured out and walked to Murias and back to stretch our legs and work up an appetite for a cosy dinner round the table in Toño’s kitchen.

You can see the full collection of the photos of our trip this weekend to Montrondo here on Facebook.

And all too soon the weekend was over and we were packing and leaving for Madrid again. The tonic worked its trick and we have come back in a more refreshed state of mind.

This week will be tough because of the funeral but now, perhaps, I am more ready to cope with it. I will be staying with Sarita (guapa), my niece and Miguel’s sister, at her place in Marble Arch. I look forward to time with her and of course, time at Marks and Spencers. But that story will have to wait till next week as it hasn’t been written yet.


A call from the police in London. Sanya’s story.

Sanya and George on their wedding day in February 1999.

Lately I feel as though I have been a bit out of luck. It all started with Susana’s accident nearly 2 weeks ago. I’ve had my share of bad luck, of course, but I know myself for a being a very fortunate person with all the important things in life in place, my family, my home, my friends and my job.

Tuesday last week topped it all. It was a grey and wet day and there had been some not very good news at work which I had spent the whole day dealing with vs a vs the press and was feeling rather down and stressed. It was getting dark and I was going to go for my daily walk when the phone rang and the caller was anonymous. The person calling was Julia and she was a policewoman from London.

Why would a policewoman from London call me you may wonder? I knew immediately and shuddered at the thought. I knew she was calling about Sanya.

Sanya was the wife of my dear brother George. Sanya was a lovely sad and cultured girl from Belgrade. They met some 10 years ago in a residence in London for people with difficulties such as depression or mental illnesses. They got married very quietly and on their own and in fact the first time I met Sanya was at my Mother’s funeral in October 1999. Sanya adored my brother and their love was beautiful and true. George fell ill very shortly after that with melanoma, that most deadly of cancers and died on 15th May 2001. After that Sanya found she had very little to live for.
George and I in 1976, what a handsome boy he was.
When I worked for Nokia I went to London on many occasions and was able to visit her. Those visits were very intense. I used to go and see her at Haverstock Hill in Belsize Park at the residence and would spend hours talking to her and very often hugging her and loving her. Sanya had virtually no friends and I knew just how much she needed a bit of love. I tried to invite her to Madrid but she couldn’t travel. Unfortunately with my new job I never went to London so hadn’t seen her since 2005. It was difficult to keep in touch because she lived in her own little world and didn’t make much use of the new technologies. Even so and probably to make me feel better, more than her, I would send her a card and present at Christmas. Once she wrote back and I am now desperately looking for that letter. Whilst my Father lived in England, up until 2005, he would visit her once a month from Bradford and together they would visit George’s grave.

So when the policewoman called on Tuesday I knew it was about Sanya. Julia told me the shocking story of her death. She had been found dead in her flat in London on 17th October. The cause it seems was natural but awful because it was malnutrition and pneumonia. How, I ask myself, is that possible in London in 2008?

Later I heard that Sanya did have friends in her new flat in Burmarsh in North London, somewhere near Chalk Farm. I had been worried for her because I knew that she had to move out of the residence and was dreading it as she did not want to live on her own.

She was quite religious and started visiting the church nearby called St. Silas and it seems that this is where her new life picked up. The Vicar of St. Silas, Father G, whom I spoke to this week, befriended her and is the person taking care of all the arrangements including her funeral next week. All I can say is God bless him.

Father G told me Sanya had been going through a bad patch. Someone from his church went to visit her on 14th October but there was no answer. When they went back on 17th October, they found her dead.

I am, of course, going to go the funeral. There is something inside me making me go and I know I have to do this for Sanya and for myself. Sanya will be buried in the plot next to George in East Finchley Cemetery.

Darling Sanya, I cannot forgive myself for not having kept more in touch, for not having tried to take more care of you. Darling Sanya, thank you for loving my dear poor brother and thank you for looking after him during his terrible illness. Darling Sanya, I know the awful life you had and all I can say now my dearest is rest in peace and that you will be forever in my thoughts.

Goodbye my darling, goodbye.