Sunday, October 31, 2010

Good news for Juan, lunch with Laura, Oli back from Marrakech and a wet weekend in Montrondo

In Montrondo this weekend

Hello again,

Another week has passed and here I am writing to you from Montrondo. It has been raining non-stop since we got here on Friday but finally the sun is shining.

But let me start from the beginning, from where I left off last time I wrote. We had good news on Tuesday. Juan my nephew rang to tell me has been taken on as a junior account manager with Lewis PR, an English PR agency headed up by my good friend Jorge. It will be Juan’s first full time job since finishing University some 3 years ago. He has had nothing but temporary and badly paid jobs which seems to be the norm these days for young people like him. In Spain there is 20% unemployment. 15 or 20 years ago it was difficult to get a job too but there were more vacancies and fewer graduates. Today most young people in Spain have University degrees so there is more competition but on top of that there are fewer jobs going. I am very happy for him and know he will make a success from the minute he steps on the first rung of this new career ladder.

On Wednesday we had visitors from Sweden at work and one of them was Ingrid who used to head up PR at TeliaSonera. Now she is head of legal. We were much in contact at the beginnings of Yoigo and it was good to see her again. We had lunch at Illunbe and talked about how we had fared since those challenging days and it seems remarkable how we have come on since then.

The day Ingrid came to see us was also the day Argentina was to mourn the death of their ex President Nestor Kirchner and husband of the current President Cristina Fernández Kirchner. He died aged 60 of a heart attack on the census day in that country when everybody stays at home whilst 500.000 volunteers (mostly teachers) go from house to house counting people. Cristina who openly governed the country together with her husband will sorely miss him. His death, many say, marks the end of an era in Argentina.

Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández - happier days together governing Argentina

Back at home on Thursday Olivia was to return from her short holiday in Marrakech and that same day to start her new master degree in TV journalism. I didn’t actually see her until the next day as I was at work when she came. I haven’t heard much about the trip but have seen photos posted by her fellow traveller Laura on Facebook and particularly liked this one.

Oli having a whale of a time with her friends in Marrakech recently

On Thursday after a whole morning’s rather unnecessary meeting I drove to Las Rozas for my lunch appointment with Laura at La Vaca Argentina. Laura was my marketing trainee in Motorola and we have kept up ever since, albeit a little sporadically. We had a great time talking constantly throughout the lunch to catch up on each other’s news. Laura it was great, we must do this more often.

I had lunch with Laura this week. She hasn't changed since she was my trainee in Motorola more than 10 years ago

I must mention too that on Thursday after lunch with Laura I went to Villaviciosa de Odón, the town near where I live, to pick up 4 pairs of trousers that I had taken in for the second time! Yes the diet continues to work and it makes me so happy. The guy at the shop told me they could not be taken in any more otherwise the trouser pockets would coincide. Haha, thus next time I will have to buy news trousers. I also told him that my diet was good for his business and he laughingly agreed!

That brings me to the weekend as I sort of took Friday off to go to Montrondo in the morning for the bank holiday weekend as Monday 1st November is a national holiday in Spain. We left the girls behind as we did my Father. They have their own agenda but I feel a bit bad about leaving him behind. However I also know that he would not be comfortable here, mostly because the access to the house is impossible for someone his age. Furthermore he can no longer go for walks and would have been stuck in a bedroom all weekend with nothing to do except read his book. So with a heavy heart we left him behind but also comforted to know that at home he can be more independent.

We picked up my sister-in-law  Dolores at the train station and were soon on the road to the north west of Spain. Had we left in the afternoon the roads would have been congested as many Spaniards would be travelling like us for the bank holiday. We stopped just over half way to have lunch at the Parador in Benavente, a place Eladio and I are very fond of.

We stopped for lunch at the Parador in Benavente on our way to Montrondo this Friday

Soon we were in Montrondo where Dolores’ husband José Antonio (Eladio’s brother) and son Miguel were waiting for us together with Nuba their puppy. We were to stay at their house rather than the old family house both to be together but also to enjoy the modern comforts of the house they built just next to it a few years ago. They have central heating of course but also satellite television and most important of all internet.

José Antonio and Dolores' puppy Nuba in Montrondo this weekend

Montrondo was looking beautiful in its autumn colours but unfortunately it was raining the moment we got here and has only stopped this morning. As there was still some light I took a few shots of the surroundings of the house because the colours were just beautiful. Here is my favourite.

Montrondo dressed in autumn colours is spectacular

Yesterday Saturday was so wet we stayed in most of the day. In the morning Miguel and I drove to the nearby village of Senra for a coffee whilst Dolores cooked a village stew and the men went to look at one of the family plots of land in their wellies of course. Later in the evening we went for a walk in the rain to Murias and back but it was quite unpleasant and we were happy to be back in the warm kitchen where we made our evening meal. There is nowhere to go around here so of course we stayed at home and ended up watching television where I promptly fell asleep. Whilst I was sleeping the clocks went back putting an official end to Daylight Saving Time. Thus at 3 am they went back to 2 am. Of course we all woke up an hour earlier and thus have an extra hour to our day today. I am always amazed to see how my electronic equipment knows the date and automatically changes the time. Therefore I only had to change the time on my watch.

This morning the sun came out which was a huge relief. Straight after my oat bran breakfast (a bit ghastly actually) I went out to catch some more beautiful autumn colours on my camera. You can see them and the rest of the photos I took this weekend here. Except that I will be taking more today as all the family will be coming from León to join us for a huge family lunch in the old converted stasble. Right now Eladio and José Antonio are heating it up in preparation.

Finally the sun shined and I took loads of photos of the old family  house and the surroundings this morning.
Meanwhile I have come to the end of my blog in a bit of haste as I have just been told that the caravan of cars bringing everyone here is just some 15km away. Soon this place will be crowded and loud and we will all be hugging and kissing and happy to see each other again. Hopefully the sun will hold out and maybe we can all go up the mountains this afternoon for a big family walk.

Cheers to you all then from Montrondo. Until next week,


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A busy week, good news for Oli, a Government reshuffle in Spain, a weekend in Barcelona and a happy Monday for Yoigo.

Me in the Plaza de Cataluña in Barcelona this weekend

Hi everyone

I’m late with my blog this week but that’s because we came back from Barcelona late on Sunday evening which is when I normally write.

Last week was busy as this week will be too. It started Monday with good news for Oli and if it’s good news for Oli it’s good news for us. In her time with RTVE she realised that she really wants to work in television as a journalist. Thus, spurred on by colleagues, she applied to do the RTVE (Spanish national TV station) master degree in television journalism at the Universidad Juan Carlos 1 in Madrid. The entrance exam was very stiff. There were some awfully difficult questions on today’s political scene and general knowledge. The candidates also had to do a news story on camera after reading just a press release. There were 16 places for 80 candidates so it was no easy feat to get accepted. The good news came last Monday afternoon that she had been accepted. She will start this week on Thursday and the master degree will take about a year and will include 3 months unpaid practice with the RTVE news programmes in the summer. We are thrilled for her. Meanwhile she has gone to Marrakech with Laura and 2 other friends for a nice holiday break. The only thing we have heard so far is that they keep getting lost in the souk which doesn’t surprise me as I did too when I was there.

My beautiful journalist daughter Olivia who was admitted to the RTVE master degree in TV journalism. 
I'm so happy for her.

Monday for me was not so good. I had a dental appointment with my favourite dentist of long ago whom I can now visit as he is on the list of our new medical policy, Cigna. It was nice to see Dr. Garralda again but not so nice to hear that I will need 2 implants and that the treatment will take some 6 months, not to mention the cost. To top the bad news I scratched my recently painted Volvo company car trying to get out of a heavily congested car park in Majadahonda. So, no Monday was not my day, but it was Oli’s.

The week was busy work wise but there was time for lunch with an ex Nokia friend Susana at De María in Majadahonda on Tuesday and on Wednesday with Susana and Mauricio from the PR team I used to have at Llorente y Cuenca. After lunch with them at Laray in Hermanos Bécquer I went to have coffee with my sister and brother in law, Dolores and José Antonio who live nearby. I hadn’t seen them since August. I don’t know why but we no longer see each other as often as before and I miss seeing them. Ah and I also had a girly lunch with the girls on Thursday, the only negative thing being I had to be in a conference call with Sweden at the same time.

José  Antonio and Dolores with their new pet Nuba.  It was lovely to have coffee with them last week

Wednesday was a big day for Spanish politics. It was the day I also realised that daily newspapers really do not bring fresh news anymore. Whilst my whole family were reading The Daily Telegraph, El País, El Mundo and Que, I was at my computer. And it was on Facebook that I found out that José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was to announce that morning a major cabinet reshuffle in his government. His number 2, the Deputy Prime Minister, the austere mature lady María Teresa Fernández de la Vega was to leave her position and be replaced by Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba who would combine the job with Home Affairs for which he was already responsible. The latter was also a minister under Felipe González. One of the main reasons behind the reshuffle seems to be a need for better communication from the Government especially with the new reforms taken because of the financial crisis. I like to hear that as I am a communications professional. There were many other changes but this was the biggest. I rushed upstairs to the dining room to inform my family reading the papers that the real news was on internet and of course both Eladio and Olivia rushed off to their respective PCs to find out more.

María Teresa Fdz de la Vega leaves the number 2 position in the government after last week's big cabinet reshuffle

Soon it was Friday and Eladio and I went off to Barcelona for a jolly weekend. I use the word jolly as the hotel we were to stay at were offering us a free weekend because of appalling service when I last stayed there. A friend of mine, dear Julio, when I told him the story, urged me to write a letter to the Manager saying I may get some compensation. So for the first time in my life I wrote a very exaggerated letter of complaint and low and behold the manager responded and offered me 2 nights free whenever I wanted. The hotel in question is the new W Barcelona built by Ricardo Bofill. It is located at the end of the Barceloneta beaches right by the port. It is a bit far from the city but you can walk to the Rambla in about 45 minutes, so good for exercise.  The hotel building is quite spectacular and is in the shape of a huge sail with some 26 floors with magnificent views. Once again however the service was lacking in professionalism. However I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth and complain again.

The amazing Hotel W where we stayed in Barcelona this last weekend, great place but very badly organised

The drive was long, some 650km which felt like it took forever. The highlight was lunch at Asador La Brasa in Calatayud on the way. The worst part was driving into Barcelona in 1.5hrs of dense Friday afternoon traffic. Once we had checked in, we walked to the Port Vell to the Palau de Mar area and decided upon dinner at one of my favourite places in Barcelona, Cal Pinxo. Here I was able to keep to my protein and vegetable diet by ordering excellent crayfish and sole.

On Saturday we were up early and after a protein breakfast, at least for me, we made our way into the city. We walked to Port Vell and from there to the Paseo de Colón until we reached La Rambla.

Eladio at La Rambla in Barcelona this weekend.  We had a great time.  As you can see the weather was great.

La Rambla was bustling with tourists and was as fun as always. There were lots of living statues, one more spectacular than the other. This was the one I liked best.

La Rambla is lined with living statues competing for tourists' money.  I thought this one was especially good

From La Rambla we walked to the Plaza de Cataluña and then on to Puerta de Angel, the street they say is the most commercial in town. Here I ventured into Cortefiel and to Zara (keep buying new clothes as I lose more weight-:) whilst Eladio waited patiently outside. Then we walked towards the Cathedral in the Gothic old city and went inside for a quick look. It really is magnificent. What I didn’t like were the semi professional gypsy beggar women outside who give a terrible image of Spain to the tourists who flock to Barcelona in their thousands.

The semi professional gypsy beggar women are not a pretty sight outside the cathedral in Barcelona

We had a coffee in the square by the cathedral to gain some renewed energy before continuing our walk, this time back to the Port Vell and for lunch at Cal Pinxo again. Eladio was very happy to order black rice whilst I kept to my diet by ordering cockles and sole once more.

Eladio enjoying black rice at Cal Pinxo in Port Vell this weekend in Barcelona

It is at Port Vell where the black immigrants sell imitation branded handbags illegally. The bags are attached to strings and then to a blanket so that they can run off fast if the police come by. I always buy a handbag from them that I don’t really need and this time I got the latest Prada model in brown for 13 euros after a very small haggle. The guy who sold it to me was a good looking immigrant from Senegal. I could only imagine the drama that must have gone on in his life for him to arrive and be selling illegal faked goods in Barcelona.

I'm always a sucker for imitation fashion bags at Port Vell sold by black immigrants.

Before going back to the hotel, we went to a market in the town to buy flowers and some produce to take to Grainne’s that night. I went to school with Grainne who has lived in Barcelona or rather in Badalona nearby for many years and I cannot every go Barcelona without visiting her. This time we invited ourselves to dinner. That’s how good our friendship is.

We spent the afternoon lazing and enjoying the hotel. Eladio had a siesta in our room whilst I read the newspaper on the swimming pool terrace which was a magnificent place. For one moment I thought I was in paradise. Later on we visited the small but well equipped spa before dolling ourselves up (well me at least) and taking a taxi to Grainne’s place.

The swimming pool terrace and complex at the W Hotel by the Barceloneta beaches is a sort of paradise

Dinner at Grainne’s is always a pleasure as I feel so at home there. It was Eladio’s first visit but I know he did too. We were joined by Pepe, Grainne’s best friend and a shoe repairer for the record as well as by Marcel, Grainne’s adorable son who is the same age as our daughters. Grainne is a superb cook but I didn’t get to try her great chicken casserole and lemon soufflé as I was determined to stick to my diet and had an omelette and some cooked ham, washed down by caffeine free diet coke (how sad).

With my dear friend Grainne at her house for dinner on Saturday night in Badalona.  We go back such a long way.

And suddenly it was Sunday and the weekend was nearly over. We had a leisurely breakfast and I packed whilst Eladio read the paper by the enormous window overlooking the city and the sea. I must include a picture of the view from the room because it is simply spectacular and one of the salient points of the W Hotel.

The view from our room at the W Hotel in Barcelona

Thus we checked out at midday but before hitting the road decided to do that day’s walk along the Barcelonata beaches towards the Hotel Arts at the other end of the beach from where our hotel was. The walk was splendid in the sunshine with people enjoying themselves on the beach, walking, on bikes, on skates, skate boards, playing bowl and generally enjoying their Sunday morning by the sea.

On our walk on Sunday morning from our hotel in the background, all along the Barceloneta promenade

So with a heavy heart we left, only cheered by the news of Fernando Alonso winning the Korean GP and taking leadership of the Formula One championship. The drive back was long and tedious and lunch was at a pretty nasty roadside cafe near Lérida. We got home late thanks to heavy traffic coming into Madrid but were happy to be home again and welcomed by our lovely daughter Susana who joined us for a makeshift Sunday evening dinner.

Monday was a happy day for Yoigo and deserves a special mention in this week’s blog. It was the TeliaSonera Q3 results and there were glowing references to Yoigo’s performance. We have reached over 2 million customers and look forward to being positive in the last quarter of the year. On top of that we had excellent results in the EPSI customer satisfaction surveys within the countries of the group. If you don’t believe me, just look at this chart of how we are doing in Spain vs our competition.  To think that we have done all this in such a short a time is quite amazing.

According to EPSI Yoigo has the most satisfied customers of all mobile phone operators in Spain!!!

And on that happy note, I leave you until next week. Hope you all have a great week, me too of course. Cheers till next time


PS Here is the full collection of photos of our lovely weekend in Barcelona

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A trip to Stockholm, a Japanese hotel, shopping, the Chilean miners’ incredible story, home again and the girls go to Salamanca

The view of the Baltic Sea on the Stockholm Archipelago from our hotel.  The ferry in the picture is going to Helsinki
Hi my friends, this sunny autumn afternoon in October.

Well this week has been exciting and different for me as you can probably imagine just by reading the headline. A trip abroad for work purposes always motivates me and this time the destination was Stockholm, that lovely city they call the Venice of the North. The reason? A global meeting for the communications people within TeliaSonera; people like me doing a similar job in the countries the company has a presence in and which are the Nordic, Baltic and Eurasian countries and even places as far away as Nepal. So yes I was to meet my colleagues from all these countries including some exciting ones like Kazakhastan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, Georgia and Moldavia. Imagine!

We stayed outside the city on the Stockholm Archipelago, some 20 minutes from the centre, right on the Baltic Sea where the enormous ferries going to Finland go by and are a sight for sore eyes. The location was a Japanese-cum Swedish hotel called Yasuragi which I had suspicions about because I am not a great fan of Nippon culture and was worried how I was going to continue with my Dukan Diet with so much sushi around.

The Stockholm Archipelago as seen from the terrace at the Yasuragi Hotel where we stayed

My fears turned out to be unfounded as the place was incredible. The building itself looked like some sort of Army barracks, to quote my new found colleague and friend Phillip, but inside it was a dream if rather big for walking to your room from reception and back which took at least 10 minutes each time. My room was small and a bit barren but the view outside of the Swedish autumn colours made up for any lack of comfort. Plus it was right next to the amazing spa and when I say amazing, it truly was with its Japanese hot baths and everything you could think of to enjoy heat and water and nature. The crowning glory of the spa were the outside hot springs, a bit like Canadian hot tubs, but bigger and built of stone where you could relax, enjoy the combination of hot water and cold air and feast your eyes on the beautiful Swedish countryside. Needless to say I went there as often as I could and especially enjoyed the women’s silent bathing room with its hot baths, dry and humid saunas and where I quickly followed suit when I saw how the Swedish ladies happily went naked. I also enjoyed a great deep tissue massage from a big healthy looking girl called Hanna and went back to my room feeling on top of the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed the open air hot springs at the Yasuragi Hotel spa, what  a place!

Upon arrival you are given a traditional Japanese robe called a Yukata (I thought they were called kimonos), a pair of slippers and a bathing costume. Many people wore the robe throughout their stay but I only wore mine for the spa. I must say guests clad in this garment certainly added a picturesque note to the place.

The Yukata kimono all guests are supposed to wear at the Japanese hotel

After checking in mid afternoon on Monday morning I decided to do some Swedish fashion shopping before the conference started the next day as I knew I wouldn’t have much time. So I made my way to a nearby shopping centre called Forum in the suburb of Nacka. Here I enjoyed going into the Swedish shops you don’t normally have access to outside Scandinavia. Thus my first stop was Lindex for a pair of their lovely jeans which are labelled “a curve for every woman” or something similar. Lindex jeans thus always fit me well and even better now I have lost some more weight. I also ventured into HM but found it to be more expensive than in Madrid. I went  into the German designer shop, Gerry Weber, a favourite of mine, and finally made some more purchases in the Ahlens department store. So armed with a pair of jeans, a tartan skirt, a long grey cardigan and a black and white striped jumper, I thought I should put a stop to so much spending and head back to the hotel to enjoy the spa before my evening meal.

The evening meal was going to be difficult because of my diet and not very enjoyable as I was going to have dinner alone, something I loathe. Thus I walked into the “Tokyo Restaurant” at the hotel with some trepidation only to find my friendly colleagues from the Brussels office, Kaisu, Phillip and Pascale happy to welcome me to their table. Whilst they feasted on wonderful looking creative food, I was good and just had a lean piece of venison. My only sin was a small glass of delicious red wine. Well I mean you can’t be perfect. We had a great meal together and I don’t know how it happened, but once again I told the story of my life; how I came to meet Eladio and how we have now been married for 27 years. It must have been the wine. I was happy to hear that both Kaisu and Phillip read my blog, so cheers to you two if you read this. It was great meeting you again.

The conference took place the next day. Most memorable for me was meeting up again with Thomas and Anna, two of my former Nokia colleagues now working for TeliaSonera. Well actually Thomas used to be my boss. It’s a small world certainly but as they are both Swedish quite understandable. It took me back to my Nokia communications conference days which were always held in very similar surroundings. The information gathered was of course important and interesting but most useful was meeting and mingling with old and new colleagues who generally face the same challenges as me in their daily work. So it was great to meet for the first time and see again people like: Anna, Birgitta, Charlotte, Nina, Cecilia, Eva, Lars-Ake, LJ, Niklas and Inger from Sweden or Timo from Finland, Sanju from Nepal, Bekhzod from Uzbekistan, Oyvind from Norway, Rodica from Moldava, Nadezhda from Tajikstan, Aida from Kazakhstan and many others. I think we have all gone back to our respective countries charged with renewed energy and a bigger sense of belonging to TeliaSonera.

The last night in Sweden was held in the company of my colleague Belén who joined the conference at the end and our colleague and newly found friend Phillip from Brussels. He is originally from York in the UK so we have much in common. We made our way to Gamla Stan, the heart of the old city of Stockholm. The evening was cool, some 7ºc and Belén and I shivered in our coats made in Spain, unused to the temperature. Here we walked through the charming old streets and then stopped for a drink at the Milstein café in the famous Stortorget square which means “the big square” in English. It is in fact the oldest one in Stockholm. As we drank and chatted we could see the Stock Exchange, the Nobel Museum and the Swedish Academy, all gathered in this same square with its picturesque houses.

The beautiful Stortorget square in Stockholm where we had a drink

Dinner was to be in Slussen (remember the name from the Steig Larsson trilogy?) at Gondolen, a place recommended to me by many people and where I had never been able to book a table until that night. It is at the top of a non descript high rise building but probably boasts the best views of the city at night which certainly took my breath away. The food was nearly as good as the view and I now understand why it is so difficult to get a table.

Belén and I were leaving the next day and had appointments at the TeliaSonera headquarters in Stureplan in the centre of town in the morning.  However in between the meeting and catching our flight home at 15h, there was still some time for shopping.

The TeliaSonera HQ building in Stureplan in the centre of  Stockholm
So off I walked down Bibliotekagaten to find my favourite clothes shop, Jackpot, a Danish designer. Here I had a field day and bought 2 cardigans, 2 t-shirts and 2 scarves. From Jackpot I made my way across the road to Urban Outfitters to try and find something for the girls. The instructions from Susana were to buy “the nice and warm stuff they have up there”. However I found the shop far too modern and it was impossible to choose. Thus I played it safe and carried on to another Lindex where I got the girls some nice chunky long winter cardigans and one of those fashionable tartan over dresses. My shopping ended with the purchase of the typical Scandinavian blue and white striped long sleeved top of which I found plenty to choose from. Shopping ended in the city but began again at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport where I stocked up on gourmet goodies to take home for the family (smoked salmon, delicious looking jams and plenty of Fazer chocolate – not for me of course). Needless to say I had trouble getting on the plane with so many extra bags, especially as they are so strict these days.

The Jackpot Danish fashion designer shop in Bibliotekagatan in Stockholm where I bought so many clothes.
Before I tell you about my coming home, this is the time to write about the Chilean Miners' rescue because for me that event is intimately related to my stay in Stockholm. Their rescue took place on the 12th and 13th October, right during our conference and is something I shall never forget.
On the 5th August the San José copper and gold mine, near Copiapó in the Atacama Desert in the North of Chile, collapsed trapping 33 miners 720 metres underneath the bowls of the earth. 17 days later, thanks to sophisticated listening probes, the world learned that they were miraculously all alive but incredibly hungry and sheltering in the mines refuge which is where they were having lunch when the mine collapsed. The miners attached a note to the probe which said: “all 33 of us are well inside the shelter”, a note the now famous President of Chile, Sebastian Piñera has carried in his wallet until the day of the rescue.

Chile's now famous President, Sebastián Piñera, holding the piece of paper giving evidence the miners were alive.

The story ever since has been how to rescue them as never before in the history of mankind have people been trapped so far below the earth's surface. Contact was made and a system established via special tubes to channel the men food, water, medical supplies and other necessary items as well as a telephone and thus messages too could be sent to relatives anxious to know their men were safe. The humidity was 90º and the temperature around 30ºc and the men thought they were in hell. It was thought they would not be rescued until Christmas. However Plan B, a rescue capsule to reach them through a drilled shaft that could winch them to the surface was ready to start rescue well before and the whole of Chile and the watching world rejoiced.

I watched the rescue live just as it started on the television in my room as I returned from dinner in Stockholm. My choice was the wonderful BBC who did an incredible job of this live coverage. It went on the whole of the next day and night of the 12th and 13th October.  The 33 miners who had been trapped for 69 days were lifted one by one in the capsule until they were all out and safe and reunited with their families and the world. We learned their names, the names of their families, the intimate stories of their lives and we felt for them and wept when they came out of the bowls of the earth, from hell to a new life. We shed tears as they were reunited with their loved ones and felt a part of every man's story.

One of the moments of the rescue I watched live on the BBC from my room at the Japanese hotel near Stockholm.
To quote The Independent “this was the most compellingly upbeat story since the lunar landings”. It is certainly also a lesson in human resilience. It is understandable then that more people watched the rescue than the World Cup in South Africa. Above all it is a story with a happy ending, a story which the whole world watched in awe as one by one these resilient men appeared out of the capsule, each one telling their personal story of triumph. The nation of Chile has shown the world how dedicated and perseverant their people are and their politicians, the Mining Minister Laurence Golborne and the Chilean President have gained in popularity, so much so that now maybe Chile will be more famous for this fantastic rescue than for the Allende coup d'etat. Certainly we will be hearing more about their stories in the coming weeks. The press will have a difficult time though as it seems the miners have made a pact to talk as one group and so far they have said nothing of significance. First though they will have to rest and get used to living on earth after 69 days in hell.

Luis Uzua, the last miner to be rescued is greeted by Chilean President, Sebastián Piñera
So when I came back from Stockholm, these resilient and brave 33 men were getting ready for their new life. Life at home for me, thank goodness, continued as ever and it was lovely to see my family again. You can see more of the photos of my stay in Stockholm here on Facebook.

One good piece of news after returning was what my scales told me on Saturday morning. I had lost even more weight on the great Dr. Dukan diet and was now just short of 5 kilos less than when I had started 23 days ago. That only gives me motivation to continue. The good thing is I'm losing interest in food and now my thoughts are all about getting into certain garments and what I will wear tomorrow.

That did not stop me however from going out to dinner yesterday with Eladio, but sticking to my diet. First though we went to the cinema to see the much awaited The Social Network about the story of the beginnings of Facebook and how Mark Zuckerberg came to create it whilst studying at Harvard in 2003 just a few years ago. Today he is a multi millionaire.  I was rather disappointed maybe because my expectations had been high. It was all about how he came upon the idea and the eventual lawsuit from fellow students who claimed he had stolen their idea and his relationships with other students at Harvard and how he made a few enemies. I don't know what I had expected really but it just didn't live up to my expectations. If you haven't yet seen it you can see the trailer here.

The Facebook story on film,  or so I thought.  It's more about the troubled beginnings.
I was not disappointed with the dinner though. I stuck to my diet and ate only vegetables and the wonderful steak but I was a bit naughty again and drank a glass of wine. One glass of wine is only allowed once every 2 weeks but having it a little more often doesn't seem to worry my scales. Therefore I'm not worried either. Ah, by the way, we went to De María, a great Argentinian place in Majadahonda, one of my favourites as you probably know if you read my blog often.

The weekend has been a little strange. Eladio was missing yesterday morning as he was attending the second day of his UNED University course for Tutors in Education. The house felt empty because the girls were missing too. They had gone to Salamanca for the weekend with Rocío, Estefania and Elena.

The girls in Salamanca this weekend.  Oli is in grey with brown boots on the left and Suzy on the right with her trademark red hair

They stayed at the Hostel Revolutum, a very modern budget accommodation place right by the famous Plaza Mayor which they said was great.  They were joined at times during the weekend by their beloved cousin Paula who is studying there. Here is a picture of Suzy with Paula. What lovely girls.

Suzy this weekend in Salamanca with her cousin Paula (taller and on the right) who is studying there.

They have just returned and seemed to have had a grand time, visiting the monuments and enjoying the local fare and things like mojito sorbets, ummm.

The story of the girls in Salamanca brings me to the end of this weeks blog which I hope you have enjoyed.

Now let's see what next week has in hold for us all. I for one will be packing and on the road again as next weekend Eladio and I are going to Barcelona. I just read that it is the world's capital for pick pocketing so I shall be on my watch.

Cheers till then


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mario Vargas Llosa wins the Nobel Literature Prize 2010, a special week for many people, a wedding on Facebook and Spain continues to excel at sport

As soon as I heard Mario Vargas Llosa had won the 2010 Nobel Literature Prize, I dug out this
photo of me with him and the Rector at the UEM University where I organised Mario Vargas Llosa's Doctor Honoris Causa ceremony in 2006.  I am proud I did now.

Hi again

Would you believe I am writing this blog post this Sunday afternoon on the 10th of the 10th month of the year two thousand and ten, yeah: 10.10.10. I realised this after seeing a comment from friends on Facebook. In fact they posted it at 10 past 10 this morning! It should be a special day but it isn’t, at least for me, just a quiet Sunday in October.

It has been a special week though for quite a few people. In the first place comes the Peruvian writer who also has Spanish nationality, Mario Vargas Llosa, who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. It was very special for him but actually for me too, because in April 2006 I organized his Doctor Honoris Causa ceremony at the UEM (Universidad Europea de Madrid) which was a project I worked on as a freelance after I left Nokia. I worked a lot on the event but the best moment was meeting the man himself. Mario Vargas Llosa who first married his Aunt (Julia - 10 years older) and then divorced her to marry his first cousin (Patrica - 10 years younger) is, apart from being a great writer, very much a lady’s man. The story goes that the animosity with his contemporary and fellow Nobel Latin American writer Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian writer most famous for One hundred years of solitude, stems from a dispute over women. He is very attractive and has an aura of charisma that you can’t quite put your finger on. The phone call from Oslo, or was it Stockholm, came at 5 in the morning this last Thursday in his rented flat near Central Park in New York. If he was famous before the prize, he is now even more famous as people rush to buy books by him they haven’t read. I have only read one and that was The City and the Dogs (La Ciudad y los Perros) when I was at University and I’m afraid I can only remember that it was a bit violent. I may well read now Tía Julia (Aunt Julia and the scriptwriter - about his first wife and his Aunt). I now feel doubly honoured that I had the privilege of organizing the Literature Laureate’s Dr. Honoris Causa.

Mario Vargas Llosa (right) gets a hug from former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo after Thursday's announcement that Llosa won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature.
It was also a very special week for the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his fight towards a more democratic China. The authorities of that country though are outraged and on the point of breaking diplomatic relations with Norway amongst other things. It is not quite sure when Liu Xiaobo will have heard about the prize as he is serving an 11 year strict prison sentence for having written the 08 letter to the government with his ideas of reform to turn China into a democratic country. The prize will also now serve to make him more famous both outside and inside China and hopefully contribute one day to a more liberal China.

Liu Xiaobo, the jailed Chinese Dissident who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize much to the anger of the Chinese Govt.

Likewise it has been a special week for three friends of mine: my ex colleague Carlos A who started his new job with Apple iPhone Business for Spain as their Country Manager, Elena whose first week it was in her new job as Communications Director for Thyssen Krupp and Juana who will be starting this week coming as Account Manager for Microsoft. There will be cloud on Elena's happiness though  as this Friday her father-in-law passed away; the only real dark note of this post I'm afraid. In any case my congratulations go to all three of them in these difficult days of finding decent jobs. I was able to congratulate Juana in person as I had lunch with her and Julio and Fatima on Wednesday. As I am on my protein and protein plus veg, the Dukan Diet, I got to choose where we went and it was to De Maria in Majadahonda. You might be happy to know that this week it has been easier to follow this strict new regime and that I have lost the grand total of 3.6 kilos, some 7.9lbs in the English Imperial system, in just over 2 weeks.

I mustn’t forget too to mention that this week was special for Oli because it was her last week with RTVE. She is now at home studying hard for an exam to be admitted to a Master Degree in Television. It's special for Laura, my niece, too who has just started her first job with Lactiber a company that processes and packages milk and fruit juices for the Mercadona supermarket chain. Suzy my older daughter also deserves to be congratulated this week. She has just started her first job with Adecal and this Friday she gave her first course as an instructor on hygiene and food manipulation to a group of 12 catering students. All her worries and nerves went out of the window when she saw the fantastic evaluation they gave her and lovely comments. I didn't expect anything less. Well done Suzy, you're a star.

John Lennon was also a star, a very big one too and yesterday would have been his 70th birthday. A friend of mine, Javier G, who lives in New York took this picture yesterday in Central Park at the John Lennon Memorial which is in fact opposite his amazing house where his widower, the famous Japanese artist, Yono Oko. lives.

The John Lennon memorial in Central Park was packed yesterday
to commemorate what would have been his 70th birthday
I well remember as a child when they preached peace from their bed in that same house. It caused a sensation at the time and this picture will be forever remembered.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono preaching peace from their bed in New York in 1969.  Yesterday he would have been 70
So it's been a special week for many people. It was sort of special for us too and Eladio and I went out to dinner to La Vaca Argentina on Friday night to celebrate our own successes, one being Eladio returning as a Tutor with the UNED, the Spanish equivalent to the Open University. There was a moment in time last week when he thought he had lost his classes at the University where he has been teaching for the last 20 years. It has always been a part time job and one he has continued with after his semi retirement and one that is so important to him to keep him active and in touch with his world of education.

This week will have been special top for the families of the 33 Chilean Miners and the miners themselves who have been trapped in the San Jose mine 700 metres underground since 5th August, because yesterday the drill to rescue them penetrated the underground chamber where they are anxiously awaiting to be rescued. Hopefully the rescue operation will start soon and they will be happily reunited with their families and I will be posting a photo of the event in next week's blog.

It will have been a happy week for a colleague of mine, Manuel G. He is freak of social networks and new technology and always outwits me on Foursquare. He got married yesterday in Galicia in the North of Spain. Even Manuel surprised me with his minute by minute reporting of the wedding both on Twitter and on Facebook and a photo stream on At the beginning I thought he was publishing the tweets and posts himself but realised in the end he must have hired a “community manager” brother or friend to do the work for him. Thus I saw how the bride entered the church, when he said yes and all the most important parts of the ceremony. His friends and followers who weren't there also got a peek of the wedding party afterwards. He is now off to Singapore for their honeymoon and I am  looking forward to peeks of that, hahaha. You can see the link where he broadcast his wedding live on Twitter and Facebook here. Congratulations to Manuel and Victoria. May you be happily married forever and ever, Amen.

And finally the week has been special once again for Spanish sport and if you don't believe me just read this impressive list of successes. Not many countries can boast such excellence at sport in these times as Spain. Just off the cuff, Spain with their World Champion La Roja football team beat Lithuania 3 1 on Friday in a qualifying match for the Euro 2012 to be held in Poland and the Ukraine. Marc Comas won yesterday the Pharaoh's Rally and was proclaimed the 2010 Cross Country Rally World Champion. Nadal, the nine times Grand Slam winner won the Japan Tennis Open in Tokyo yesterday too. Fernando Alonso did not win in today's Grand Prix also in Japan but came a close 2nd and is now in the running to win the championship, Webber permitting with 220 points to Fernando's 206 and three rounds to go.  However, in nearby Malaysia, Jorge Lorenzo was crowned MotoGP World Champion after finishing third in the Grand Prix at Sepang. There are still 3 rounds to go but he be will champion whatever the results from now on. Similarly Tony Elias was crowned Moto2 champion in 250cc also in Malaysia.  Ah and just as I had finished this post I read on FB from Paul Sherwen the cycling commentator and friend that Oscar Freire has just won the Paris Tours race, the first Spaniard to do so ever. The only cloud on the Spanish sport horizon are accusations that Alberto Contador the winner of the Tour de France may  have taken illegal substances.  He claims it was a food infection.  I hope he is right.  Meanwhile well done for the rest of Spanish sport for bringing us so many successes.

 Rafa Nadal, the 9 times grand slam champion, won the Japanese Open yesterday.
His was just one of Spain's successes in sport yesterday.
Let's hope next week will be special too in a positive way for all of us. There is a national holiday on Tuesday and most people will take a long bank holiday including Monday. I will be flying to Stockholm tomorrow for the TeliaSonera Annual Communications Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday and very much look forward to returning to lovely Stockholm and to seeing familiar faces; my colleagues who do communications in all the other countries TS is present.

There will be news about that in next week's post of course

Meanwhile, all the best


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Battling with Dr. Dukan, a general strike in Spain, 4 years at Yoigo, Suzy joins the workforce, good news for my friends, remembering my Mother and other things.

My Mother and I in 1980 outside the porch at 6 Heaton Grove on the day of Amanda and Richard's wedding.  She is dearly missed.

Hi again

It’s now October and autumn has really begun although you wouldn’t notice that here as the sun is still shining, the temperatures are in their mid 20’s and I, at least, am still wearing summer clothes. To tell you the truth I have been trying on mid season and winter clothes to see which of them I can get into for when the weather gets cooler.  That’s something I always do when I’m on a diet. The objective of fitting into a certain jacket or skirt always motivates me to continue my diet.

And food has been on my mind all week. It’s nearly always on my mind around meal times, of course, but when I’m on a diet I tend to think about it most of the day which is a huge drag. The reason now is the new diet I am following, or rather battling with, the Dr. Dukan diet, that I told you about last week. It’s based on alternating pure protein with pure vegetable days with no oil, fat, sugar or carbohydrates on either.  This is easier said than done I can tell you. It’s sort of easier to follow during the week when you are busy but the weekends are the hardest. The most unmotivating thing is to see that the scales don’t move a day or two after huge efforts and that stagnation sets in. Well today the scales told me good news. I have lost 2.6kgs (that’s 5.7lbs) since I started just over a week ago and that gives me the fuel to continue. But the battle has only just begun.

Talking about battling and fuel, there was a big general strike in Spain this week on Wednesday 29th September which in the end only brought part of the country to the halt. The unions and workers were protesting about the recent labour reforms the Government has taken because of the huge recession Spain is in with 20% of people unemployed. In fact it was the European Union who imposed most of these reforms and there is thought that should have been even more stringent. Really then the strike was not going to have much influence and I don’t think it will.

The General Strike on 29th September in Spain is not going to change much here.

I did not go on strike and have never gone on strike and in fact celebrated 4 years with Yoigo a couple of days later on 1st October. How time flies, literally, and how much we have done to gain a place in the highly competitive mobile phone market in this country. I have enjoyed the journey a lot and like many other people at the time could hardly believe the success Yoigo would have as the 4th mobile phone operator in Spain, competing against its 3 giant competitors. But here we are 4 years later, with only 91 employees, nearly 2 million customers and about to become profitable. It’s a real success story. When I joined Motorola in 1989, no one had heard of the company. Just a while later it was number one in selling mobile phones in Spain. I left just as its decline began. I had a similar story in Nokia leaving in 2005 just before their decline began. It’s a big of a joke, but a previous boss of mine once said: just follow Masha. Funny isn’t it?

And who entered the job market this week was my older daughter Susana as I told you last week. She started one day before the strike and has now had 4 days of experience as a member of the workforce. I hope she gains lots of know-how at Adecal and that her time there helps her up the professional ladder.

Good news for my friends in the title of this week's blog post has to do with the job market too. The day after the strike I had a morning coffee appointment with my friend and neighbour Elena. We have been meeting once a month since she lost her job as Communications Director with Ericsson Spain over two years ago. After having had two similar experiences in my own life, I knew exactly what she would be feeling like and just how difficult it would be to find another job. So I decided to help her in the only way I could, by being with her and keeping up her morale. I was therefore delighted to hear from her on Thursday that she had landed a job as Thyssen Krupp’s Comms Director for Spain and Southern Europe. She is 52 and back in the job market and head over heels with joy and relief. It means a new lease of life and I am so happy for her.  It’s funny also that before I joined Yoigo I actually had some interviews for that very same position but they didn’t choose me as they thought my background was too consumer oriented. They were probably right as I didn’t really fancy the position. However Elena has just the right profile. I wish her lots of luck and enjoyment in her new job too.  Well done Elena! In the end you did it yourself.

My friend Elena when she was telling me the good news about her new job as Comms Director for Thyssen Krupp.  Congratulations couldn't be more in order for her.

The other friend who has also landed a new job is my ex colleague  Juana whose blog you can find in the section “my friends’ blogs”. She’s done extremely well after one year back from their time in Mexico to find a job as Account Manager with Microsoft who is based in nearby Pozuelo, very near where she lives. Now that’s a good company to work for. Congratulations Juana too. 

If 1st October was the day to remember joining Yoigo, it was also the day to remember my dear Mother’s passing away and that will always be so.  My Father remarked that he had been a widow now for 11 years. Yes 11 years ago my amazing, unique, extrovert, multi lingual, somewhat academic and Bohemian mother of Russian aristocratic background died of that most feared disease, cancer. She is often in my thoughts but mostly so on her birthday, 7th June, and on the anniversary of her sad death on the 1st of October. In life you are prepared for many things, but the death of your parents is something you are never prepared for and can never really get over. God bless you Mummy, I miss you. We all miss you.

Life goes on of course and that’s what this blog is all about. I may have told you last week that I have now been writing it for just over five years since September 2005.  So what else is there to tell you about this week?

We still remember our holiday in Jordan and Israel of course and life after that has been a bit flat to tell you the truth. We had bought back from Amman three cushion covers in the pattern of the cushions we saw everywhere in the Bedouin tents and in other places. I took them to have zips put in as well as the filling and yesterday I went to pick them up. They are now gracing this room, the “IT room”, to quote my Father and from where I am writing to you now. This is how they look and they are there to remind us of our lovely trip.

A bit of Jordan in our home.  I had  zips and filling put in the cushion covers we bought in Amman and they are now gracing the red sofa in our "IT room".

You probably know I am a great reader, mostly of biographies, World War II survivor stories and “mislit” and recently I didn’t have anything to lay my hands upon that was of great interest. It’s important to have a good book to read always, but especially when you are on a diet. It takes your mind off food! So I went to my book shop, and the first thing I saw recommended was Tony Blair’s “The Journey”, the autobiography of his time as Prime Minister. I also ordered "Nella Last’s War", the extraordinary diary of Nella Last, a middle aged housewife during the Second World War in England. Lastly I couldn’t resist getting another Auschwitz survivor story, probably spurred on by our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, written by a non Jewish Rumanian woman called Olga Lengyel.  It is called "Five Chimneys" and is both an amazing and horrowing story.

A Journey, Tony Blair's autobiography which I got from this week.

I also like films so last Sunday, just after  Fernando Alonso had won the Singapore GP, I watched the horrific film Precious about an obese and very unlucky black girl who lived in Harlem. It made me realise just how lucky I am and for a moment also how much thinner I am too!

Precious, a horrific story about an obese black girl from Harlem. You couldn't have a worse life than her's

Just as it was finishing our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen came to join us for our daily walk. Our walk has become an essential part of everyday life and  hardly a day goes by without it. Norah, of course, thoroughly enjoys it. Even she has got a bit thinner since we came back from Israel and Jordan as whilst we were away the poor dog didn’t leave the house once. She likes to meet other dogs on the way, like these two delightful terriers.

Norah's friends, two lovely terriers we often meet on our walk.

After the walk we went out to dinner. It had to be a place where I could get fat free protein and oil free vegetables. So where did we go? Certainly not to the pasta place La Alpargateriá, but to La Txitxarrería in Pozuelo. The meat there is out of this world, highly recommendable.

I had another protein and vegetable lunch out  this week with a colleague from work, Juan. It turns out that he is also following the Dukan diet and has already lost 11kgs. Thus we spent the better part of our lunch at Aspen talking about diets.

Therefore I end my blog on the same note as it begun, the story about my diet. My life is all about diets and I just wish I had been born with a thinner constitution and could now be writing about something else instead of diets.

C’est la vie!

Cheers till next week my friends.