Sunday, May 09, 2010

A bomb scare in Times Square, the volcanic ash strikes again, an economic crisis in Greece, a hung parliament and the meat in the sausage, English culture, planning our trip to Israel and Jordan, a quiet week at home and other things.

At my desk this week, notice the lovely roses from our garden, the first this season and a sure sign of Spring.
Hi again this very wet Sunday in May.

Indeed May is misbehaving on the weather front and instead of enjoying the sun outside I am at my desk with the central heating on as I write this week.  It’s been like this for a while and the forecast in most parts of Spain predicts continued cloud and rain and miserable temperatures, for this time of year, for at least another 2 weeks. You can only tell it is spring by the greenness and flowers, like these, the first lovely roses of the season from our garden this week which are adorning my desk as you can see in the photo above.

The girls were lucky though with the weather in Las Palmas in the Canaries last weekend and came back tanned and happy from their trip. They went with some of Suzy’s University friends to visit Noemi, who has opened a nutrition clinic there.

My girls, Oli in white and Suzy in green last weekend in Gran Canaria in the Canaries.
Whilst they were away there was a bomb scare in Times Square, the heart of New York and the USA when a vehicle was found containing explosive elements. Luckily it did not go off. It seems the bomb was crudely made but could have been lethal. The whole area was cordoned off and people evacuated, causing enormous inconvenience and I’m sure the bomb scare brought back memories of the fatal 11th September. Later Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, was accused of the incident just as he was sitting on a plane which would have taken him to Dubai. As we have just been in New York, I can imagine the panic and worry the incident will have caused.

Faisal Shahzad, the Pakistani terrorist who planted the bomb in Times Square last week. 
Equally inconvenient has been the return of the Volcanic Ash from Iceland which has forced airports around Europe to close again this week. Many flights from the UK to Spain were cancelled yesterday but my niece Sarah was one of the lucky ones as her flight was the only one not affected although it was delayed by 3 hours.
The Iclandic Volcano, causing the air travel crisis
The volcanic ash is a damned nuisance but what is most affecting Europe and a lot of the world at the moment, is the continued financial crisis, the worst in the last 80 years to quote some of our politicians. This week has been Greece’s turn to be in the spotlight. We have all been reading and hearing about Greece’s huge national debt, caused apparently by years of unrestrained spending, amongst other things. As Greece is part of the Euro Zone area, European Union leaders have agreed to use funds (110 billion euros!!!!) from both Europe and the International Monetary Fund to help this financially-crippled country. There is now talk, here and in Europe, of the Greek crisis affecting Spain, one of the famous PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy or Ireland, Greece and Spain – awful term!), the countries with traditionally weaker economies. Let’s hope not. The Greeks, who will now have to tighten their belt with Draconian financial reforms, have been out in their masses to demonstrate against the reforms and the situation is tense there to say the least with the result of 3 people killed in the riots as well as mass destruction.

Riots in Greece this week have left 3 dead and a lot of destruction like the scene in this photo.
The biggest news, on the international scene this week has been the general elections in Great Britain. They took place on Thursday and the outcome was not clear. In England voting takes place during the week and tradition has it that it takes place on a Thursday, not a Friday which is when working class men received their wages and were more likely to go to the pub to spend it than to vote! The fight was for change after 13 years of Labour and the increasingly unpopular Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to be challenged by the Conservative’s young and moderate ex Etonian David Cameron and the Liberal’s Nick Clegg, a multilingual Cambridge graduate who is married to a Spanish woman, Miriam González from Olmedo. All the cards were shown well in advance in various TV debates and Nick Clegg emerged as the very popular and surprising dark horse.

The good, the bad and the ugly?  No the 3 candidates in the British General Elections last week, Gordon Brown for Labour left , David Cameron for the Conservatives in the centre and Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats on the right.
Ok so I’m British or supposedly British (yeah, half Russian, lived in Spain for donkey’s years), so who did I want to win? I probably didn’t care too much as I have never tried to to find out how to send my vote by post. When I lived in the UK (until the age of 24) I always voted for the Conservatives under the influence of my parents. Now my feelings are more to the left but more often than not I am influenced by the person rather than the party so the candidate has to appeal to me.  Therefore I was in between David Cameron and Nick Clegg.  I know Nick Clegg could not win as the Liberal party (sorry today it is called the Liberal Democrats) has not been in power since Lloyd George in 1922 but I was impressed with his popularity as a result of the TV debates.

The British population voted on Thursday and woke up to what is known as a hung parliament. This is when no one party has an overall majority, or over half of the MPs in the House of Commons. David Cameron had won theoretically with 306 seats to Gordon Brown’s 258 and Nick Clegg’s 57, but 326 seats are needed. Thus a coalition government will have to be formed for the first time since Winston Churchill’s government in the Second World War. Right now David Cameron and Nick Clegg are negotiating just that.

Boris Johnson, meanwhile, London’s larger than life Conservative Lord Mayor, insists that the Tories must be the meat in the coalition sausage, meaning that the bread and other unknown ingredients are for the Liberal Democrats. I wonder what this particular sausage will turn out to be like.

Boris Johnson, the larger than life Conservative Mayor of London who coined the phrase "meat in the sausage"
The eyes of the press have been on the UK for most of the week and there was one piece of news from Oli's website, about Britain that particularly appealed to me. It was in relation to how certain things from British culture have become universally known. They are and I wonder if you agree: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, William Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Fish and chips, bacon and egg breakfasts, driving on the left, double decker buses, Rolls Royce cars, pints and pubs, the January sales, telephone boxes, 007 James Bond, on His Majesty’s Secret Service of course, British punctuality, tea at 5, Agatha Christie, the invention of football, impossible hats to wear (at Ascot), Monty Python and the Punk sub culture.
There is nothing more British than a double decker London bus, although this model no longer exists.  How sad.
There are some things and people missing from this list and off the cuff I can think of but a few: The Queen, the late Lady Diana and the Royal family in general, the British post box, cucumber sandwiches, the British bobby, rugby and cricket as quintessential British sports along with more quaint ones such as rounders, netball or croquet, and many famous British people such as Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist, Florence Nightingale, the first nurse in the world, Charles Dickens, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill or Oscar Wilde come to mind.

Of British origin too is Dame Julie Andrew’s who has returned to the stage this week in London more than 50 years after she started singing.
Dame Julie Andrews, my childhood favourite, returned to the stage in London yesterday aged 74 but just not the same
I adored the actress and her voice and she became my childhood hero after seeing Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music in the 60s in England. Julie Andrews and these films went on to be a part of my own girls’ childhoods and we often sang the songs together. Julie Andrews lost her voice when she had an operation to remove a polyp from her vocal chords twelve years ago and has rarely sung since. From the write ups I have read her performance was disappointing as she now uses a sort of speak singing technique. I think I prefer to remember her as she was in the Sound of Music.
Julie Andrews as I remember her from The Sound of Music, possibly still my favourite film.
On the domestic scene, life has been quiet with not much to tell – hence all the external news in this week’s post. But of course you will want to know the personal highlights of my week too.

To note I had lunch with my dearest nephew Miguel on Tuesday. He is the son of Eladio’s closest brother, José Antonio and Miguel and I get on like a house on fire. He is living at home with his parents in Madrid and working for I.G. markets, a leading UK company in CFDs (financial derivatives which I'm afraid I  do not understand) where he is considered a media star for all the interviews he gives to the local TVs and radios. His news is that he will be working from home from June and has decided to go and live in their house in the family village of Montrondo where he has recently installed a broadband internet connection, a fixed telephone and satellite television. He will also be trying his hand at being a farmer and has acquired a licence to breed sheep! Alongside the sheep he plans to have 2 dogs, a horse, a donkey and hens for fresh eggs for his breakfast, no doubt. I wish him a lot of luck.

On Thursday I had a long overdue lunch with my best friends Julio and Fátima who are my ex Nokia and Motorola colleagues. They never read my blog nor are they active on Facebook so these lunches are really important to catch up with each other’s news. They are now both working for Nokia Siemens whose main product is mobile phone networks – certainly not the easiest product to sell as I well remember. It was good to see them and we will be having lunch again soon to celebrate Julio’s birthday this month.

On the home scene, yesterday Suzy celebrated what I think will be the last of this year’s birthday celebrations with her girl friends from school. That was an excuse to go shopping with her yesterday to pick up some of the food but also to buy ourselves some new clothes. I bought the most beautiful china blue patterned jacket from Zara mostly for the material which I adore. However it has protruding shoulder pads which I thought looked funny but Suzy says they are back in fashion. Imagine?

The tea went off fine, the best crockery was used and balloons filled the lounge. I went in to say hello to Suzy’s guests who are so familiar to me from her school days. I did so just as she was opening some presents but managed to get this picture for my blog. I thought it was about time I included her friends as they are very important to her and have never been mentioned here.
Suzy's schoolfriends who came to her birthday tea party yesterday.
From left to right: Carolina, Rocío, Eriika, Suzy, Pilar and Copi.
Whilst they were having their party (which ended at another party in Madrid), Eladio and I went off for dinner to one of our all time favourites, La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas nearby for our weekly dinner out together.  The food and drink was probably the reason for this morning's unfortunate headache.  But then you always have to "pay" for pleasure don't you?
La Vaca Argentina, one of our favourite restaurants.
The week has been quiet with not much activity and no travels of course. But that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t any plans. We have been talking about going to Israel and Jordan in September and this week we took the decision that we would go after having looked at budgets and places to visit. I looked at various local agencies on internet and took the plunge with Guided Tours of Israel and Jordan Direct Tours. So I have been in constant email contact most of the week with Alon from the former and Marina from the latter. Both agencies will provide a private tour with our own driver. In Israel I have booked our own hotels with a lot of help from and in Jordan they come with the package. I have now also bought our tickets and we are flying to Tel Aviv and back on the 4th and 19th September.

We are already getting into the spirit of our trip and I have now spoken on the phone to various people at hotels. I was told by one lady from a hotel in Galilee that they were not “kosher” and that was a step in taking me there mentally. I’m sure you all know what Kosher is (the fit or proper way to eat and prepare food according to the Jewish dietary laws). I also spoke to someone called Abraham (or Ibrahim) from the St. Andrew’s Scottish guesthouse in Jerusalem (the only place we could find with a vacancy in the old town) which again made me visualise the Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. It will be funny to stay somewhere like that in the Holy City. In Nazareth I have found the most charming place possible, the Fauzi Azar Inn (a 200 year old Arab mansion) where we will be staying 3 nights and hopefully walk part of the Jesus Trails. It’s going to be so exciting and possibly one of our most interesting trips so far. I have finalised nearly everything so now all we have to do is wait but of course with something exciting to look forward to. I always say that in life it is important to have something to look forward to. I’m sure you agree.
The dining room at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth where we will be staying.
And on that note of looking forward to things, I leave you for this week. Till next time, all the best to you all.


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