Sunday, February 05, 2012

To Stockholm again, a stressful journey home, the Margaret Thatcher days and remembering Nepal.

Me dressed up very warmly in Stockholm this week

Hello everyone,

This has been an exciting and very tiring week.  I love travelling but the getting up at the crack of dawn and the hassle in air travel these days, especially if the latter doesn’t go as smoothly as planned, really make me tired.  This is probably because of my age.  Well I will, after all, be reaching the grand old figure of 55 this coming week.  

The week started off with a very quiet Monday.  Of note that day I had lunch with my friends Julio and Fátima to celebrate her birthday.  As tradition dictates, we did so at one of our favourite restaurants, El Buey in nearby Boadilla del Monte, a great little place that serves the best steak in the area.

Tuesday was a busier day.  I was up early to have my hair done at Marco Aldany, the hairdresser I go to these days.  Unfortunately Cristina, who does a great job with my hair, wasn’t there so I got a slightly different style this time.  I realised it was not quite what I wanted when Susana, my eldest daughter, observed I looked a little like Margaret Thatcher!  Then I was off to the office for the weekly management team meeting where I am always painfully aware that I am the only woman member but certainly not an “Iron lady” although I sometimes have to appear so in this very male dominated sector that I work in, full of telecommunications engineers.  It’s not a career I would ever have chosen, but it’s the sector I am in for good and for bad.  

On Wednesday I was up again at 6 in the morning to leave for the airport to catch the only direct flight to Stockholm which leaves just after 10.  I coincided with Olivia, my youngest daughter, who gets up at that time everyday to go to the TVE morning programme she works for called La Mañana de la 1.  I thought that if it made me tired just to get up so early only occasionally, how tough it must be for her to do it five days a week and felt sorry for her.

I boarded the plane with the rest of the management team, destination Stockholm, the headquarters of TeliaSonera, the Scandinavian telephone operator who own Yoigo with a 76% share.  We were to take part in the annual management team meeting together with our counterparts from the Nordic and Baltic countries beginning the next morning.  But first we were to have a tight schedule of meetings after our arrival, including a presentation from my former boss in Nokia, Thomas J.  who now works as the head of external relations in TeliaSonera.  Talk about a small world!  We also had a meeting at the world HQ of a Swedish company I admire enormously, Spotify which I was much looking forward to.  

Europe this week has being going through a cold spell so I had packed accordingly and was glad I had taken a thick coat and warm winter head gear as it was well below 10ºc throughout our stay and snowing most of the time.  It also gets dark very early; something I would find very difficult to have to face if I lived here.  Thankfully I live in a country with probably the best climate in Europe.

We arrived in the early afternoon and lunch was a sausage in the street, something I don’t think I have done since my Inter rail days as a teenager when that was all I could afford.  My empty stomach though, was very happy to digest a hot and spicy, Swedish sausage appropriately called “Stockholm”.  Dinner was a much finer affair at one of the city’s best restaurants, Wedholm Fisk where the fish was out of this world.  It is certainly a place to go back to if I could ever afford it.
I nearly froze in the ten minute walk back in wind and snow and was happy to return to my warm room at the Scandic Sergel Plaza hotel in the centre of town.  Warm, was actually the only saving grace, apart from the location of the hotel which is soulless, drab and quite downturn for sophisticated Stockholm.  I remarked to my colleagues, who totally agreed, that the rooms reminded me of prison cells. 

The next day, I was up before seven as I had to attend an 8 o’clock conference call from my room about the financial results which TeliaSonera had published that morning.  The news was good for Yoigo.  We had reached the 3 million customer mark and had not only remained EBITDA positive, but reached the cash flow positive objective for the last quarter of 2011.  Results days are always stressful for me, because we have to get the information ready in Spanish to send out to the press as early as possible, be prepared for all sorts of questions throughout the day, as well as inform the staff in more informal terms.  That meant that breakfast, usually my most important meal of the day, had to be sacrificed.  In any case the breakfast room at the Scandic resembled feeding time at the zoo, with not much on offer and a huge flow of people fighting for the coffee machine and bread table, so I didn’t miss much.  The next day I was rewarded for my work with all the main newspapers reporting positively on Yoigo’s results.  I was especially pleased with the coverage in one of our top newspapers, El Mundo where we were included in one of the main “ups” of the day in the “vox populi” section of page 2 as you can see here, if you can read Spanish, a most prestigious position to be in and something no advertising money could ever buy.

We got some excellent coverage in the Spanish press about Yoigo's 2011 financial results.

The conference started at 10 o’clock and was held in the cultural heart of Stockholm, bang in the middle of the city.  The building is called Kulturhuset (literally "culture house") and is full of people enjoying the library, eating Swedish cakes or going to the theatre.  

The square where the Culture House in Stockholm is located was covered in snow.

We on the other hand were to go through a day of presentations.  The first, to my surprise, was absolutely fantastic.  We had the privilege of seeing and hearing Sweden’s next export after Abba and Stieg Larsson, talk to us about the future.  The man’s name is Magnus Lindqvist and he is truly inspiring.  He calls himself a trendspotter and futurologist.  He is also a fantastic speaker.  I have just ordered his book from called “Everything we know is wrong”.  I look forward to be being just as entertained as listening to him.  Not for him the trends of today, such as gadgets and fashion items that come and go, but to quote him “the more important deeper slower moving stuff” that you never really see coming.  He makes you stop and think and he certainly made an impression on me.  He is apparently a celebrity speaker, so if you ever get the chance to listen to him, grab it.  Magnus Lindqvist was definitely the best item on the whole agenda of our two day conference in Stockholm.

Magnus Lindqvist is one inspirational speaker and we were privileged to have him as a guest speaker

The rest of the day was like any typical corporate management or sales convention, nothing out of the ordinary.  The best part for me is always mingling with colleagues from other countries and getting to know new people and thankfully there was plenty of that.

The evening ended with a dinner party and awards and I was happy to see my colleague Urban get a prize for the best growth in mobile date.  I went to bed as soon as it had finished though as I had another early wake up the next day as the second day conference was to start just after 8.  I had a terrible night as the television kept switching on automatically.  In the end it seemed that the TV wake-up call had been programmed various times during the night and the only way of stopping it was pulling out all the cables.  

This week’s visit to Stockholm was so busy I hardly had time for shopping.  My only trip to the shops was during lunch on Friday when I crossed the snowy square to Lindex, the Swedish low cost women’s fashion store.  Oli had asked me to bring back a Swedish woolen cardigan.  So I braved the weather and with an eye on my watch, made a dash into this lovely store.  Unfortunately there were no winter clothes left on sale, so I had to make do with a quick choice from the new Spring collection.

Normally when flying out of Stockholm, we, or I, take the only direct flight to Madrid which leaves just before 3 and gets you to Madrid airport just after 7.  However, as we wanted to stay to the end of the conference which was finishing around 3, we had been booked on a flight via Amsterdam, leaving the Swedish capital at 17.15 and arriving in Madrid just before midnight, a long haul.  We were not lucky as the flight to Amsterdam was cancelled because of snow at Schipol airport and that is where our adventure began.  KLM booked us into the SAS flight to Frankfurt leaving at 16.40 from where we would have a two hour wait before taking the last flight to Madrid.  Check in and going through security was nerve wrecking as we were very pressed for time.  At the last minute my colleagues were already on board and I joined the queue after a quick loo stop only to be told the plane was full and overbooked.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “you mean I cannot get on the plane?”  There was a lot of discussion and mysterious punching into the computer by the SAS hostesses.  I was desperate as I didn’t want to spend another night in Stockholm and most of the following day getting home.  And then came, my salvation.  A Russian gentleman offered me his seat and told me he would get on the next and last flight to Frankfurt as that was his final destination, unlike mine.  I accepted very gratefully and later remarked to my neighbour from the horrible middle seat I was sitting on with my cabin suitcase under my legs because the plane was so full, how generous the man had been.  My German fellow passenger then told me that the kind Russian man would have been compensated with 150 euros for taking the next plane.  So, maybe he wasn’t so generous after all but I can tell you I wouldn’t have stayed for 500, so am still grateful for his gesture. 

The nightmare didn’t quite finish there, as we had another flight to catch in Frankfurt which at one stage we also thought might not be leaving.  But finally it did and again I was squashed into a middle seat, a position in an airplane that I always try to avoid.  We arrived at Barajas after an awful journey home well after midnight and I did not get home till half past one in the morning.  I swear I will only ever get the direct flight back from Stockholm whether that means I have to leave in the middle of a conference or not.  I also swear that I will never ever go to the end of a queue to get on a plane as I have learned the hard way that it might be overbooked and if you are at the end you are more than likely liable to be left behind as I nearly was if it hadn’t been for the help of one Russian gentleman.  Thank you whoever you are.

The only thing that kept me going through both flights was the fascinating book I was reading, “A swim on part in the goldfish bowl”, Carol Thatcher’s biography of her very famous Mother, Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first and only woman prime minister.  I had ordered it eagerly after watching Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, a role she may well win an Oscar for.  
I devoured Carol Thatcher's biography of her Mother whilst flying this week

It’s a great read; written in a very candid manner and makes you laugh on many an occasion.  It also brought closer to me the lady who dominated politics when I was a teenager and student and didn’t particularly identify with at the time.  However, she will most definitely go down in history for her role in British politics, whether you like her or not.  In fact, after reading the book I learned that beneath the iron lady veneer, there is a person with a far bigger heart than I could ever have imagined.  I was also very interested to read about her consort, Dennis Thatcher, a bit of a joke figure in my time.  But as I read more about him, it is quite clear, that without DT as she called him, Margaret Thatcher could never have done the job she did.  I have now ordered Carol Thatcher’s biography of her Father called “Below the Parapet” as the subject is interesting me so much, I have even gone one step further and ordered her mother’s  autobiography, “TheDowning Street Years”.  After all, she governed in amazing times and they were the times I was often too young or too uninterested to appreciate when she was in Government..  So, Margaret Thatcher will continue in my life for the next few weeks and of course, in my memory for ever.  It is very sad that she herself, such a dominating and clever woman, no longer remembers very much, not even that her dearest Dennis is no longer alive.  Carol has to remind her time and again and each time she is told, the Iron Lady, no longer made of iron, has to go through the sorrow of hearing the news.  One of the times, she poignantly asks her daughter, “were we all there (at the funeral) for him?”.  This is indeed not a very nice ending for such a brilliant life.   My Father is reading it now and no doubt he will enjoy it more than me.  He and my Mother were great fans of Margaret Thatcher, but I think even they had had enough when towards the end of her 11 years at Downing Street she said the famous “we shall go on and on and on”. 

Margaret and Dennis Thatcher.  He was 10 years older than her.

Yesterday was Saturday and it was real tonic to spend it at home with the family after such a tiring week.  For the first time in ages, we had lunch together.  We were joined by Juli and Gaby and it was a joyful meal.  There was time to relax, to be with the dogs, go for our walk and there was even time to go out to the cinema.  Eladio and I were waiting for the latest Iciar Bollain (Spanish woman film director) film to come out entitled “Kat(h)mandu, a mirror to the sky” and luck had it that the premiere was this week, so we jumped at the chance of seeing it.

This film will haunt me for a long time.

I didn’t know really what it was about but had seen the trailer and was keen to see a film about a country that is close to our heart. Even though we only spent three days there on our trip to India for our 25th wedding anniversary in December 2008 and January 2009, we fell in love with Nepal and its people.  I wrote three posts on our unforgettable journey there and actually they are among the top read posts in my blog.  I am honoured to say that thousands of people have read them.  If you want to read them here they are (first, second, third).  In the second post I tell of the story of three boys for whom we bought an English Nepalese dictionary in Bhaktapur so I was delighted to see that some parts of the film had been filmed there.  Other famous spots we had seen also come out in the film and watching it yesterday certainly took us all the way back there, reminding us of our wonderful trip of a lifetime.

Our dictionary episode on our visit to Nepal. This is in Bakhtapur in the Kathmandu Valley in Jan 2009.  You can read about it here.

The film is about a young Spanish teacher, Laia who goes out to work as a teacher in Kathmandu.

She is helped by a Nepalese young woman, Sharmila, also a teacher, and together they set up a school in the slum district.  They are faced with insurmountable problems and the cultural obstacles are many.  Some of the characters, in this part real, part fictional film, can only be people off the streets in the Kathmandu Valley and I take my hat off to Iciar Bollain for this masterpiece.  I fell in love with the people in the film and find it hard to forget Sharmila, the teacher bent on having a son to make her family happy, Tsering, the young man from a remote village who agrees to marry Laia in a marriage of convenience, but asks her what will happen if they fall in love, Bimala, the girl so untouchable she has no name and finally clever little Kushila who is sold by her parents and sent to work in a brothel in India and her journey back.  They all tore at my heart strings as did the film.  It is not a film with a happy ending.  The story it tells is taken from real life, some of it happy, a lot of it sad but a real eye opener to the clash of cultures.  How can we, or Laia, understand how a young girl, for instance, is put into a dark room on her own for 10 days when she reaches puberty, so that the light she sees when she leaves it at the end of the 10 days will guide her for the rest of her life?  In short, the film had me crying from the middle to the end and I shall probably never forget it.  It brought back memories of our visit there and has triggered in me the wish to return.  I hope one day we will.  Meanwhile, if you get the chance, I cannot recommend this film more highly.

Laia and Sharmila in the film Kat(h)mandu

Today Sunday has been quiet.  I spent the morning on my computer and cooking lunch, alas not for all of us today, just the “three oldies”.  The rest of the day will be like most Sundays. We shall go for our walk, have a cup of tea, spend time reading and then have a small dinner and go to bed to watch the television.  It may sound boring but after a stressful week, it is a complete tonic for the mind and body.

Next week will be my birthday which will be nice but sadly the girls won’t be here for it.  They will be going on holiday to Africa, imagine!  Yes they are going with Rocío to Tanzania for two weeks and will be joined by another friend Elena for the second week.  It sounds very exciting and hopefully they will be in no danger.  They have strict orders to come back, as my Mother always used to say: “in one piece”.  

I hope you all have a great week,

Cheers until next Sunday, Masha.

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