Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lots of things happened, Tiger balm and Chinese tapestry. It was Oli’s birthday and we went to Montrondo again.

José Antonio and Eladio cutting the grass the old fashioned way with a scythe this weekend in Montrondo.
Hi again

It’s Tuesday and I’m late with my blog but I have an excuse as we went to Montrondo this weekend. Everytime I write my blog I do a sort of summary or list of things to include and this week there are lots, more than usual it seems.

The week was very social and was full of birthdays and a communion as well as a memorial funeral. Even a baby was born, no not mine (hahaha). So let me begin.

On Monday I had lunch with Julio and Fátima to celebrate Julio’s birthday. As usual he got something from Lacoste, this time a bathing costume (well that request came with the lunch invitation actually).

On Tuesday I had lunch with Jill who had just returned from India and had brought me some of that marvellous tiger balm. We had a good old gossip over a lovely lunch at De María in Majadahonda.

On Wednesday I had lunch with Lisa, my Chinese friend who used to appear on the TV chat programme with me and Jill until it ended in December. I must say I find it culturally enriching to know Lisa. I could nearly be her Mother but when there is chemistry age does not matter. She later sent me a lovely piece of Chinese tapestry she had bought for me in China. Thanks Lisa.
Lisa and I in one of our TV "appearances"
On Thursday Tomy was born to Ana and Tomy although we didn’t hear about it until the next day. Little Tomy came one month early but all went well. I sent a baby hamper to the hospital on behalf of Jill, Susana, Zenaida, Fátima and myself as we were not able to go and see the baby. I hope to soon though. Congratulations from here to this lovely family.

And Friday was Oli’s 24th birthday which began with a lovely family breakfast where we gave her our presents. We also used our great new Saeco automatic coffee machine which makes superb gourmet cappuccinos, or expressos or whatever you want.
Our new coffee machine.
Suzy and Oli and her friend Ana spent most of the day cooking for a party to be held at home in the evening. Lunch was again a family affair and here is the photo to officially record Oli’s birthday. The cake was her favourite, raspberry mille-feuille from Mallorca cake makers. With the cake I bought a “singing candle”. It’s amazing the things there are these days for parties.

Whilst the party was beginning, Eladio and I made a quick and quiet exit and drove to Majadahondo to have dinner with Roberto and Mari Carmen at Mood. Just as we were going for a stroll after dinner it began to rain and the heat wave we had been experiencing came to its end. By the time we got home there was a full storm and Oli’s party, I’m afraid, came to an abrupt end.

On Saturday morning, Eladio, my Father and I left for Montrondo for the annual memorial mass to commemorate the passing away of Eladio’s father Antonio who died on 20th May 2005. Every year we meet in Montrondo on a weekend around that date and it is Antonio who, from wherever he is, continues to unite us all. (This was my entry last year).

The girls couldn’t come. Oli had another big birthday party at home again but this time for her work colleagues. Suzy had to go to a wedding of her boyfriend Gaby’s cousin, in Cádiz as you can see from one of the photos she gave me.
Suzy and Gaby at the wedding this weekend.
The trip to Montrondo was much like all trips there. We stopped off at the Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on the way which has become obligatory on all trips to León. It’s obligatory as it’s too good not to stop at. It is a “bodega” which apart from selling the best white wine in the world also sells lovely local products and serves fantastic ham and cold cuts.

On the Saturday not everyone was there but on Sunday we were 24 at Mass and at home for lunch afterwards. It’s a pity the girls weren’t there.

Time was spent making meals mostly but there were also moments for catching up with each other’s news, congratulating Ana and Roberto on her recent pregnancy, visiting the little house Primo and family are building, mending the lawn mower (Eladio and his brothers of course), cutting the grass with a scythe like old times or going for a quick walk to nearby Murias like I did here with my sisters-in law.

(L to R) Dolores, Adela and Yoli by the "Peña de Diós" rock on the old road to Murias.
Mario took the time to practise for his driving test which was on Monday. I took a snapshot here and whilst I did I told him he would pass. He said no way but the good news came yesterday when I heard he did. First time too. Congratulations Mario

Very soon it was Sunday and after a splendid barbecue, including a birthday celebration for Primo (there you see, another birthday) we said our goodbyes and drove off. We then had to return twice, the first time to get Eladio’s glasses and the second to get our toilet bag. Then when we arrived home I realised we had also left my brush and Eladio’s mobile phone charger. Are we just scatter brained or are these the first signs of old age I ask myself?
(Here is the link to the small selection of photos I took this weekend in Montrondo).

On Saturday in Madrid it was also Fátima’s daughter, Fátima’s First Communion which we were very sorry to miss. First Communions are still important in Catholic Spain despite increasing secularism. In most cases these days they are done more out of tradition than for any religious meaning I think.

Oli was waiting for us when we got home and thank God Zena, our cleaning lady, had been there in the morning to help diminish the signs of two parties. I don’t think any of us want any more barbecues or parties for quite a while now.

Meanwhile my friend Amanda had a nasty little operation which she has come out of fine, thank goodness. And talking of friends, I have found Amanda’s old neighbour, Gill, née Eastwood on Facebook. Jacky and Gill lived in a house which bordered the end of Amanda’s garden and they were my friends once removed so to speak. We have been corresponding these last few days catching up on 30 odd years in just a few lines. Facebook is great!

And so is Spotify. I mentioned that in my previous post. Well now I know it is available (the free version at least) in Spain, UK, France, Norway, Finland and Sweden. And for those of you who live in those countries and haven’t yet got an invitation, you can register without one here. This link is not at all publicised and was quite a find, so join up if you haven’t and spread the word. It is quite amazing – free music, nearly any type on your computer whenever you want.

Amazing too was the Spanish blogger granny, María Amelia who died this week. If you haven’t heard of her, here is her blog. She was until very recently the oldest blogger on internet and quite a personality I gather.

Another amazing woman is Susan Boyle (who needs no introductions). The news about her this week is that she has got through to the Finals of Britain’s Got Talent with this performance. I really hope she wins.
Susan Boyle, a singing phenomenon from Scotland
The week has been so full of events I have hardly had time to follow the news. Soon, though, it will be the European Parliament elections, next week in fact. Yesterday there was a big debate on Spanish TVE with the top candidates from the Socialist and Right Wing (Partido Popular) party. And my little daughter Oli was there at the studios covering the event for the RTVE website. Her task was to write about the behind the scenes and how the candidates looked and behaved. And this is what she wrote.

And now I must stop writing because I still have to publish this, add the photos, edit the content and add the links and Eladio keeps coming in and out giving me signals that he wants to go for our daily walk.

Till next week, enjoy this one.

Cheers Masha

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A peaceful Sunday afternoon, a time to remember George, reunion with the González-Gálvez family, Spotify, Norway wins the ESC and other things

George and I in the mid to late 70's in Norwich. This is one of the best photos I have of us together.
Hi again

Well the Emma Bridgewater pottery arrived and here I am drinking a cup of tea out of the polka dot mug and writing my blog this sunny Sunday afternoon by the pool with Norah lying at my feet. A peaceful scene indeed! My Father is listening to Lale Anderson, of Lili Marleen fame, on his new music centre in his room downstairs and Eladio is planting more hydrangeas. Olivia will be writing news on www.rtve.com as she has to work from 17h to midnight this weekend and Suzy is somewhere with her boyfriend Gaby whilst she should be here studying for her June exams otherwise who knows when she will graduate.

The week was short as Friday was a holiday. However it was intense and I was in the office more than usual this week. I hate going there early in the morning as the traffic is horrible. Last Tuesday I got bored and took a photo to prove it.
Traffic on the way to work. Thank God I don't have to go in every morning.
Wednesday brought with it a telecoms conference where everyone who is anyone was there. Apart from my boss’s presentation, the rest were quite sleep inducing. However it was great seeing Julio, Gonzalo, Pepe, another Gonzalo, and other familiar faces. I realised when I left that we had been stuck in a hotel from 11 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon and it came as a shock when I walked outside to see the sun we had missed all day.

Friday 15th May, San Isidro in Madrid, was a holiday. It was also Eladio’s brother, Isidro’s birthday. But for my Father and I, it was a day to mourn my brother George who died on 15th May 2001. How can you ever forget your only brother, the golden and talented boy I grew up with who, through mental illness, threw away all his talent but never lost his charm? George, what can I say that I haven’t said here before, except that we miss you and that you live on in our hearts?

Friday was a family day where we all ate together and Suzy and Oli’s friend Juli joined us. The next day we were having important visitors so Suzy and I gave Norah her bi monthly bath. You can see how it took place here on Facebook thanks to graphic assistance from Juli. Dear Norah is totally resigned to having a bath but that doesn’t mean she enjoys it bless her.
Norah in the bath, not particularly happy.
Norah would far more have enjoyed being on her daily walk where she can have lovely experiences like greeting the boxer at the top of the hill before we cross the road to the fields.
Norah making friends on the walk.
On Friday too, Eladio and I went to the cinema, this time to see Angels and Demons, the new film with Tom Hanks, based on the book by Dan Brown and of the same genre as his famous first book, The Da Vinci Code. We did enjoy it. It was technically very good. The suspense kept you glued to the screen but it is rather long and also rather far fetched but fun which I suppose is what it’s meant to be.
A scene from Angels and Demons with Tom Hanks.
Finally Saturday came, the big day as we were having important visitors and had to prepare a barbecue for 18. And who where the important visitors you will ask? They were the members of the González Gálvez family who I lived with when I was a student in Madrid 30 years ago as you can read here. We hadn’t seen each other since Gerardo, the Father, died in October 2007 and it was time for a reunion. So thanks to a chance call from Gerardo Junior last week, I made this reunion possible by inviting them all to our home for a barbecue party yesterday.
Gerardo, Irene and Lucía
And what a reunion it was. Gerardo in his big Mercedes van with leather seating and television but no sat nav, finally arrived after 30 minutes instructions on the phone from Eladio, with his brood. His brood was his lovely wife Viki, their 14 and 12 year old daughters, Viki and Lucía and three little ones, Ana aged 8 who did not separate herself from Norah from beginning to end, Gerardo Jr. Jr., the only boy, aged 5 and little Irene aged 3 with whom we all fell in love instantly. Out of the big Mercedes van also came dear Pili, the “Mother”, now aged 70, unhampered by her blindness and determined to have a great day and dear Julieta, her daughter, who despite her special needs, is just as much a part of this lovely family as all the other members.
Ana and Norah, inseparable. That child needs a dog, it's obvious.
Soon afterwards Irene, Gerardo’s sister, arrived with her tall, blonde and blue eyed husband Thomás, the childhood sweetheart she married. They brought with them their two youngest, 5 year old Nacho looking like a cherub from heaven, and Celia, 8, the prettiest and best behaved little girl you could ever imagine.

We had made badges so’s to know who was who as there were so many of us. Eladio cooked the meat on the barbecue with great help and assistance from Viki (thanks!) and the children polished off the bowls of crisps before the meat was ready but then that’s typical of kids. Norah also got good helpings of crisps although that’s not allowed. But then, yesterday was a very special day. They all wanted to see the house and as it’s so big, it was like doing mansion house tours and so we didn’t sit down to eat for ages. We all ate heartily, although, as usual we had made far too much. But then who knows how to calculate for 18?
A great moment during the barbecue reunion.
After lunch we sat round the table talking and talking and remembering my time with this wonderful family. The day passed far too quickly and I know we could have talked on into the night. But if you have small children they need their baths and bed times.
Pili enjoying the reunion barbecue
You could safely say a good time was had by all but more importantly ties were strengthened and we are all determined now to see each other more often. Here is the full set of photos of that lovely reunion which I posted on Facebook yesterday.

We have agreed to repeat the experience in September and for the 3 couples, Gerardo and Viki, Irene and Thomas and Eladio and I, to go out to dinner next month. Amazingly we will be going to Quënco, the place where Eladio and I had our wedding party. We have never been back but apparently they have many times. As the González-Gálvez family was an important part of our wedding, dinner there with them will be special. Watch out for that post.

We spent some time cleaning up after our guests left and were far too tired for a walk. Norah was tired too after playing with the children who found in her a sort of toy to be dragged round the garden. She never complained though! As we couldn’t face barbecue left overs we went to have tapas at Vinoteca in Boadilla.

Soon we were home and in bed and when we turned on the television we were in luck. The voting part of the Eurovision Song Contest had started. And that is by far the best part of the event. Norway won and I think it was this country’s first win ever as I always remember it being at the bottom of the final rankings. And at the bottom of the final ranking just ahead of Finland came Spain. How embarrassing to be last but one. The Norwegian chap, Alexander Rybak, actually of Belorussian origin, sang a lovely song called Fairytale but perhaps what captured the votes most was his cheerful fiddle playing to accompany the song. Well done Norway and well done Alexander.
Alexander Rybak playing the fiddle and singing Fairytale, the song that won the ESC for Norway this year.
Just before I finish and while we’re on the topic of music, I must mention that I am now using Spotify. If you don’t know what it is, you like music and you are not a member, visit its website and try and get a friend to invite you. It is a website with almost all the music you could ever wish for there on your pc and for free. It’s amazing.
Spotify screen shot
And that’s it for this week, except to congratulate the Barcelona Football Club on winning the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey) as well as the Spanish premiere League this week. It may well do the hat trick and win the Champions League but to do that they have to beat Manchester in the final in Rome this month. Will they or won’t they I wonder.

Hope you have a good week,


Monday, May 11, 2009

Calle de Paris, Emma Bridgewater, a visit to Santa Pola, a pig in quarantine, the Pope visits the Middle East and other stories.

Eladio at one of the fruit and vegetable stalls this weekend in Santa Pola.
Hiya again

This week has been the warmest so far this year with temperatures reaching 30º. It seems the summer is almost here where we spend almost all our time outdoors and all family meals are outside. How I love the long Spanish summers. I think the weather has also had a positive effect on our animals as this week for the very first time, Norah and Joe ate from the same bowl peacefully. Phoebe still prefers to keep her distance!
Norah eating from the cats' bowl while Joe looks on calmly
Amongst other things, I met with my friend Elena as we do nearly every month since she left Ericsson as their Communications Director. We are neighbours and roughly the same age so share many common interests. Of note this week she told me about a musical group called Calle de Paris who are actually a brother and sister duo who are her sons’ friends and not a street in Paris as you may have thought. Patricia and Paul, of part French origin, compose their own songs, play and sing and very recently have become number 8 on the Spanish Cuarenta Principales chart. I love their music and thought you might like to listen to them too. They are as yet quite unknown so any ideas as to how to promote and help them would be very welcome.
The Calle de Paris duo, Paul and Patricia.
Emma Bridgewater is not another friend of mine as some of you may have thought. No, she is the designer of lovely English pottery I spotted at my friend Amanda’s house when she served me tea in one of her mugs. The word “spotted” is actually quite appropriate as her most famous design and the one I like best is “polka dot”. Thanks to Amanda again, I found the supplier on Amazon.com and have now ordered a set of baby mugs. I will be starting a small collection whereby each month I collect a few items and thus will have something nice to look forward to in the post apart from bills.
Some of Emma Bridgewater's pottery.
As the weather was good we, as in my two men and I, decided to spend the weekend in our pad by the beach in Santa Pola. We also wanted to check on how the refurbishing was going and to see that everything was ok after Oli’s visit recently.
Refurbishing at our block of apartments in Santa Pola. The progress is so slow.
Unfortunately the temperatures dropped everywhere in Spain this weekend, but that didn’t stop us enjoying long and brisk walks on our beach as you can see in this lovely photo of us. Eladio was taking photos of me when a lovely Icelandic girl offered to take one of both of us. And this is the result. Not bad, as my friend Anne said on Facebook, after 25 years of marriage. No, not bad at all.
Eladio and I on the beach at Santa Pola
We decided not to do much cooking and this time discovered a great fish and chip shop in the Urbanization where we have our flat. A fantastic couple from Glasgow have a “chippy" called Darby’s which is so authentic you could be in Leeds which is actually where they imported the machinery from. I was very impressed and asked permission to take this photo especially for my blog. The fish and chips were out of this world, so much so we repeated the second day and will be going back for more in the summer.
Darby's "Chippy" in Santa Pola, just like the real thing.
On Saturday morning Eladio and I went to the market in Santa Pola to stock up on great local fruit and vegetables which taste so much better than supermarket produce as they mostly come from private orchards.

Very soon it was Sunday and there we were once again, cleaning up and packing to go home. The worst thing about owning a second home on the beach or wherever are the preparations which you don’t have to do if you go to a hotel. We stopped for lunch at the Parador in Albacete which was full of First Communion parties as is typical in the month of May in Spain. However the treat was still nice.

Then it was home again and more clearing up or cleaning after the girls’ multiple parties or soirées despite our cleaner Zena having been here on Saturday morning. It’s always great, though, to come home from wherever you have been and yesterday was no exception.

And now I must move on to my new news section. So what caught my attention this time? I must admit my main sources are the online versions of The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, the good old BBC, the New York Times , The Times, of London, of course and the never allowed to read at home when I was a child, scandalous paper, the famous Sun. Often these “papers” have great sections called “weird” which I love to browse through. Funnily enough it is these pieces of news that you then see in the “most read sections”. Often I am alerted to news too through links from friends on Facebook. Latterly and not just out of family loyalty I also use RTVE.es where Oli writes as my best Spanish source of information.

Perhaps the weirdest piece of news for me was finding out that there is one pig only in Afghanistan and that it is kept in a zoo! Owing to swine flu and although there is little evidence that the disease passes from pigs to humans, this poor singular pig is being subjected to quarantine.
It can't be nice to be the only pig in Afghanistan so being put into quarantine hardly makes sense!
If that was the weirdest, the worst was the news of a massacre of 45 people at a Turkish wedding in the Kurdish south east, probably caused by a blood feud between families.
Family feuds are awful but even worse in places like Kurdistan where they can end in a massacre like this
On a funnier note, poor Gordon Brown, the UK premiere, who is already in trouble for financial scandals and decreasing rapidly in popularity, had another media headache this week when his make up secrets were left in a taxi by someone from his advisory staff. The British press, who are notorious for making or breaking any personality they choose, are having a field day with Gordon Brown. The picture they used here to illustrate the story is a perfect example of classic British media personality assassination. I imagine he had no make up on him when this photo was taken!
Not a good photo of Gordon Brown which is precisely why the British press have used it to illustrate the lost make up tips document issue.
Of political interest, here in Spain, the socialist Paxti López was sworn in as head of the Basque local Government and will govern together with the PP, Spain’s right wing opposition party. The news here is not only that they will govern in a coalition but that they have taken over from the Basque nationalists after 30 years of sole rule.
Patxi López, the new leader of the Basque government
Also this week the Pope Benedict XVI visited Jordan in his first visit to the Middle East. Today he is in Israel to visit the Holy Land and later he will go to the West Bank. The BBC sums this visit up as his “facing a combustible cocktail of issues combining relations between the world's three main monotheistic religions, one of the world's most intractable political conflicts and the legacy of the Holocaust”. I wonder if that will ever change and I suppose this visit will not even crack the ice of the issues this area faces.
The Pope who will be praying for peace in his visit to the Middle East.
On a lighter note I move on to sports, the “opium of people” but actually something which generally unites us all far more than religion, except for sporadic episodes of violent football. So yes, this week, Spain got a place in the Champions League final to be played in Rome this month. Barcelona (I say it’s Spain!) beat Chelsea at the last minute and will be playing Manchester in the final. So who do I want to win if I am English yet have lived in Spain for “donkey’s years” (excuse the pun!)? I’m actually divided and don’t really mind. So if I am English and like fair play, my answer should be: “may the best team win”.

Finally this week Madrid was visited by the Olympic Committee to evaluate it’s candidacy for the 2016 Olympic Games. Here Madrid is competing with the likes of Tokyo and Chicago. Madrid was beaten by London in the last election and may well be outclassed again, probably by Chicago, the home town of the ever more popular Barack Obama. The good news at least is that the Committee dictated that Madrid was as apt as the other candidate cities to host the games. We won’t know however until September which seems a long time to wait.
And as I end this post, I wonder what the title for my next week’s entry will be. Well, like the Madrid candidacy, we will have to wait and see.

Till next week
Cheers Masha

Sunday, May 03, 2009

1st May bank holiday at home, Vappu, more swine flu, Obama’s 100th day in office, sex on the Queen's lawn, a woman Poet Laureate and other things.

Fancy having sex on the Queen's lawn at Windsor Castle!

This week has been good. I got a new car, a great big 4wd and am very proud that I took to driving automatic within a few minutes despite my hesitations. The week was short too as Friday 1st, being international Labour Day, or rather “San José el Labrador” here, was a holiday. The night before, Eladio and I went to dinner to Mood’s, to use up some of the 20 or so free vouchers I suddenly received from my VIPs membership club this week too. It must have been my lucky week.

On Friday as I wrote in my last post, we celebrated my Father’s 90th birthday. Afterwards the girls went off, Suzy to Cádiz with her boyfriend Gaby and Oli to our place in Santa Pola with her friend Miad. Just the three “oldies” were left.

Determined to enjoy our bank holiday alone, on Friday evening we went to see the film, The Young Victoria by Martin Scorsese. It was a truly gorgeous film and I loved it. However the current Queen was not too happy with some of the inaccuracies, such as the attempt on Prince Edward’s life which apparently never happened and the fact that the costumes were “too German”.

Our Bank holiday was quiet, spent enjoying the weather, our own company, as well as our animals as all meals have been outside.
Phoebe and Joe eating in harmony
Norah enjoying our company in the good weather
I also enjoyed some relaxed cooking (Suzy’s favourite potato salad) and reading the papers leisurely on Sunday morning together with Eladio.
Eladio caught unawares reading the paper this morning. We are at our happiest reading the newspapers leisurely on a Sunday morning.
While I cooked, Eladio did some gardening, planting lovely new flowers we got from our local garden centre. This time of year is so beautiful at home with all the vegetation in full bloom. I love May. The weather is great and you have the whole summer to look forward to.
Eladio planting flowers in the garden
Who also love May are the Finns. On the night before 1st May they celebrate what they call Vappu which in English translates into “Walpurgis” night, whoever he was. It is their spring or 1st May celebration and they all go out picnicking and probably drinking themselves stupid. The students celebrate their graduation on this day and everyone goes round wearing what look to me like sailor caps. I got these great pictures from my friends Anne and Anne-Marjut who celebrated Vappu together.
My Finnish friends Susa, Anne and Anne-Marjut celebrating Vappu this year.
People picnicking this year at Vappu, all wearing sailor hats.
Who will not be celebrating this week will be the swine flu victims as the pandemic spreads. As I wrote last week it started in Mexico and at the beginning of the week there were just 2 cases in Europe. Now it has spread further into places like China where it will be difficult to deter. Most of the deaths seem to have occurred in Mexico. The sufferers elsewhere seem to experience normal type flu symptoms. This is something hard to understand.

In Mexico schools have shut down and people have been asked to stay at home for 5 days. Only vital services are running. I have a Spanish friend living in Mexico who posted this picture on Facebook of people in a supermarket stocking up with food with masks on their faces.

And in Holland they were celebrating Queen’s Day but now the country is in morning as a madman tried to crash into the Royal family cavalcade this week in Appledorn near Amsterdam. He did not manage to hurt the Monarch, the 72 year old Queen Beatrice or her family but killed instead 5 people in the crowd.
The attempt on the Dutch Royal Family this week resulted in carnage.
President Obama celebrated his 100 days in office this week. There is and was high expectancy in him to deal with the recession in the United States and in 100 days not that much progress has been seen. It’s probably too early to tell and we should probably give him the benefit of the doubt. To his credit it must be mentioned that he has done two very positive things since he started in office in the announcement of the closure of Guantanamo and his opening the door, finally, to Cuba.
President Barack Obama. This week was his 100th day in office.
A very special woman in England will also have been celebrating this week. For the first time in history, a woman has been named Poet Laureate. Congratulations Carol Ann Duffy.
Carol Ann Duffy, England's first woman Poet Laureate
And this week a message in a bottle from 6 concentration camp inmates was found by builders outside Auschwitz. They listed their names there as if they wanted to record their existence before their dreaded extermination. I read that 2 survived the holocaust and hope they are still alive to hear that their message was discovered so many years later.
The message found in the bottle outside Auschwitz this week
After that piece of news it seems frivolous to record that a couple were found having sex on the Queen’s lawn at Windsor Castle this week too. But it’s very unheard of so it caught my attention. I wonder what the Queen had to say about it or is she no longer shocked by anything I wonder?

This week’s blog post ends on a very positive note. I have read that white tea (what is it please and where can you buy it in Spain?) is a natural slimming ingredient and that has been the Chinese best kept secret until very recently. Now isn’t that good news?

And that’s it for this week on this very sunny afternoon on Mothering Sunday, in Spain at least.

Cheers and have a great week.

My Father, Charles Courtenay Lloyd and his 90th birthday.

My Father, "Daddy" in the Plaza Mayor in Madrid visiting me in 1979.
Hi again,

On Friday, 1st May, Labour Day, there was something big to celebrate. It was my dear Father, Charles Courtenay Lloyd’s 90th birthday who left England to live with us in Spain some 5 years ago.

My Father is the epitome of the true English gentleman who remains English despite his love of most things "foreign". He is in himself a gentle person who would never hurt a fly.

He was born in Tamworth England in 1919 in a genteel society as the son of an English vicar, my grandfather, John Lloyd, of Welsh extraction and from the island of Anglesy and of course of my grandmother, Dorothy Gertrude Scull a beautiful young pianist from Shropshire.

In short he was born just after the Great War and witnessed in his youth the worst depression in modern history, the Wall Street Crash. When his Father heard of a post with the Imperial Tabacco Company in Bristol through one of his rich parishioners he did not hesitate to remove him from the prestigious Clifton College school as jobs in those days were even scarcer than today.

In his spare time my Father went to evening classes to learn languages, his great passion and in his holidays always travelled abroad to places like Brussels or Geneva. Despite having left school early, thanks to his self learning, he gained a place at Cambridge University, at the Church of England patronised Selwyn College to study German and French.

However the war broke out and he had to curtail his studies to join the forces. He did however return later and finish them but adding Scandinavian languages due to his experience during the war and afterwards with Norway. His passion for both the languages and the countries has never ceased. Still today he speaks all 6 of his languages fluently, English, Russian, Norwegian, German, French and latterly Spanish.

He joined the Royal Navy and has still today a love of ships. Apparently it was his Father who urged him to join the Navy rather than the other forces as he thought his life would be somewhat less in danger. My mother always told us that on his first day, in his immaculate lieutenant uniform and in his very early 20’s, he remarked to an older plain sailor who was washing the decks: “the Navy makes a man of you” to which the sailor replied in his broad cockney accent “it makes a ******* monkey of you”. I’m not sure what the Navy during the Second World War made of my Father but it must have made him grow up before his time. To his merit I must add he got a medal from the King of Norway for his role in the liberation of Norway. The news was published in the newspaper at the time in England and I still have the clipping today.

I ought to add that before returning to Cambridge he spent some time in Germany with what was called the Control Commission in Schleswig-Holstein on the border of Denmark, the allied body that was supposed to catch Nazis on the run and help Germany back on its feet. I gather these were very exciting times for him.

After finishing his studies in Cambridge, he became a teacher of Russian under the famous Liza Hill*, or rather Dame Elizabeth Hill, the Professor of Russian at Cambridge University. She was “Aunty Liza” to me and also my brother’s God Mother. Liza had the task of setting up secret Russian language courses for the armed forces. This was the Cold War and it was obvious the courses were for teaching future spies. The story goes that Liza took him on even though he did not know Russian. She, a very eccentric character, urged him to use the same grammar book as his pupils but to be a few lessons ahead. He took the language learning very seriously and soon became absolutely fluent. At these courses he taught among the likes of Arthur Birse, Winston Churchill's former interpreter in Russia. Here my Father flourished professionally and personally and here he met my Mother, a penniless and homeless refugee princess of Russian origin, born Her Serene Highness Elena Lieven.

They married very soon and my late brother George and I were born at 62 Milton Road in 1955 and 1957. Those were very happy days for my parents.
Cambridge 1961, the four of us.
Soon the courses finished and my Father found work, once again teaching Russian but this time at the prestigious RAF College in Cranwell, a little village in Lincolnshire. My parents bought a small bungalow on one acre of land in the nearby village of Ruskington and my Father would bicycle to work on the flat Lincolnshire roads. This was where I spent part of my happy childhood until the age of 7 when we moved to Bradford in West Yorkshire where my Father got a post as a language teacher at Bradford Grammar School. Here he taught until retirement.

My Father taught me to look on the bright side of life and to enjoy the small things in life. I remember going with him to Manchester, that dark industrial town in the north of England, to the dentist, Mr. Car, a friend of my parents. I pointed out how ugly a street was and my Father said that he always looked for the beautiful things and not the ugly ones and that very often there was something beautiful to be found in ugly things. I have practised his philosophy nearly always and it has held me in good stead.

My Father is also someone who has lost nearly everyone dear to him in life and yet he stoically goes on, reading the newspaper, ordering books, going for his walks, enjoying his food and all the good things in his life.

When he was young, he lost his brother Raymond who died of polio at the age of 15 before the times of penicillin. That must have been a terrible blow and I gather my Grand mother never got over it.

His dear and very jolly Father died of a stroke in his early 70’s and later his Mother, in her late 70’s. That same year he lost his wonderful sister Gloria, my favourite Aunt, who died in an air crash with her husband, Uncle Derek and their 3 small children, Jacqueline aged 12, Michael aged 9 and Anthony aged 7. This was perhaps one of the most terrible things that ever happened to him and us. My mother told me that when he put the receiver down after that terrible phone call, he said “I only have you (as in our family) left”.

Many years later on October 1st 1999, my dear Mother died aged 79 of cancer at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. I still do not know how he went on without her and I know he misses her to this day, yet still he goes on stoically enjoying life. Maybe the picture of a fawn above his bed when he was a small child with the caption “be a good beast, suffer in silence” has something to do with it.

The next blow was my dear brother George who died, of cancer too, not long afterwards on 15th May 2001 in London at a hospice called Eden Hall which is a terrible name for such an institution.

4 years later, finally, my Father came to live with us and left his native England for Spain, a country he was very familiar with from our “Callosa days” in the 70’s. He was then in his mid 80’s.

Last October we also lost Sanya, George’s late wife in unfortunate circumstances and then just one month later, my Mother’s youngest sister, Masha, our impossible and amazing Aunt and sister-in-law whose death represented the end of an era.

Now my Father has only me left and I only have him left. They have all gone and we mourn them but we both have another wonderful family in Eladio, Susana and Olivia. Life goes on and thus we celebrated lovingly his 90th birthday on Friday as you can see in the photos I posted on Facebook.

The day started with a family breakfast in the dining room with the best finery we have. Here we gave him his presents, chocolates and a bonsai plant (the music centre is coming later!) and a special 90th birthday card I had asked my friend Amanda to bring specially from England.

My father enjoying his 90th birthday breakfast on Friday 1st May.
Lunch was to be much more important as we took him out for a birthday lunch to a new place we have discovered in Boadilla called De Brasero y Puchero with all his favourite things on the menu. The “piece de resistance” was the home made birthday cake we secretly gave to the waiter on arrival. A good time was had by all I think to judge by his comment at the end of Friday when he said “thank you for a lovely day”.

So happy 90’th birthday Daddy. Thank you for everything. May we all look and feel so young in heart, mind and body when we reach your age. I look forward to celebrating your 100th and have already had a look at the page at Buckingham Palace where you apply for a birthday message from the Queen!

Your loving daughter

* Liza Hill was a real character and I think had much influence over my parents, my Father specially. She was half English and half Russian and was born in Russia. She was the eternal spinster who finally took the plunge in her late 80's and married a Yugoslav she had known for many years. Amazingly and as a complete coincidence my Father bumped into them on their honeymoon at the bus station in Madrid!! I mean bussing your way round Spain in your late 80's as an Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University is extremely eccentric. Not long after, Liza divorced her husband as she probably could not tolerate sharing her life being so used to spinsterhood. More on Liza Hill in future posts.