Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cooling off by the pool, a family barbecue, our 28th wedding anniversary, Grandpa went to hospital, Oli’s debut on television, Elsa was run over, much ado about nothing and other stories.

Oli with Elsa, both feature in this week's blogpost.
Hello again

It is Sunday 28th August, nearly the end of the month and I haven’t written since Tuesday 16th.   So sorry for the delay which in part is due to laziness but also to so much happening that I never found the right moment.  So I have lots to tell you in this new edition.

The weather has changed for the cooler since I last wrote.  We went through a dreadful heat wave and all we could do was cool off by the pool every afternoon.  That was when Eladio’s Mother was here and even she, who is very sensitive to the cold, complained, although I suspect she didn’t suffer as much as us.  I had to persuade her to take her thick stockings off when it was 40ºc.  However she refused to remove her vest and underskirt.

The abuela and Eladio by the pool which is where we spent most of our time during the heat wave

The week before last was very quiet, the highlights being a trip with Olivia to the Tres Aguas shopping centre where I bought t-shirts I didn’t really need, and dinner out with our friends Juana and Oscar.  We went to an Italian place called Viancco in Zielo, yet another shopping centre, this time in nearby Pozuelo.  It is called “zielo” which sort of means “cielo” (sky or heaven in Spanish) as you can see the skyline of Madrid from where it is located.  The skyline at night from the rooftop dining area of Viancco was spectacular.  The heat had remitted a little but was replaced with heavy winds of warm air which kept blowing our napkins and bread basket away.  Juana who used to work in Nokia and now works in Microsoft and Oscar who works for Siemens Nokia Networks were colleagues of mine when I worked for Nokia.  Apart from talking about our holidays and families, the conversation naturally turned to the events in the industry, such as Google buying Motorola.  We discussed too whether one day Microsoft may buy Nokia which at the moment is a just a rumour.  One thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment in the telecommunications sector and changes and takeovers are the rule of thumb we all live by. 

This was the terrace where we had dinner at Viancco with Juana and Oscar with the view of the Madrid skyline.

If the week was quiet, the weekend was busy.  On Saturday Olivia invited the girls’ friends Ana and Juli for lunch and to spend time with us cooling off by the pool again.

Ana, Rocío and Juli came to be with Oli and cool off by our pool and Juli brought Oddy.

Juli brought with him his lovely Westie dog, Oddy.  We were worried that Norah and Elsa wouldn’t be too happy but after some initial suspicion and sniffing, they couldn’t have been happier with their canine visitor.

Norah and Elsa were delighted with Oddy's company

On Sunday we were expecting Eladio’s sister, Pili, her husband Andrés and their daughter Paula and her boyfriend Pedro as well as Eladio’s brother Isidro, his wife Yoli and their daughter Alicia who is our god daughter.  They had been staying in Madrid in Eladio’s brother’s, José Antonio, house in Madrid where they had come from León to prepare the flat that Paula and Alicia will be living in from September onwards.  For the records it belongs to Pedro Delgado, my cycling friend, and his wife Ludy.  They were also coming to pick up the abuela to take her back to cooler León where she lives with Eladio’s sister Adela.

I was up early that morning as there was a lot to do to make lunch for 13 people.  I also wanted to take an early morning walk as I wouldn’t be able to later as we had a dinner engagement that night.  The walk turned out to be a bit of an adventure.  I couldn’t go on the normal walk as it is the shooting season and I could hear shots being fired at what I imagined were poor scurrying rabbits on our usual path.  So I walked all the way up our steep street and made a left turn at the top.  The walk would have been too short that way so I decided to prolong it by taking a different route back through the nature paths behind some of the houses and that was my pitfall.  I was not sure of my way and there were many paths to choose from.  At one stage I hit upon thick bramble and had to turn back and I still have the marks on my legs to prove it.  From there onwards, totally disoriented, I tried to find my way back to a street and to the top of the hill.  I did finally but the whole adventure took nearly two hours.  Amazingly, when I got home, no one had noticed my absence.  I then had a quick swim to cool off before heading to the local supermarket to get provisions for the big lunch.

Whilst Eladio was preparing the fire for the barbecue and I was laying the table, making the salad, getting the meat out and all the other etceteras, the family arrived early and unannounced.  Luckily my sisters-in-law gave an immediate hand and we were then all able to enjoy being together around the pool for a while before lunch because that was the only place we could be in the prolonged heat wave.

We were to have a barbecue but we couldn’t eat it outside unfortunately because of the heat so we retreated to our air conditioned dining room, just fitting 13 people round our big table. 

The family barbecue we had to have inside because of the heat.

We spent more time by the pool after lunch and it was so hot even the abuela put her feet in the water, despite Pili’s hesitance. You can see from the smile on her face in this group picture just how much she loved it.

Cooling off by the pool with Eladio's family.  Even the abuela put her feet in the water!

You can see more photos of their visit and the time the abuela was with us too, here on Facebook.
All too soon they left us, eager to be back in their beloved hometown León and we were left alone again, to clear up and spend more time by the pool with our books.  I was re-reading an old favourite, A Townlike Alice by Nevil Shute, an English author who wrote in the 50’s.  I cannot recommend the book highly enough.  Set in England, Malaysia and Australia, it tells the story of a young English girl who is caught prisoner in the war in Malaysia and how she and a group of women and children walk aimlessly guarded by Japanese soldiers for years.  It is here that she meets Joe, an Australian.  They seek each other after the war and the reference to a town like Alice refers to how she builds a town like Alice Springs in the settling in the Queensland outback where he is a ringer.  It is a book I have read and reread over the years and was also a favourite of my Mothers which makes it even more special for me.

Often when I read by the pool, I am joined by our dogs. I particularly like this picture Suzy captured on her camera some time last week.
The dogs often like to join me when I am reading by the pool!
Sunday was important for the family barbecue of course but it was more important in my heart for it being our wedding anniversary.  It was actually rather fitting to be with Eladio’s family on that very day as they had all been with us on our wedding day on 21st August 1983. We were celebrating 28 years of happy marriage, something of a rarity these days.  We actually met in the summer of 1980, so have been together for 31 years.

Eladio and I the summer we met in 1980 (camping in Portugal)
 I was a snippet of a girl at the time, just 23 years old and when I met Eladio I could hardly have known that I would be spending the rest of our lives together.  But that was life’s gift to me for which I am forever grateful.

Eladio and I 31 years later, still looking good I hope
 That night we had a dinner engagement with our friends Javier and Ana, who have been our hosts many times in their adopted village of Peñacaballera in Salamanca and, of course, in New York where they are have been living for the last three or four years.  We couldn’t make it to “Peña” this summer, so arranged to have dinner in our around Madrid last Sunday.  Knowing our taste, Javier suggested La Vaca Argentina in Las Rozas where they live when they are in Spain.  We immediately agreed as it is probably our all time favourite.  We hadn’t seen them since Christmas and they were looking as radiant and happy as ever and it was good to catch up.  This year they will be apart as a family, the women staying in Spain and the men in New York, except that Ana will be coming and going and it will be tough for them. Thus we celebrated our wedding anniversary with them, just as we did last year in Peña, when they ordered cakes especially for the occasion.

As we were out to dinner with Javier and Ana, we missed Suzy returning from her holiday in the south of Spain with Gaby, her boyfriend.  I wasn’t to see her until breakfast the next day.  She had been away for two weeks, first with her friends in Almería and then camping with Gaby in Huelva and in the Algarve in Portugal.  She was looking as brown as a berry and radiant as ever.

Suzy and Gaby on holiday, camping in Portugal

Monday was back to normal, with all of us for lunch for a change but little were we to know that it wasn’t to last very long.  We had booked an appointment with my Father’s G.P that afternoon because his chiropodist had noticed his ankles were swollen.  Eladio, being the “doctor” in our family accompanied him.  The appointment was at 16h and it seemed they were taking a long time.  I texted Eladio to find out what was happening only to get an alarming text back saying they were at the emergency ward of the Puerta de Hierro hospital in  Majadahonda.  My Father’s GP had detected arrhythmia which could cause blood clots and had obviously caused the oedema in his ankles; an abnormal retention of liquid.  Only one person could accompany my Father so it was no use going to the hospital which felt very frustrating.  The next news was that he would be staying the night for observation.  By then it was nearly 11 o’clock at night and neither of the men had eaten.  I knew it had to be me who would accompany my Father and I wanted to be with him.  So I made some sandwiches and packed a small bag of my Father’s things and a pillow and cardigan for myself and Suzy drove me to the hospital. I took over from Eladio just before midnight and prepared to spend the night with my Father at the Emergency ward.  And, what a night that was.  My image of a hospital being glamorous from the hospital television series I so love, went out with the wind as I witnessed the reality; the smells, the coughs, the noise in an atmosphere of near chaos.  My Father was not given a bed until 2 in the morning.  Luckily he was given a bed in a corner by a window, not like other people who lay on stretchers in the corridors.  They had run out of pillows but thankfully I was able to offer mine to my very uncomfortable Father that ghastly night we shall both remember for a long time. I had a stiff plastic chair with a low back to sit next to him.  Needless to say neither of us slept a wink and I still have a sore rib cage as I write today from sitting on that uncomfortable chair most of the night.  Things got worse for me as at about 6 in the morning after coming back from getting a bottle of water, I found my chair was missing and had to stand for the next couple of hours.  When I complained to the orderlies, they told me they themselves had needed my chair!  What was I to say?  OK I wasn’t the patient but at the hospital they need the patients to have an escort to look after the patients as there is not enough staff to administer their needs especially during the night.   If that is the case, there could at least be a reclining chair for the escorts.  I was not to find any sympathy in the Emergency ward and would never ever want to spend a night there again and I know I speak for my Father too.  I cannot forgive them for leaving him aged 92 in a wheel chair from 5 in the afternoon until 2 in the morning without giving him even a stretcher to lie on or a morsel of food.  Unbelievable!

Luckily the atmosphere, care and treatment were much better in the room he was moved to the next day.  Eladio took over in the morning and I was able to come home and have a shower and rest before returning after lunch.  My Father had rested too by then and was more comfortable and well looked after.  All my fears about the Spanish public health system became history as I saw how kindly and professionally he was treated by the nurse called Elena and the pregnant doctor Esther as well as by the cheerful orderlies and auxiliary nursing staff.  He was given a big, impeccably clean, single room with his own bathroom and luxury of luxuries, a sofa bed for his escort who was to be Eladio on the second night. Happily that night both slept all the way through. Grandpa underwent all sorts of sophisticated tests including a scan and electrocardiogram before the treatment began.  The doctor told me that he was in very good health for his age and that he was responding well to the treatment, pills to keep the water retention and blood clots away.  In fact he responded so well he was discharged after only 2 nights and we were able to bring him home on Wednesday morning.  It was a huge relief.  He has been a bit unsteady on his feet since the stay in hospital but is quickly getting better.  Furthermore with the new medication, he is now sleeping better than he did before, hardly getting up in the night anymore. The episode was a shock for us all and only served for me to try and look after him even better than before by anticipating his needs rather than waiting for us to tell us if he has a problem; something he never does.  We are so happy he is on the mend and home again with us.  Life can now go back to normal.

Grandpa tucking in at the hospital with The Daily Telegraph at his feet. He recovered very quickly thank goodness.

On Wednesday, whilst Grandpa was in hospital, Olivia made her debut as a presenter on television on the main state channel, TVE1 in the programme she is working for called “La Mañana de la 1”. My Father and I were able to watch it proudly together from his hospital room.  She had prepared a report which she herself presented on screen about modern day hippies; not the most scintillating of subjects, but I didn’t care as I was so proud to see her on TV.  You can see it for yourselves in this link.  Until now she has done voiceovers for many reports but hardly ever actually appeared on the screen which was why this was such an important moment for us all. If you are a mother and are reading this, I am sure you will relate to how proud I feel.

So life was back to normal but not for long.  On Friday morning I had a meeting with Cris (an avid reader of my blogJ) at Zielo to go over our activities in Santander next week.  This time I will be going alone as Eladio will be invigilating the UNED (Open University) exams whilst I’m there.  I will miss him.  

The next shock came in the afternoon. Eladio and I were by the pool when we heard a car coming up the drive.  We then heard a terrible shriek which I knew came from Elsa and it was immediately evident she had been run over.  We rushed to the drive, me without my glasses to find Olivia distraught and Elsa nowhere to be seen.  I wasn’t wearing my glasses so mistook a big stone for Elsa lying on the ground.  I’m ashamed to admit I went a bit hysterical, thinking she was dead or dying.  I quickly found my glasses and then found her sitting frightened between two chairs by the swimming pool.  We picked her up, not sure what had happened to her and Olivia drove us to the vet.  After an initial examination and exhaustive x-rays, it turned out that Elsa had been very lucky.  She had hurt her left paw but nothing was broken.  Valeria, the Argentinian vet, gave her a painkiller and told us to observe her for the next 48 hours to look out for any possible internal damage, such as her bladder.  I can happily tell you now, that, all she has is a bruised limb which will surely heal very soon.  Again, luck was on our side.  

That evening we had another dinner date, this time with our friends and neighbours, Elena and José Luis.  They picked us just after the Elsa incident, when all was calm, and we went to an Italian place in Boadilla, Il Portone, which was new for us.  Apart from telling them about Grandpa and Elsa, most of the evening, we spoke about where we would like to retire, which is Marbella.  This was done, over wonderful Italian dishes such as ham and mango carpaccio and warm prawn salad. As they are lovers and connoisseurs of the area, it was great to get some inside information from them.  As to whether we will ever actually retire there, who knows?  At the moment it is only a dream.  In my dream I want to live in a luxury dwelling, big enough to accommodate the girls and their families for holidays, probably in a secluded set of apartments with a lovely communal garden, right by a nice quiet and clean beach.  I want to have a sea view, but above all, I want to be able to walk outside the gate and cross the road or path straight on to the beach and be able to take morning walks daily before breakfast and at sunset.  I hope that’s not too much to ask.  Meanwhile back to reality.

It was only yesterday, Saturday, when things really returned to normal; i.e. no more nasty surprises like Grandpa’s stay in hospital or Elsa being run over.  It was also one of those Saturdays when we all had lunch together and Gaby, Suzy’s boyfriend, joined us. I cooked, of course, as Olga is still on holiday.  I am dying for her to come back as the house needs a thorough clean, although I am sure she is not.   

Today Sunday, has been another normal lazy Sunday, if not a bit cooler, although as I write from the table by the swimming pool, Suzy and Rocío are bathing in the company of Oli and Juli who came for lunch again today.

As I write too, the dreaded IreneHurricane has hit New York City.  Luckily the hurricane which swept the east coast, causing at least eight deaths and massive power cuts, lost its power as it hit Manhattan and had turned from a hurricane into a tropical storm.  Amazingly in its anticipation all the shops had been closed, public transport was cancelled, 300.000 people were evacuated, provisions for food were scarce and people were ordered to stay at home.  It sounded incredibly alarming so I was a bit worried for Javier and Ignacio.  Therefore it was music to my ears to read a message from them on Facebook to say that nothing drastic had happened and that they were perfectly alright.  So, to quote Javier, Hurricane Irene in NYC was “much ado about nothing”.  Well that is my best effort at translating “mucho ruido y pocas nueces”.  It might well have been much ado about nothing, but I can only imagine the US authorities went to such strict measures after the lessons learned from the terrible devastation caused by the Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans just few years ago that they weren’t taking any chances with New York City, one of the most populated areas in the world.
NYC empty and  much in the news because of Hurricane Irene.

And on that good piece of news, I have come to the end of my tales for this blog post.  

I do hope you all have a great week.  I can only hope that ours is incident free and would just ask for “normality” with no more nasty surprises.

Cheers till next week,

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Another week in August, a few days in Santa Pola, Elsa’s first walk, riots in England, Google buys Motorola and other things.

Eladio and I having lunch in the Port of Alicante last week

Hello again,

Today is Monday 15th August, the middle of the month but also a public holiday in Spain and many other countries in Europe to celebrate the Assumption.  It’s a religious holiday which benefits us all as it means a day off work for most of us whether we are religious or not.  On the note of religion, tomorrow the World Youth Days start in Madrid, presided over by the Pope.  I have mixed feelings about the visit and the event and sympathise really with those who think far too much money is spent on this pompous celebration which could be  a lot better spent on those dying of famine, for example, in Somalia. I also can’t equate with the hierarchy and wealth of the Catholic Church and the exaggerated veneration of its head, believing that that is not what Jesus preached when he said to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my church”.  

Eladio’s brother, José Antonio and his wife, Dolores and grown up children Sara and Miguel travelled from León this morning bringing with them the “abuela” (my Mother-in-law) who will be staying with us for a while.  I commented on whatsapp to the girls that this week the house would be turning into a temporary old age pensioners’ residence, me being the only non pensioner except for Oli when she arrives. Olga is on holiday so Eladio and I will have to do the household chores whilst she is away.  There’ll be no fancy cooking though as I am back full swing into the Dukane regime after more excesses in Santa Pola. Their visit warranted a nice family lunch so, as soon as we knew they were coming, Eladio and I got started and made all the preparations necessary for a barbecue with all the trimmings.    They have now gone and everything has been cleared away and here I am writing at my desk with the air conditioning at full blast.  

It’s Monday but it feels like Sunday, oh so quiet and oh so hot.   Suzy and Oli have just finished their week’s holiday in Aguamar in Almería.  Oli is on her way home and Suzy will be going on to Cádiz to spend the second part of her holiday with Gaby and we won’t see her until next Sunday. I do miss her.

My girlies on the beach in Almería this weekend.

But let me regress to where I left off in my last post which was last Sunday.  The week has been another long week in August with stifling heat and not much action.  At times I wish the summer was over and I had more to do.  We went to Santa Pola as we always do in the second week of August but our time there was a little too quiet and I have to admit I was a bit bored on occasion.  Besides I find the flat a little cramped sometimes. After all it is mathematically 10 times smaller than our home in Madrid.  

Our little apartment in Gran Alacant near Santa Pola.  We've had it now for nearly 12 years.

The drive there on Tuesday was very quiet with few cars on the roads.  We stopped at the Parador in Albacete for lunch which is now becoming the norm when we drive to Alicante.  These days the road is a new dual carriageway and there is also a fast toll motorway if you choose.  In the old days there was just a single lane road going and a single lane road coming back and they were the most congested roads in Spain during the holiday season.  In the old days few of us had air conditioning and we would travel in our small Renault 5 with the windows open and the hot air coming in from outside. We would take sandwiches or eat cheaply at one of the village bars on the way.  The journey used to take 6 hours and now takes just under 4 to travel the 420km to our destination.  The way we travel now is a far cry from how we did it not so many years ago.  However I sometimes miss going through the quaint and dusty villages which you bypass today.

We reached our flat in Gran Alacant, near Santa Pola in the mid afternoon.  We were happy to see it spotless for a change after the recent visits of the girls and their friends; the cleanliness being mostly thanks to the visit of Gaby’s parents I suspect.  Eladio immediately set up the new 32” flat screened television we had bought in Media Markt in Madrid to replace the broken tube one and soon we were able to see all the channels perfectly, the signal being much better than the one at home. We then waited for the gas man who was coming to inspect our installation, before heading for the beach with our chairs, book and swimming gear.  Eladio prefers to go in the evening and I agree that you avoid the rush and the crowds but somehow the day is over and the sun has nearly gone and sometimes I just long to do like everyone else and pack food and spend the whole day on the beach. But Eladio is a hard nut to crack on this issue.  I had hoped the tan on my chest and arms would spread to the rest of the body, but I’m afraid it just didn’t happen as the sun was never strong enough at that time in the evening.  On the other hand, I know it is not good for me to sunbathe, as my skin is too delicate.  My brother died of melanoma and I have always been wary of the sun on my body since then.

Me coming out of the water on the first evening.  Just never got the neck and arm tan to spread haha

For the 4 days we were there we decided not to cook, mostly because I wanted to avoid going to the Mercadona supermarket which is always heaving with shirtless Brits filling their trolleys with enormous amounts of food and booze and it feels like you have to fight your way around to get anything.  So we went out for meals instead.  We opted this time for the cheap places across the road, so as not to take the car out in the evening, and even ended up going to a modest Chinese place nearby which was much better than I had expected.  The local Italian place, however, was a disappointment.

On Wednesday, the highlight of the day was watching Ryan’s Daughter, one of my all time favourite films.  It wasn’t planned and we started watching it at 4 in the afternoon little realizing it was 4 hours long!  If you haven’t seen it you must if you like a good period love story like I do.  Besides, the acting is superb and the film won two Oscars.  Thus we went to the beach at 8 for our usual walk and this time it was nearly empty of people and of course, not much sign of the sun. 

Thursday brought with it the visit of  our friends Jackie and John and they made my day.  They live in nearby Pinoso, being a British family who moved to Spain permanently a few years ago.  Jackie is a girl of all trades who sells houses, insurance policies, gives English lessons on and offline and even sells Avon products.  You name it, she can do it. Jackie and I go back a long way, from our years as children and teenagers in Bradford, West Yorkshire where we went to school.  Jackie was my best friend Amanda’s neighbour in Chellow Dean.  It was great to see another British woman like me living in Spain but with a past which strengthens the friendship which was only budding when we were children. Jackie is one of my most loyal readers so it was great to meet in the flesh rather than online for a change.  Her Father, Brian Eastwood, a doctor of renown in Bradford, aged 89 and still living there, was very ill when she came.  Jackie was expecting a phone call with bad news any moment from her sister Gillian who I reminded her was Simon, Amanda’s older brother’s first boyfriend, some 40 years ago of course.  We both laughed at the memory and I pointed out that at the time I was a little jealous.  Very unfortunately, later that evening, when they had gone home, I got a message from Jackie to tell me that her Father had passed away and that it had probably happened when we were sitting on the lawn by the swimming pool in Santa Pola.  I was very sorry to hear the news and will be thinking of Jackie and Gillian on the 22nd when the funeral takes place.  It seems a century ago when we were children and their parents, who were probably younger than we are now, led a social life I wished my parents had but never did.  Jackie’s parents and Amanda’s parents formed a group of middle aged couples who, it seemed to me, were always having cocktail parties, going out for expensive meals to places like the Box Tree in Ilkley or on the new package holidays.  My holidays were either reached on a train or in Aunty Masha’s battered old car.   I remember vividly travelling often from England on the latter to our house in Callosa in the mountains of Alicante and could probably write a book entitled: "travels with my aunt".  You never knew where you were going to sleep or eat and we travelled a bit like gypsies.  But I am digressing.  Another member of their group was Ken Morrison who went on to be the magnate.  I once attended one of the cocktail parties at Amanda’s house and we were allowed to try a sip of white wine but were rushed upstairs out of the way as soon as the guests arrived.  How times have changed and funny that I should say that as I seem to be echoing something my parents always used to say.  However they were right, although I didn’t know it at the time.

In any case we enjoyed the day, unaware of Dr. Eastwood’s fate later on.  We had promised our friends fish and chips at Derby’s chippy which, we found out the hard way, closes at lunch time except for the weekends.  The alternative was the Spanish local equivalent, “arroz a banda”, so we took them to the nearby Vistabella, a modest little Spanish place which I still think has the best fare in the area, although the staff are not particularly friendly.

It was great to spend the day with Jackie and John in Gran Alacant

Dinner that night was at El Varadero, more my style, at the end of the Varadero beach in Santa Pola.  

On Friday, Eladio suggested we go to Alicante and thus we did but realised later it was far too hot at midday.  We were surprised to see a replica of the Spanish ship which had fought in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the SantísimaTrinidad.  It doubled as a tourist bar, but I still found it quite attractive.

The replica of the Spanish Santísima Trinidad ship in Alicante was quite impressive. 

Lunch was in the port at a restaurant we have been to, many times over the years, El Porteño and afterwards dessert was one of Kiosko’s famous ice creams on the lovely Explanada overlooking the sea. 

Eladio and I at the Kiosko Peret on the Explanada in Alicante
At El Porteño, Eladio bought some lottery tickets from a gypsy, after a little persuasion from me.  I meant for him to buy just one ticket and he ended up buying about 6.  Luckily, in the draw yesterday, it seems we have at least won our money back with what is called “el reintegro”.

Eladio buying lottery tickets from a gypsy in Alicante.
After a much needed siesta, we ventured down to the beach again and went for an extra long walk and swim.  In the evening, our last one, we were determined not to go home without tasting Derby’s fish and chips, so had our last dinner there.  It was the best and the cheapest at 19 euros for the two of us.  Mr. Derby (if that is the name of the owner), who, by the way, is a reader of my blog, after having posted an entry on the establishment a couple of years ago when we first discovered it, rewarded our patronage with an extra special plate of his excellent Yorkshire fare, or should I say Scottish as he is from Scotland, yet the fish and chip equipment, I noticed, is from Leeds.  His welcome was the warmest and most appreciated as none of the other places I have mentioned above have ever even noticed our visits, despite having been to them all on countless times since we bought the apartment in 1999.  You can see just how wonderful the fish and chips and mushy peas were in this picture I took especially for this blog post.  Sorry Jackie that you missed them. But there’s always a next time you know.

Derby's chippy fish and chips in Gran Alacant Santa Pola are as good as the best you can find in Yorkshire.
On Saturday our stay came to an end, so after the usual cleaning and washing of the sheets, hung out to dry for our next visit, we were on the road just after 11.  We decided to visit Alarcón and have lunch at the Parador there on our way back and we were not disappointed.  Alarcón is a small medieval town in the province of Cuenca, overlooking the Júcar River and the Parador is housed in a three walled castle.  It was apparently the favourite enclave of past warriors wanting a bit of peace as they knew they would be safe there. 

The medieval town of Alarcón on the way back from Alicante is well worth the visit
We were home by 17.30 to a clean house and a fridge full of cooked food by Olga who that morning had left for her holidays.  It was good to see my Father again, for whom I had brought back a generous selection of chocolates from Quicksave, the British supermarket in Gran Alacant.  It was also good to see the dogs, Norah and Elsa who had grown in our absence and had reached 3 months of her life that very day.

The next day, she was to enjoy her first walk with us, as her vaccination period was finally over.  To mark the day, I took a series of photos of this lovely, lanky, naughty but sweet puppy which you can see here.  She is like a hurricane in the morning and doesn’t eat rather devours, but has become a firm companion of Norah who seems to have grown older overnight and is turning into her surrogate mother.  We have now taken her on two walks which have proven happy events, the best thing being that she does not pull on the lead like Norah.  We let her off the lead yesterday and most of the time all she wanted to do was to follow Norah.  Today I gave them both some oxtail bones and was a little worried when Elsa swallowed hers whole without even bothering to chew it.  Yes, she is a little rascal but we love her.  It’s amazing what an important role they play in our lives and I could not now imagine it without them.

Dear little Elsa turned 3 months old this week and was able to join us on the walk for the first time.
I have come to the end of this week’s story but could not finish this post without making a reference to the news that was most reported on this week.  I refer to the 4 nights of riots and sheer havoc, violence and looting which went on in London, in Tottenham, and spread to other big cities in the country.  The riots began after a peaceful demonstration against the shooting of Mark Duggan who I later read was a gangster.  It is not quite clear whether they were orchestrated via social media or whether gangs got on the band wagon to take advantage of the situation and start looting shops for luxury items or raid supermarkets.  The rioters and looters were not only the so called “chavs”, “hoodies” or the famous British “underclass” but supposedly included upright citizens and brilliant students who wanted an exciting night out. There were even offenders as young as 11 years old.  The riots resulted in over 3,100 people being arrested, of whom more than 1,000 have been charged and worse still, 5 deaths.  There yet has to be a toll on the damage done, including arson on many buildings, like the one in the picture below. All I can say after seeing this is that there must be something very wrong with British society.  I can understand many people’s needs if they are out of a job or cannot pay their mortgage, but the sheer criminality of what we have seen in those 4 ghastly nights, has no justification.  I would not like to be in David Cameron’s shoes today and wonder if he really will be able to mend Britain’s broken society as he promised yesterday in his Witney, his Oxfordshire constituency.

Just one sickening photo of the UK riots
And just before I finish, I must also mention a piece of news that surprised me yesterday and which also pulled a little tug at my heartstrings at the same time.  At around midday yesterday, Google announced they would be buying the Motorola mobility business.  Well I started my career in the telecommunications business with Motorola in 1990, over 20 years ago.  At the time Motorola was a rising star and in the early and mid 90’s was a bit like Apple today.  Then funnily enough, the next company I joined, Nokia, took Motorola’s space and the latter began to decline gradually until the news today.  Nokia was king of the sector until very recently and now there is talk after its agreement with Microsoft of it being bought up too by its new partner.  I wondered why Google would want to buy an ailing mobile phone manufacturer.  According to the analysts it’s all about their patents, something Google needs and which cause huge legal fights and can make or break a company in the US courts.  The same analysts also say that after taking the patents, Google will probably sell off the hardware business to a Chinese manufacturer.  Who knows?  All I know is that what has happened to Motorola and what is happening to Nokia, could happen to them all.  Companies do not stay still and hardly ever stay at the top.  The thing is, when they are at the top, a difficult enough place, to reach, the most difficult thing is to stay there.  And if you don’t believe me, ask Motorola or Nokia.  Meanwhile I’m watching the game being played with great interest if not a little nostalgia after my attachment to the company and where I forged a lot of the experience I have today.

And hereby ends this week’s blogpost which I have seem to have taken forever to write.  I hope you enjoy it.  Cheers till next week.
PS You can see the full set of the photos of our visit to Santa Pola and to Alarcón here.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The summer holidays continue, Elsa’s news, “la bomba” and Montrondo again.

Oli with little Elsa

Hello again my friends and readers.

Sorry for the delay with my blog but I took a holiday from writing, the truth being I never found the right moment last week.  But here I am again, ready to tell you all about my doings since I last wrote.

It is Sunday 7th August and the summer holidays continue but not for long now, I’m afraid.  It is hot but not unbearable and Eladio is in the garden removing the remains of the dead Elm tree he cut down yesterday.  It is the second to go now and the third and last also looks like it is suffering from Dutch Elm disease or something similar.  On the bright side, the garden looks less cluttered and you get the complete view from our balcony upstairs.

Eladio cutting up the branches from the dead Elm Tree he chopped down yesterday

I am writing from the swimming pool terrace with Norah sleeping nearby.  Elsa, thankfully, is asleep in the kitchen otherwise I would have to watch out for my pc cable.  Olivia has just got up after a good night’s rest which she needs dearly after another week combining two jobs with hardly any time in between.  She is reading the Sunday papers with my Father in the kitchen terrace.  Suzy is not with us as she went off on Friday with Rocío, Estefanía and Elena to the beach.  They have gone for three nights to Santa Pola from where they will be going to Agua Amarga in Almería on Monday.  They have hired an apartment there and Oli will be joining them next weekend, but not before another tiring week of work. 

Suzy leaving for Santa Pola and Almería with her friends Rocío, Estefanía and Elena

So where did I leave off last time I wrote?  Oh yes it was Monday July 25th.  That evening our friends Roberto and MariCarmen came to join us on our walk and afterwards we went to the Vinoteca for dinner locally.  That day too, Suzy returned from her earlier trip to Santa Pola where she went for a long weekend with Gaby and his parents.  Here is a lovely picture of her with Gaby having an ice cream at the famous Peret café on the Explanada in Alicante.  They have the best ice creams in the whole of Alicante in my opinion.  Ah and their horchata is exquisite too.  Funnily enough they don’t have a website.

Suzy and Gaby eating an ice cream at the Peret cafeteria in Alicante

Last week was quiet and hot.  I was officially working after my holiday in the UK but only really at half steam.  I went into the office on Tuesday for a meeting with my teams from the PR and Events agencies and we worked on the script of our presentation for the up and coming Santander conference.  The more time I have to do things the slower I do them. I far prefer to work under pressure.  Isn’t that funny?

The highlight of last week was taking Elsa to the vet, first for a general check up and then for her third and last puppy vaccination.  She behaved perfectly.  I was not impressed, however, with the Argentinian young vet who I thought handled her too roughly.  This is a photo of her when we arrived, waiting for the check up.  Of course she was the star of the show at the clinic with everyone wanting to stroke and cuddle her. 

Elsa at the vet

She will be able to leave the house two weeks after the last vaccination, so we look forward to her joining us on our walks.  I wonder how she will take to them. And this week Elsa had her first bath which she took to very well.  After all she is a Labrador and Labradors love water.  Thankfully she is now a sweet smelling puppy.  She is growing by the day although still smaller than Norah but it won’t be long before she is bigger.  We are all head over heels in love with her, although in the first hour of the mornings she is so frisky, she has to be locked out of the  kitchen, to avoid her tripping my poor Father over as he makes his breakfast.

Elsa's first bath, she took to it like a duck to water

Last week we had something to look forward to, the annual family gathering on the last Saturday of July in Montrondo.  Now it is all over which is hard to believe. I had decided to try out Liz’ chocolate caramel shortbread recipe to take to Montrondo and Susana was going to make Estefanía’s brownie recipe too.  So we spent the better part of Friday making huge amounts of both.  Eladio baptized the shortbread “la bomba” (the bomb) when he ate it in England this summer as it is so calorific.  It turned out to be a huge success, so much so that all the family asked for the recipe.  Here is a picture of the finished product before it was cut into pieces and below is the recipe if you want to try it.

My chocolate caramel shortcake now known as "la bomba" in Eladio's family

115g/4oz butter, plus extra for greasing
175g/6oz plain flour
55g/2oz golden caster sugar
Caramel Filling:
 175g/6oz butter
115g/4oz golden caster sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
400g/14oz canned condensed milk
Chocolate topping:
200g/7oz milk chocolate broken pieces

PREHEAT OVEN 180 c/ 350 f/ Gas Mark 4. Grease and line base of 9 inch shallow square tin. Place butter, flour & sugar in food processor & process until it binds together and makes a ball like dough.  Press mixture into tin & smooth the top. Bake in preheated over 20-25 mins, or until golden.

MEANWHILE MAKE THE FILLING. Place butter, sugar, golden syrup & condensed milk in saucepan & heat gently until sugar has melted. Bring to boil & simmer for 6-8 mins, stirring constantly, until mixture becomes very thick. Pour over the shortbread base & leave to chill in fridge until firm.

 TO MAKE TOPPING, melt chocolate and leave to cool, then spread over caramel. Chill in fridge until set. Cut shortbread into 12 pieces with a sharp knife and serve.

Once cut up it should look like this:

Home made chocolate caramel shortbread as it should look when it is cut up

Most of the family was there on Friday night but we had to wait till Saturday to go as we had to take Olivia with us.  We were up early and off at 8.  As usual we stopped en route for a glass of glorious chilled white wine and a plate of ham in Rueda at Palacio de Bornos.  Olivia slept most of the way trying to catch up on lost sleep during the week.  We were nearly the last to arrive and as we did, some of the family members had gone to the local church for mass.  But soon we were all together and the party atmosphere began.  Alejandro, the family musician, had set up the music to accompany his accordion which he has been playing by ear since he was a little boy.  As the final preparations were being made for lunch, the family lounged and drank Málaga sherry brought by Pedro, Paula’s boyfriend, who was joining us for the first time.  He seemed to enjoy himself, but this first encounter must have been quite an ordeal for him, I’m sure

A shot of the beginning of the family gathering in Montrondo this year

Lunch, as always, was to be in the “salon” which is actually the old cattle shed and here there were two tables set, one for the younger generation with ages ranging from 18 to 40 and the other for the older generation with ages ranging from the late 40s to nearly 90.  It’s difficult to count as we are so many, but we must have been about 28 people which are a lot of people to feed.  My sisters-in-law had prepared the usual fare: the ever popular potato salad, cold meats, roast lamb and salad, followed by Susana’s brownie, my chocolate caramel shortbread and Adela’s Montrondo cake, another sort of bomb made with butter, almonds and biscuits.  The lamb was roasted by the bakery in nearby Senra and included 5 heads, something I cannot stomach but which were extremely popular with the older generation in the family, including Eladio.

Roast lamb for 28, well it lasted 2 days

The family has grown in the canine way.  A few years ago we were the only members to have dogs but now 4 others have their own.  Pili’s family has Trébol, the serious and nearly human dalmation, Yoli’s family have Nano an aging terrier, José Antonio’s family have their beloved mongrel Nuba and Marta has Sacha, an already huge golden retriever at only 6 months old. 

Little Nuba, José Antonio and Dolores' dog on the Peña de Dios in between Montrondo and Murias. I love her.

All the dogs managed to get scraps from the table throughout our stay and I must say I contributed to this habit, hoping mainly to get into the good books of Trébol. 

Trébol, Pili and Andrés' wonderful dalmatian

Trebol is devoted to Mario but even more so to his Mother Pili, Eladio’s sister.  Whenever she gets up, Trébol follows and he obeys all her commands; something I have never seen in any other dog I have ever known.  He sleeps in their room and when Pili calls him, he comes to the window as if he were a person.  If you don’t believe me, just look at this picture.

Trébol comes to the window when Pili calls him

Saturday was a full house and we spent the afternoon relaxing after the huge lunch.  Some of us went for a walk to nearby Murias via the “Vao” fields behind Adela and Primo’s house and through potato fields. 

On the walk to Murias on the first day.  From left to right: José Antonio (Toño), Yoli, Dolores and Eladio

On Sunday for lunch we were still together and the men made an excellent barbecue.

Eladio and his brothers, Toño and Isidro, starting the barbecue

However many of the young people were leaving, like Suzy, her boyfriend Gaby and Olivia as they all had to work the next day. 

Me with my girls, Oli and Suzy in Montrondo.  I wish they could have stayed longer.

We all felt a little forlorn when they left.  Eladio and I had decided to leave either on Monday or on Tuesday but in the end so enjoyed our time there that we stayed until Thursday.  With us still were the abuela (my mother-in-law), Pili, Andrés, Isidro, Yoli and Alicia, José Antonio, Dolores, Miguel and Sara and Adela’s family.  We were in 3 houses so meal making was much easier.  However in between the meals we were always together. 

That day, I started what was to become a habit throughout our stay, a morning walk to Senra and back.  The round trip is some 8km according to José Antonio.  If you add an afternoon walk to Murias and back, that makes for just under 12km a day.  These walks were a great tonic in all ways.  I enjoyed the scenery, the sun on my back but I also needed them to work off the extra calories from the copious meals we always seem to have in Montrondo.  It must be the outdoors and the mountain air, but come lunch or dinner our appetites seem to be much bigger than at home.  Thankfully as I write I have returned to the Dukan way, except for dinner last night

The road to Senra, the walk I took every day whilst I was in Montrondo.

Dolores accompanied me a couple of times as did Alicia, my god daughter, and Yoli my sister-in-law.  When we arrived in Senra we would call someone in the family and they would come and have a coffee with us at the Cumbres de Omaña bar in Senra.  There we were served great coffee but by a very grumpy owner. 

With  my god daughter Alicia walking back to Montrondo from Senra one day last week

Once in Senra we went to buy some bread from the traditional bakery which I suspect has not been reformed since Eladio was a child.  I asked to take a photograph and here it is.  The baker woman did not want to be in the photo and mentioned rural tourism, little suspecting that my family have been in the area for over a century.  But I suppose I was behaving like a rural tourist so I shall forgive her for the comment.

The old fashioned bakery in Senra

Shopping in the area is quite quaint, mostly because there are no shops except for the bakery.  Food is supplied by “shops on wheels” and here is a picture of Yoli buying some eggs and fruit when the van stopped by our house once last week.  I love it, don’t you? 

Yoli shopping in Montrondo the old fashioned way
As Sandra mentioned on FB, it looks like time has stopped still and that is certainly true of Montrondo. Other sources of food are limited but you can buy fresh free range hens’ eggs and potatoes from Tomasín or Ulpiano.  Of course there is also an unlimited supply of lettuce for our salads from Primo, my brother-in-law, from his enticing orchard. 

Miguel, my nephew, is so enamoured with the place, especially since the family built their own house there, he has moved almost permanently to Montrondo.  In a way he was burnt out from his banking and stock broker jobs in Madrid and London so during the credit crunch last year he decided to get away from it all.  He now lives between Montrondo and Madrid and continues to work as an independent financial analyst.  Olivia was working on a piece about young people returning to the country and believe it or not she arranged for him to be interviewed live on the telephone on the TV1 morning show she works for, La Mañana de la 1.  Unfortunately when that happened I was walking back from Senra but was able to see it later on internet.  You can see it too on thislink in You Tube, in Spanish of course. 

Miguel, my nephew, in the tractor now lives semi permanently in Montrondo.

Miguel has his own hens which actually caused a bit of trouble whilst we were there.  Nuba, who is normally a gentle little dog, goes wild when they are let out and she has to be tied up or locked in the house.  Last week though, when they were let out of their pen, Nuba somehow got in and that was when bedlam let loose.  Eladio and José Antonio fell down the hill in their attempts to save the hens and even Eladio’s mother saved one by pushing Nuba away with her stick. Sara hearing the noise, rushed out of the shower, barely clothed, to find her father and uncle fallen on the ground and Nuba in the pen with the rest of the hens.  Luckily this time they were all saved but they had a huge shock.  Unsurprisingly they did not lay any eggs for a couple of days after the incident.

Nuba has to be tied up when Miguel's hens are let loose.

I had breakfast most mornings with José Antonio and Dolores where I was able to take advantage of their good internet connection.  The week was spent in a wonderful relaxed way with the family, the only upsets being Pili’s bout of lumbago and Isidro and Pili’s gastroenteritis, which thankfully went away very soon after taking medicine offered to them from Adela’s huge supply.  The men did lots of odd jobs around the house, notably repairing parts of the roofs which had the wives rather worried.  Even some painting went on when Yoli and Pili decided to paint Alejandro’s room pink like ours.

Isidro repairing one of the roofs with Eladio looking on. The men just love to go on the roofs which I find a little bit too worrying.

I also spent some quality time with Alicia my god daughter and enjoyed cooking with Yoli.  On the last day she made a great “cocido” which you can see in the picture here.

Yoli made cocido on the last day

All too soon Thursday came and it was time for us to go.  The whole family saw us off including Eladio’s mother who was especially sad to see us go.  She had a tear in her eye and remarked that now we were going the summer was over. 

Eladio kissing his sad mother goodbye in Montrondo last Thursday

And there and then the annual gathering in Montrondo was over for us once again and we were on the road to the warmer temperatures of Madrid.  Montrondo is high up in the mountains and it is much cooler there.  At night, in sharp contrast to Madrid, we slept with pyjamas on and under thick feather duvets.  At home Suzy was waiting for us as were my Father, Olga and our lovely dogs, Norah and the ever growing Elsa.

Sadly though for us, Suzy was going off the next day, so we had to say goodbye to her again.  Oli we weren’t to see until yesterday morning as she comes home so late at night from TVE.  As we hardly ever see her and because she had a lunch engagement, we treated her to dinner last night.  We went to the Argentinian restaurant in Majadahonda called De María which has excellent meat.  Unfortunately I ate or drank too much and had a very rough night from which I am still recovering. 

I have reached the end of the tale of the last two weeks and our stay in Montrondo.  Tomorrow, we will be continuing our travels as Eladio and I will be off to Santa Pola until Friday or Saturday.  I will continue to work from the flat but will enjoy our walks on the beach in the evenings.  Hopefully my tan from the walks to Senra will spread from just my arms and neck to the rest of my body.  I shall continue in the Dukan regime after too many excesses in England and Montrondo but look forward to at least one dinner out, hopefully with Jackie, one of my most loyal readers.  Is Thursday still on Jackie?

And that’s it for now. I must go and make lunch before uploading the photos and publishing this blog post.

Happy holidays to you all
PS You can see the full set of the photos I took in Montrondo here.