Sunday, March 27, 2011

The clocks go forward, RIP Liz Taylor, my film and book of the week, itchy feet, Yorkshire, my roots and more.

Liz Taylor that violet eyed icon of Hollywood died aged 79 this week
Hi again,

Another week has passed, spring has come and the clocks went forward an hour yesterday, what is called in the UK British Summer Time. However for the moment there is no sign of the latter, although of course we have one more hour of daylight a day, a blessing for our evening walk when we want to go later than usual.

So how has your week been? Mine has been fine, more active than last time but generally quiet and there has been time for travel planning and inner thinking, something I seem to do more as I grow older. Travelling, of course, is part of my DNA but more about that later.

Work wise it has been quite satisfactory. My feat of note this week has been the culmination of many months of work on the film about the story of Yoigo which we have called “the story of the no tricks operator”, the story of Yoigo’s first four years summarised into just 30 minutes. Finally this week we finished work on the short version which we had to pack into just over six minutes. And at long last I can share it with you as it  is now published here on You Tube. Let me know what you think. As I told someone this week, of all the things  I have done professionally  this project is one of those I am most proud of.

Whilst on the subject of films, the violet eyed icon of Hollywood left us this week. Yes, the amazingly beautiful actress, equally famous for having 8 husbands and less famous for her work on aids, Liz Taylor left us aged 79, the same age my Mother died. When I think of Elizabeth Taylor I remember her as Velvet in that wonderful film based on the book called National Velvet, about a young girl competing in the Grand National dressed as a boy. She was only 12 years old but captured people’s hearts even then. Most people will recall her for role in Cleopatra, but I was never very keen on that film. However she is most famous for her two marriages to Richard Burton, possibly the most attractive British actor ever to have walked this earth who had the sexiest voice possible with his rich British rather than native Welsh accent. I read in one of the obituaries that perhaps her best role was playing her own life, and maybe it was. I was a bit upset to read too that she was not considered the greatest of actresses. But how can that be if she won two Oscars? Today there are no Hollywood stars of her stature. For me she is in a league of her own, truly loving life like there was no tomorrow. I do hope that she will finally be left to rest together with Richard Burton as I think that is what both of them would have wanted. RIP Liz, the world will always remember you.

I loved Liz Taylor in National Velvet.  She was just 12 then
Still on the subject of films, and oh yes, I love films, if they have drama, war, biography in them or they are about schools, prisons, hospitals and especially convents and I just loved Black Swan. Take it I like ballet, possibly because of my Russian blood. But you have to admit that Natalie Portman, another Hollywood actress in a league of her own, is superb in this brutal film about rivalry between prima ballerinas. Fragile and puritan, a perfectionist and dangerously ambitious to the end, Nina, will do anything to keep her role as the Swan Queen, both as the White Swan and the Black Swan which will demand of her a sensual side unknown to her before. It’s much more than that; there is a horror side to it too but also exceptional beauty and it has haunted me since I saw it on Friday with Eladio. It is a film to remember and no wonder Natalie Portman won this year’s Oscar for her role as fragile and beautiful Nina.

Natalie Portman is stunning in the amazing Black Swan, my film of the week
If that was my film of the week, my book of the week has left me equally haunted. It’s called Sister and is written by the British novel author Rosamund Lupton who has been equated to Daphne du Maurier.  I think it’s pretty much a wow book as far as best sellers go but actually it’s where literature meets crime fiction as it’s so beautifully and tenderly written. At the same time it has you hooked from beginning to end to find out “who did it”. It is the story of an older sister, Bee or Beatrice, going in search of her lost younger sister Tess. But if you haven’t read it, I won’t tell you anymore so as not to spoil the book for you. I am now looking forward to the same author’s next book which will be coming out in July and is called “Afterwards”. This writer will go far, that’s for sure.
Sister is my book of the week and one of the best I have read recently
This week though hasn’t only been about films and books, it’s been about travel planning and I have lots of trips planned. Right now I have what my Father used to call “itchy feet” when he described my brother’s taking off on a trip; something which in fact both George and I must have inherited from both our parents.

My feet will stop itching the week after next when I will be going to Stockholm for a communications meeting. I will fly from there to my beloved Helsinki for a wonderful weekend with my equally beloved Anne, a pseudo sister for me. My next trip after that is with Eladio to Asturias in the north of Spain just before Easter. We want to use our Parador points and also take advantage of a free night at an NH hotel, courtesy of BMW, so will be going first to Gijon to the Parador and then to Avilés to the NH Palacio de Ferrera. Afterwards we will be travelling nearby to the bewitching little fishing town called Cudillero and there is a reason for going there. Apart from visiting beautiful Cudillero, I want to see the cliff where Father Angel and Victoria from my favourite TV series “La Señora” meet. I think it is called the “Acantilado de Cuerres and is in the township of Ribadesella very near to Cudillero. We will be staying at the highly recommended bed and breakfast Casona de la Paca, for two nights, a gem of a building in the typical “Indiana” style of the area.

I shall be visiting these cliffs in Asturias in April where Padre Angel and Victoria from my favourite TV series "La Señora" used to meet.
And when we come back from Asturias we will be unpacking and packing again on the same day as that night we will be off to the Balearic island of Ibiza. For me it will be a site inspection trip as we plan to organise the Yoigo summer party there this year. I have never been there, nor I have ever been particularly attracted to this small jet set cum hippy-island but I’m sure it has a lot going for it. I will tell you more when I get back.

Our travels will not end there either but we will have a respite of a month at home only as in June we have a long weekend trip planned to Brussels. Yes, Brussels again, to meet up with my wonderful University friends, Sandra who lives there, and Adele who will come from France. We will be joined by our husbands and partners, Eladio, Jeffer and Bernard. We had a memorable time together last year and this reunion promises to be just as good. I feel very close to both Sandra and Adele and am very glad to have them back in my life but I just wish they lived closer.

After Brussels we have another trip to look forward to. This year’s holiday will be to the UK and I am planning it with great love and detail. I would love to take my Father with us, but alas, we both agree the trip would probably be just too much for someone who in May will be 92. We will spend two nights in London, oh London, one of the most exciting cities in the world. From London we will travel to Devon to stay with my best friend Amanda and her husband Andy, who I know and love too from my childhood in Yorkshire. They have moved from Surrey to Devon and I can’t wait to stay with them at their new home by the sea. We will be with them for 5 nights.

Afterwards we will travel together to Yorkshire, where Andy, Amanda and I  grew up, or at least spent our formative and teenage years. It’s a bit like going back to the scene of the crime. When I lived in Yorkshire, and I lived in that black industrial and ugly town of Bradford, I swore I never wanted to live there. But now as I grow older, I am somehow lured back, not to the back to back housing streets or the ugly 60’s buildings, but to the beautiful surrounding areas, Ilkley, the Dales, Harrogate, Haworth, ....

When I go back I am transformed to my past and cannot get enough of walking the streets of, yes, Muslim Bradford, walking on the moors and in the dales, driving on the familiar roads and seeing the familiar landmarks such as Bradford Grammar school where my Father was a teacher of languages for so many years. I must visit Shipley Glen where I often went with the Guides or the Saltaire village which I despised when I lived there but which has now become a tourist attraction and has its place in history. I must revisit my school, St. Joseph’s college, organise a reunion with my school friends and walk through Lister Park, now a no-go area. I must also go to Ilkley to have tea at Betty’s and to the Charlestone cemetery and shed a tear at my Mother’s grave. For old time’s sake too I want to go to a Sunday morning church service, sing familiar hymns, maybe even take communion and shake the vicar’s hand as I leave just as I used to do at St. Peter’s church in Shipley when Brandon Jackson was the vicar there. I must visit the Wrights, our neighbours of more than 40 years (Susan a spinster nearing 80 and her Mother aged over 100) and drink tea out of Spode china tea cups in their ornate Victorian drawing room and talk about the past. I must look at our old house and I must do many more things there and can never really get enough of it.

Our old house at 6 Heaton Grove in Bradford which I shall be visiting when we go to Yorkshire in July

I have always considered myself a person with no real roots. After all I was born in Cambridge to an English Father and Russian refugee Mother from where we moved to Lincolnshire when I was two. We moved to Yorkshire when I was 7 and I lived there until I was 18 when I went to Nottingham University. Then I came to Spain and now live in Madrid and have lived her for 30 years, more than the time I lived in the UK.

So where am I from I ask myself? Where are my roots? The roots of my formative years are in Yorkshire, the place I so despised for the greyness and ugliness and graffiti and for the thick local accent which I refused to get as I knew it wasn’t a place I was going to stay. And I didn’t. I got out and I live abroad. Yet I want to go back there, as if to the scene of the crime, time and time again, to my roots, at least to the roots of my formative years. Why I wonder? I don’t really know the answer. Just that I feel good when I’m there now, unlike how I felt when I was a teenager. I don’t know if you can imagine how much I am looking forward to that trip, another trip down memory lane, to my childhood in England but above all to Yorkshire.

So yes the week has been all about films, reading, walking and planning for up-coming trips and it was good. No social lunches this week, just dinner out with Eladio to La Alpargatería after seeing Black Swan on Friday. Of course I booked table number 7 (our table) and we ate what we always eat, after which we went to Haagen Dazs for me to indulge in one scoop of strawberry cheesecake ice cream.

The only dark cloud is a problem with the bridge in my teeth which has been troubling me for a while and actually keeping me awake at night. So I have been once again to see my wonderful dentist, Dr. Garralda. It’s touch and go at the moment as to whether the bridge will have to be removed and replaced but at least, for the moment, the pain has gone.

And that, my friends is it for this week. I wish you all a great week ahead. Cheers till next week. All the best


Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring is here again, help for Japan, rest in peace George K, a trip to Santa Pola, Norah on Facebook, war with Libya, a super full moon, and more.

Me on our lovely natural beach called Carabasi near our flat in Santa Pola

Hello again,

I’m a day late with my blog this week which is because we went to Santa Pola for the weekend, but more about that later. Here I am writing then on Monday but it’s not just any Monday, it’s the first day of spring. I noticed today coming back from my walk that we had an excellent sign of it in the garden in these two lonelydaffodils, that glorious flower about which William Wordsworth wrote his famous poem called by the same name, Daffodils. I can only ever remember the first line: “I wandered lonely as a cloud” but the rest is easy to find out these days with internet as you can read in the link here.

Our two lone daffodils I spotted in our garden today coinciding with the beginning of  Spring

In fact with spring in mind Eladio had the gardener, Guillermo, lay fertilizer on the grass which took his South American workers some two days to accomplish. This is what the lawn looked like afterwards. Norah enjoyed the smells enormously and got her paws suitably dirty the whole time too of course.

Our garden layed with fertilizer this last week

I hope you all had a good week. I certainly did. On the work front, I’m in the middle of a well deserved lull at the moment. However, believe it or not the tragedy ensuing from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan actually affected my work. People and organisations all over the world are collaborating or trying to help the nation which is now threatened by an even worse fate, a nuclear disaster which thankfully is now under control. And Yoigo wasn’t going to miss out as we collaborate with the Red Cross locally. So we rallied together to have an text number available for people to donate funds, at 1,20 euros per sms. If you live in Spain and have a number either with Yoigo or our competition you can help too by sending a text with the text JAPON to 28077.

We collaborated with the local Red Cross to help people in Japan by setting up a text number for donations

On Tuesday I had rather sad news from my Mother’s ex colleague, Richard D. He told of the passing away of George Konzevich who had died after a fall the previous Friday. He was my Mother’s ex colleague at Leeds University, Valya’s husband and was aged over 90. I trust he had a good life but I do know the beginnings were not good for him nor Valya, both of whom were Russian refugees who came to England after the Second World War. Richard wrote this in his email: “George Konzevich died on Friday of heart failure after falling awkwardly and being helped up with difficulty and after a delay. Valya was distraught of course, but organising the funeral (next Tuesday morning) and dealing with the authorities has occupied and distracted her for the time being. Very sad indeed”. I was rather upset as was my Father, of course and immediately rang Valya to give her our condolences. I have also sent a wreath via Interflora which I hope reaches them on time for the funeral tomorrow. I have written about George and Valya before when we visited them on our trip to Yorkshire in the summer of 2009. Here is a photo of that happy moment. Rest in peace George, you will be sorely missed, especially by your loving wife Valya.

A happy moment with George and Valya Konzevitch in the summer of 2009.  Sadly George (on the left in a blue shirt and white tie) passed away last week.  Rest in peace dear George.

On Thursday I went into Madrid to supervise the final details of the shortened version of the Yoigo film. So there I was again at Iralta films with Angel and Bea and Ramón and Mariana, the team who made the film. I thought I ought to capture the team on camera as our work comes to an end. Thanks guys you have done a great job. Ah but it’s not yet finished, we still have to make some changes, introduce new music we won’t have to pay enormous rights for and of course translate the shortened text into English for the subtitles. When it is I promise to publish it on You Tube and then you can all give me your opinion.

The team who made the film about Yoigo at Iralta Films this week.

Thursday wasn’t all work though as in the evening Eladio and I visited that wonderful Swedish furniture and home accessory store, Ikea. We went to get new duvets to take to Santa Pola but of course bought many other things as you can see from this picture of our car boot. I never go to Ikea without buying some of the Swedish delicacies such as meatballs, lingonberry and cloudberry jam, smoked salmon and of course their wonderful frozen cakes.

Our car boot loaded with goods from Ikea last week.

The week had been cold and wet but the forecast for the weekend was great so Eladio and I decided, on the spur of the moment, to go to Santa Pola to stay at our flat for the weekend. Santa Pola is near Alicante and is on the Costa Blanca coast, some 450km from here. Not only did we want to take advantage of the weather, we also wanted to check the flat was ok as we hadn’t been since last August. When we first bought the flat in 1999 we used to go really often but now it’s more of an investment and we go quite rarely. Even so I was looking forward to going and decided to take Friday off and thus avoid the traffic.

We are creatures of habit and thus stopped for lunch as we always do at the Parador in Albacete, some 150km from Santa Pola.

Me having lunch at the Parador in Albacete on Friday on our way to the beach

The weekend was to be somewhat gastronomic but also all about walking on the beach, reading and generally relaxing. As soon as we had settled in we headed for the beach, a lovely unspoilt natural beach with no horrible high rise buildings, just dunes and cliffs and a view of the bay of Alicante.  The weather was nice and sunny but there was always a nip the air and we were glad at night of the duvets we had bought at Ikea which turned out to be splendid; warm, light and very comfortable.

We enjoyed walks on our beach this weekend

After our walk it was nearly time for dinner and again, creatures of habit, we went to our favourite local place called María Picola on the road between Santa Pola and Elche. Here we were welcomed by the familiar waiters and served what we always order; a salad and a wonderful dish of local rice called Arroz a banda which is much better than paella, I can tell you.

Eladio at María Picola, our favourite restaurant in the area, on the road from Santa Pola to Elche

Saturday was spent reading the papers, sitting on the sunny terrace and reading our books and of course walking.

A view of the inside of our sunny little flat in Santa Pola
We had to walk a lot to work off all the delicious food we kept eating. Lunch on Saturday was just one option for us, fish and chips at Darby’s Chippy down the road from our apartment. I have written about this place before and I can only say it as good as the best fish and chip establishments back in the UK. The jolly Scottish owner welcomed us and asked how my leg was. I only realised later that he could only have known about it by reading my blog as when we were last there in August I wrote about my bad leg in the same post as our meal at his chip shop. So Mr. Darby if you are reading this post thanks for a great portion of fish and chips on Saturday. We will be back of course next time.

Me about to enjoy a wonderful portion of Darby's Chippy fish and chips.  I have to admit I couldn't finish it!
Or course after that wonderful British food we had to have an equally wonderful Spanish siesta to sleep it off. Later we went for yet another long walk, this time on the Santa Pola promenade where I bought a Russian newspaper for my Father. He knew you could get them there so the best option seemed to be Pravda, recommended to me by the Bulgarian shop assistant. I’m glad she did as I nearly picked up a Bulgarian newspaper, unknowingly instead of a Russian one! In the evening we decided to try out a restaurant across the road from the apartment but there wasn’t much to choose from, a Scandinavian place or a Chinese restaurant. We decided on the latter called “Cocina Asiatica” and were very pleasantly surprised by the quality but also by the wonderful service of the young Chinese girl serving us who seemed to speak both perfect English and Spanish, besides her native Mandarin or Cantonese or whatever because I couldn’t possibly know which was her native tongue. Later Eladio was to watch the Spanish derby football match between Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid. I was not particularly interested but happy that the latter won 2-0.

Our time at the flat would not have been complete without several visits to the small English supermarket, Quicksave where I stocked up on lots of important British produce to take home. I got chocolates, including Turkish delight, for my Father, hot cross buns for us all for Easter, jelly babies for the girls, fudge and Cadbury cream eggs for Suzy, bacon and Lincolnshire sausages for my Father and most important of all decent birthday cards for the up and coming birthdays in our household. It is not easy to get English produce in Spain so when I am in Santa Pola I make numerous visits to good old Quicksave.

Quicksave, the British supermarket across the way from our flat in Gran Alacant, Santa Pola.

On Sunday we were up early as we are most mornings and decided to leave after breakfast but of course had to clean the flat before going which is always a bore. We were in the car by 11 and home in the early afternoon after stopping for lunch at very good roadside cafe and restaurant called La Sima some 150km from Madrid, if rather expensive.  You can see the rest of the photos of our visit here.

La Sima, where we stopped for lunch on Sunday on our way home from Santa Pola, very good but expensive.

Whilst we were having a mundane but enjoyable weekend in Santa Pola, the girls were partying it up at home as they usually do when we are away. Norah had a great time as the girls and their friends spent a lot of time outdoors working on a tan. Norah by the way now has a fan page on Facebook where you can “like” her. At the moment she only has 10 fans, so do please add yourselves and increase the numbers of her “fan club”.

Norah had a great time with the girls and their friends whilst we were away.  This is her with no table manners at one of their meals, haha.

And while we were all enjoying the weekend, violence continued in the Middle East. Libya, the next country after Tunisia and Egypt and others in the region to be in a state of revolt has turned out to be a much more difficult country for its dictator leader to be overthrown. That is because we are talking about the famous mad dictator Colonel Gaddafi, a terror to his country and the world. The rebels who have been fighting his forces in the last few weeks were in great need of international support if they were not to be totally overthrown and help came this weekend when the United Nations gave the green light for the USA, France, the UK and other countries to carry out air attacks in the hope of finally overthrowing Gaddafi. We are in the throes of war with Libya at the moment and I only hope that one day the Libyan people will know what democracy is.

Anti Gaddafi rebels who now have a helping hand from the powerful western allies to overthrow the dictator in Libya

At the weekend too, there was another phenomenon, this time a natural one and not a disaster, thank goodness. The papers were full of news about a super full moon and I only realised what they were talking about when I looked outside our bathroom window last night and was taken aback by the size and luminosity of the moon I saw. Apparently it was the closest to the earth it has been in some 18 years. I took a photo which I then mistakenly deleted so I will have to make do with one I found on Google images. This was a nice piece of news for a change. So who said good news is no news?  Not me.

The super full moon which was so much in the news this weekend because of its closeness to earth.  

And on that nice piece of news I have come to the end of this week's blog which I hope you all enjoy. I also hope you have a good week and me too.

Cheers till next time


Monday, March 14, 2011

Women’s Day, Pancake day restored, bad news from Japan, a visit from León and more

It was great to have Pili and Andrés and the "abuela" with us this weekend.  Here we are out to dinner on Sunday

Good afternoon my friends.

So how was your week? Mine was fine, especially this weekend when we had the pleasure of the visit of Eladio’s sister, Pili, her husband Andrés and their Mother, Ernestina. They left a few hours ago, after which we went for our bracing daily walk with Norah of course. Our walk this week and last has shown the loveliest sign of spring, through the blossom on the wild plum trees walking up the hill. Also it seems to get dark later and you hear the birds singing after 7pm, another sign of spring which is now only a week away. I just wish it would get warmer and stop threatening rain.

I so love the blossom on our walk, a sure sign of spring coming
And now I am at my computer writing this week’s blogpost. Olivia is out, or so I think, my Father is reading upstairs, Eladio is working at his computer next to me and Suzy is on her way back from Cádiz with Gaby. Later this evening, hopefully when I’ve finished writing, we will be going out to dinner with our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen as we do most Sundays.

The week has been fine for us. Tuesday was a highlight. It was both International Women’s Day and Shrove Tuesday. I’m sure many people wonder why there is a special day for women, approximately half of the world’s population. Well I have the answer to that. Whilst women are still discriminated or battered in any part of the world, it’s good to have a special day to remember that we have to keep on fighting to eradicate both. I am a very fortunate woman but I often think that I too have suffered discrimination sometimes at work. It certainly wasn’t easy to climb the professional ladder especially in Spain in the 80’s and 90’s and I really think I had to work harder or prove myself more than my male counterparts in similar jobs.

Tuesday  was International Women's day, a day that will always need to be celebrated whilst descrimation exists.

So Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, commonly known as "Pancake Day in the UK, and I as I told you last week, I was determined to reintroduce the tradition of making pancakes that day for dinner. I got a great recipe from the Emma Bridgewater website which made some excellent pancakes. If you are interested this is the recipe: 1 Cup plain Flour, 3 eggs, 2 Cups milk, 2 Tablespoons melted butter, 1 Tablespoon of sugar, 1 Pinch of salt. I was very worried on Friday when I weighed myself that I would have put on weight due to the pancakes and other excesses, but no, my wonderful scales told me I had only put on 100 grammes. I must say we all enjoyed them and each and every one of us ate them with a different filling. My Father had them with strawberry jam, I had them with fresh raspberries and a dollop of cream and one with golden lyle syrup (delicious), Eladio had them with honey, Suzy and Oli had them with chocolate spread and Olga had them with ham which I think Norah enjoyed too, hahaha.

I restored the tradition of pancakes at home on Shrove Tuesday and they were delicious

On Wednesday, believe it or not, I was back to the film studio (Iralta Films) that had produced the short film about Yoigo. My mission now is to produce a shortened version that we can share with more people and put on You Tube. So there I was with Bea and Angel again, this time with the scissors cutting out huge chunks of the film and yet still trying to keep it fun and emotional.

Thursday was busy too and included a lunch plus interview with the financial daily paper, Cinco Días. It was with Antonio R.A, a very well known journalist in the sector and one I am quite close too. Funnily enough he was asked for references about me before I joined my present company. He told me later that he had given a glowing report. Thanks ARA. By the way we went to Nicomedes, a place I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

I was to see Bea and Angel again that night, as Bea and her sisters from my events agency, QuintaEsencia, had organized a party for some people from Yoigo, Iralta Films and also our PR Agency Ketchum. You will remember we had recently done a press conference at Bea’s house, which is the house used for filming in the very popular Spanish series called Cuéntame, of which I am a great fan. It was a good party but I went home early as I was tired, but also because I hate coming home to find Eladio asleep.

On Friday morning, the world woke up to the news of a terrible earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan. The magnitude of the quake was 8.9, probably the highest to ever hit Japan which lies in the most seismic part of the world. Despite Japan being the 3rd biggest economy in the world and the best country for an earthquake to happen (because they are so prepared) it has caused devastation and havoc. Worst of all are the threats of explosions of some of their nuclear power stations. The death toll is unknown but probably over 10.000 and of course many people are missing or feared dead. All the world’s eyes are on the Nippon nation right now. I read today in an article in El País that Japan may well even come out of this tragedy stronger than before, just the same as it did after the previous worst earthquake there in the 30’s and after the Hiroshima atom bomb attack at the end of the Second World War. On a personal level our thoughts were with Shino, Olivia’s Japanese friend from her Erasmus year in Falmouth and whom I met when we went to visit Oli. After a few hours of worry Shino assured us that she was fine and this is what she wrote: “Thank you so much for the messages, I’m fine but I’m really scared and devastated about the explosion of the nuclear power plant. I was going to go back to the UK tomorrow but cancelled my flight. I’ve never come across such disasters. I really hope this to be end soon”.

Disaster caused by the 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan on Friday

Friday for us, though, was a joy as we were to receive the visit of Pili, Andrés and my Mother-in-law, Ernestina. They arrived from León in their new BMW in torrential rain which later disappeared and we were in store for a great weekend together. Olga served us a nice simple dinner of Spanish “tortilla”, salad and ham, after which we watched the news of the disaster in Japan on the television. On Saturday Pili and I decided on a girly shopping morning and off we went in my new BMW to the nearby shopping centre, Centro Oeste. Our first stop was of course Zara where we came out happy with our bags of clothes and shoes as you can see in this photo.

One of the best moments of this weekend, going to Zara with Pili.

After a wonderful lunch of fish and chips made by Olga, and a short siesta (that great Spanish weekend sport), we made our way to Boadilla to go on the special walk in the wood by the palace. We took Norah who travelled in the back of Andres and Pili’s car which has a special net cum harness for carrying pets but she hated it and cried the whole way. You can see her desperate face in this picture here.

Norah not happy in the back of Pili and Andres' car when we went to Boadilla for our walk.

Pili, no great walker, and her Mother stayed within the vicinity of the palace whilst Eladio, Andrés, Norah and I strode off for a walk which took well over an hour because we got lost as we usually do in this wonderful evergreen oak wood.

Andrés, Eladio and Norah on the walk in the lovely evergreen oak tree wood in Boadilla on Saturday

In the evening we had a date in town for dinner with Eladio’s other brother, José Antonio and his wife Dolores. We went to Naia, a restaurant in the old centre which is part owned by a colleague of mine. The picture illustrating this post is of the four of us enjoying a glass of wine whilst waiting for José Antonio and Dolores to arrive. We had a great dinner and were given the best table at the restaurant. Pedro my colleague also treated us to the desserts and mine was out of this world, a brownie with violet flavoured ice cream!

Today was a great day or rather morning together too. We decided on the spur of the moment to take Pili and Andrés, my mother-in-law and my Father to the Retiro Park, Madrid’s equivalent to Hyde Park in London or Central Park in New York. It is really a fine place, especially on Sunday mornings when people converge here to enjoy the walk by the lake, a walk that is filled with side shows and stalls offering market type wares. We mostly enjoyed a great black magician from Cuba, a guy we shall not easily forget.

Raúl, the black magician from Cuba who so entertained us at the Retiro Park on Sunday

We were joined by José Antonio and Dolores and their dog Nuba, a funny looking mongrel they adore, as well as by Olivia a little later. We all enjoyed a coffee together at the end of the walkway whilst contemplating people boating on the lake by the famous monument to Alfonso XII.

The monument to Alfonso XII, the landmark of the lovely Retiro Park in Madrid, as we saw it on Sunday.

As we left we got a passerby to take a photo of us all. I commented later, laughingly, that it looked like a group photo from an old age pensioners’ excursion somewhere.

All of us at the Retiro Park this Sunday.

And soon the lovely morning was over and it was time to go home for our final meal together, lunch prepared for us by Olga for us just to heat up. How our lives have changed since Olga has come to live with us is what I thought as we drove home.

Our visitors were soon to leave but the fun continued when Pili and I were in Olivia’s room and she was showing us her hair extensions. Then in walked Andrés to whom Oli promptly put them on. We were in stitches at the sight. I mean he looks so funny. If you live in Spain you will know who the comedian actor cum director Santiago Segura is. Well, Andrés with Oli’s extensions became an immediate look alike. Here is the photo of Andrés and here is a link to images of Santiago Segura. I hope you are laughing now, hahaha.

Andrés wearing Olivia's hair extensions took on a complete hippy look on Sunday just before they left.  What a laugh!

Then in walked my 89 year old Mother-in-law, Ernestina, and Oli put the extensions on her too and this is the photo of the two of them looking like a old hippy couple, hahaha. As Oli was adding the finishing touches with the yellow Parisian beret and striped one,  Pili and I literally fell on the floor laughing.I hope you find this picture funny too.

My brother-in-law Andrés, always up for a laugh, with my 89 year old Mother-in-law both wearing Oli's hair extensions.  They had us in stitches. 

Their visit ended on this hilarious note but was the tonic of the whole weekend. Pili has just phoned to say they have arrived home safely but also to tell us they had a ball of a time. Well we did too and only hope they will come back soon. You can see the rest of the pictures of our time together here.

And that, my friends, is it for this week. I wish you all a great week coming up.

Cheers Masha

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Quiet times and not enough action, Norah, Carnaval and Shrove Tuesday, the Oscar goes to The King’s Speech, my books and film of the week, a small PR crisis, Madrid Restaurant week and other things.

Norah on Eladio's lap.  She has brought so much joy to our lives.

Hi again

The week has not passed by fast as at other times. It was my turn to rest after a hectic 2 months of stressful activities at work. It was ok for the first few days and I am sleeping better now and no longer getting up at the crack of dawn. But I am beginning to get bored. I have found this week far too quiet and need some action and I need it soon. Quiet times are ok for me but only if they are spiced up with action in between time.

The weather has been pretty ghastly to add to the quietness with rain and snow threatening most of the week. It actually stopped me from going on our walk but only once. My daily walk is now an integral part of my life and I hate it when the weather won’t let me go out. Norah doesn’t like to miss the walks either. I can’t tell you how much joy our beagle dog Norah has brought to this house and family. We all dote on her and she must be one of the happiest and most spoiled dogs in the world. She is just over two years old but still thinks she is a puppy because she often tries to jump onto our laps where we would cuddle her when she was small. In the photo illustrating this blog you can see her on Eladio’s lap, as happy as a sandboy or “sanddog” maybe I should say, hahaha.

I could have got some action from Carnaval week but actually that leaves me feeling pretty cold as I was never a one for dressing up nor was I brought up on it. I was, however, brought up to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (commonly known as “Pancake Day”) and regret not having carried on that tradition when creating my own family. I have half in my mind to make pancakes next Tuesday for my Father, Eladio and the girls, to make up for that. Not that we will be fasting for Lent afterwards of course.

I think I might reinstate Pancake Day in our lives this coming Shrove Tuesday

I could also have got some action this week by going to the Valencian “Fallas” festival which has begun this weekend. But then again I hate huge crowds and fires and fireworks on a big scale can be a bit worrying. I think I once told you about a terrible incident during our Callosa Days when a man got burnt. In fact he died in front of me after someone threw a match into a box of bangers in the Bolulla social club right next to my Aunt’s house. That is something I shall never forget. Amazingly the culprit who remains anonymous got away and the tragedy was never investigated by the police. That was in the mid seventies and I think things would have been different today even in that remote part of Alicante. In the Valencia and Alicante region stories like this are rife as fire and fireworks are a part and parcel of nearly all their local festivals and you often see, or you used to see, people with fingers or whole limbs missing. I particularly remember the owner of the bar in Tárbena, I think his name was Pepe, being armless and when I asked what had happened I was told he had lost his arm when throwing a banger as a young boy. So no, I didn’t and won’t be going to the Fallas nor did I celebrate Carnaval but have yet to decide about the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday coming up next week.

The Fallas festival in Valencia commencing this weekend but I won't be going.

Thus there hasn’t been much action this week but actually when I look at my preparatory list for this blogpost’s entry, the list is quite long. As the work front was very quiet, just concentrating mostly on reports or little things I had left on my “to do list” (yes I am always drawing up lists), there was a lot of time for reading and films which I will come to later. I worked at home all week and didn’t go into work at all which I actually rather missed.

When I finished my blog entry last Sunday, we went out for dinner that night, unexpectedly, with our friends Roberto and MariCarmen to La Vinoteca in nearby Boadilla. Hopefully we will be having dinner again with them tonight.

On Monday I woke up to the news of this year’s Oscar awards. I was not surprised to hear that this year’s Oscar went to The King’s Speech which in fact got four Oscars, including best film, best director and best actor to Colin Firth. I really must see it in English as the dubbed version I saw did not  live up to my expectations. I loved some of the English paper’s headlines which referred to the award as “King’s speech crowned as best picture”. English headlines are full of puns and plays on words, something I miss in the Spanish press.

Colin Firth won Best Actor for The King's Speech at this year's Oscar Awards.

My only professional engagement was on Tuesday and it was a lunch appointment with Sarah, an English correspondent for Reuters. We went to an Indian place I love called Annapurna. It was great to speak English throughout and to compare notes on why we both came to Spain. Sarah seems to live more within the Madrid English community than I do and she got me thinking whether I miss that or not and probably I do, to some extent. She has promised to introduce me to her boss June, an English lady of my age who has also lived here for “donkey’s years” and I look forward to that.

Sarah and I shared a plate of onion bhajis at Annapurna on Monday.

On Tuesday too an ailing Steve Jobs announced the new iPad from Apple. It may well be magnificent but as I haven’t had the privilege of owning the first edition, I cannot compare. What I thought intriguing was that there seemed to be as much or more interest in Steve Job’s physical state than in the new tablet. He is after all convalescing from his second bout of cancer and as he is such an integral part of the brand, there is concern for Apple’s future without him. The launch was accompanied by the usual Steve Jobs/Apple fanfare which I discern may now well have lost its shine with the press. Maybe Apple will have to pull another one next time.

Steve Jobbs unveiled the new iPad from Apple this week in his trade mark black t-shirt and jeans.

This quiet week also brought with it the chance to read again. When I am very busy and stressed I don’t read much but when I am not, I often read one or more books in a week. My books of the week these last few days were two very different stories but both in the biographical genre which is probably my favourite. I read the biography of Natascha Kampusch called 3.096 days, the days this young Austrian girl was imprisoned by her kidnapper who abducted her when she was just 10 years old. I cannot tell you how harrowing her story is but it is also a story of personal triumph of how she managed to survive throughout by never giving up or forgetting her identity which he tried to tear completely away from her.

The harrowing story of Natascha Kampusch was one of my books of the week

My other book of the week is, coincidentally, the King’s Speech written by Mark Logue, the grandson of the King’s therapist, Lionel Logue. It is based on the letters and diaries and scrapbooks Mark found after his Father’s death and is a wonderful story of both men; his grandfather the larger than life Australian speech therapist and the King, Bertie, who became George VI after his brother Edward VIII abdicated. I highly recommend both books.

One of my books of the week

Action finally came on Friday but not the kind of action I like. We had a mini PR crisis on our hands when a very beligerant consumer association called Facua made public a fine the Community of Madrid wanted to impose on Yoigo after the association had accused us. What of you may ask? Well, of keeping the money left over in prepaid cards that people don’t spend. How stupid you may think. Well that’s what I thought. It’s a bit like accusing the cinemas of not returning your money if you buy a ticket and don’t use it. However the story was published right left and centre on internet and was of course tarnishing Yoigo’s name meanwhile. The media had published it but hadn’t asked for our opinion. By the time we had our statement ready (that this practice is included in all our contracts – and in all the other operators’ too for your information) the damage was done and it wasn’t until the afternoon when I began to see our side of the story published. Friday was full of action but as I said not the type of action I like. A PR crisis is not a favourite part of my job I can tell you. Let’s hope the whole thing blows over next week.

Friday evening was far more enjoyable. We had a date for dinner with our friends Pedro and Ludy. Pedro is Pedro Delgado the famous Spanish cyclist who has won both the Tour of France and Tour of Spain. Today he is a commentator for TVE. I had heard on the radio a few days before that  from 25th February to 6th March it was Madrid Restaurant Week. Some 30 or so top restaurants offer a menu for 25 euros per head and one euro goes to charity. So I looked at the list and and the menus and decided on a place called Nuevo Gerardo in town. We were not disappointed as the place specialises in fish and rice and the menu was splendid. Pedro although nearly 50 is still very recognisable and many times during the evening people came up and shook his hand or took a photograph with him. He is very patient and always smiles; a part of his charm and charisma. We talked so much that night that I forgot to take a photo for my blog. Sorry guys.

Nuevo Gerardo, the restuarant I chose from Madrid Restaurant Week for our dinner with Pedro and Ludy

The radio this week informed me not only about the Madrid Restaurant Week, but also about a new film I knew I just had to see because of my roots and interest in that part of history. The Spanish film director and actor Carlos Iglesias was talking about his new film called Ispansi. Ispantsi in Russian means Spaniards and refers to the children of the Spanish Civil War who were exiled in Russia in 1936.  They were mainly the children of republicans known as “the reds” and were later caught up in an ever worse war, the Second World War. Many of them were never ever able to return to Spain and the film is dedicated to them. It was certainly the film of the week for me and one of the best I have seen in a long time. We saw it last night at a cinema called Renoir in Majadahonda where more cultural films are shown and we remarked that only people our age go to see them.

Ispansi, my film of the week

Of course we went to dinner afterwards and I know I will surprise you when I tell you we went to McDonalds. Well we did, because we too like fast food occasionally. Also our car was parked right outside and the smell of their chips was what lured us in; the best chips in the world according to my Father, but not to me.

I well remember the first time I ever entered a McDonalds. It was in 1972 in Stockholm when I was travelling around Northern Europe on inter rail which cost me 25 pounds for a month’s ticket at the time. I hadn’t seen one in England and was very impressed although a little flustered with how fast the ordering took place. I remember too when I was in Madrid on my exchange year in 1978 that American hamburger joints began to expand. The first McDonalds in Madrid, which is still there today, was in the Gran Via and I often had a meal there as a way of a night out as it was both very “in” and of course very cheap.

Instead of a quiet week at home, I would have loved to have been travelling but as that couldn’t be, I have been vicariously enjoying my god daughter Alicia’s trip to England via her posts and photos on Facebook. Alicia has gone to be an au pair with a mono parent family in a small town called Chertsey, just outside London on the "commuter belt".  In fact her first trip ever to London was yesterday and here is a lovely photo of her at Piccadilly Circus.

Alicia, my god daughter, on her first visit to London yesterday

I have also been enjoying someone else’s travels, Arja’s to India, a place that has left an enormous mark on both Eladio and I after our trip there 2 years ago. Arja used to be the head of communications at Nokia and I was shocked to hear that she had left recently after 17 years there. But I was happy to see on Facebook that she is enjoying a long and well deserved trip to Incredible India. I am so looking forward to travelling again and will have to wait until next month. I will be going to another communications team meeting which was scheduled for Finland, a country very close to my heart. To my dismay though the location has been changed and the meeting will now be held in Stockholm once again. Not that I don’t like Stockholm, which I do, but I would far have preferred Helsinki. The next scheduled trip after that is to Brussels in June for a long weekend with Sandie and Adele. After that the following destination will probably be the UK as I haven’t been “home” now for over a year and a half. Travelling, as you know, is in my blood, but for now I shall have to wait.

Today, Sunday, has been quiet too and we have done all the usual things like reading the papers in the morning. Joy of joys, we were all here for lunch today and I made one of my best dishes, the Spanish “cocido” made of vegetables, chick peas and all sorts of meats and bones. Needless to say Norah enjoyed some of the latter. And now I will leave you as it is time for our walk which as I am always telling you is now an integral part of our life and also very instrumental in my diet. Yes I am still following the Dukan way of living and am now well into the consolidation phase and have not put on an ounce since I reached my target weight at the beginning of January.

Meanwhile I hope you all have a great week and I hope I get a bit more action than I did this week.

Cheers my friends,