Sunday, March 25, 2012

A memorable weekend in Yorkshire, spring brought snow, chocolate eggs and vintage bowls, well done Chesterfield F.C. and other things.

Eladio and I in Yorkshire last weekend (by the I Love You House on the Leeds Liverpool Canal near Keighley Golf Club)

Good morning everyone,

You will have noticed I didn’t post my blog last week but that was because we were away, so here you have a two week bumper edition.

Let me start from where I left off, Monday 12th March.  Of note that day, it was very warm and Olivia joined us on our daily walk.  We were to cancel some of our other walks after that as I caught a cold from Eladio and both of us have been snuffling and sneezing and coughing ever since. 

I caught my cold on Tuesday, the night we went out to dinner with José Antonio and Dolores.  It was to try out a restaurant for an event which was a nice enough little place but totally unsuitable for what I had in mind.  The good thing about that night was that we were joined by Sara, our niece, and got to see her new lodgings.  At the grand old age of 30 something, she has finally flown the nest and is now living bang in the centre of Madrid, very near her workplace, the branch in Madrid that the biggest bank in China opened recently, ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China) where she is practically the only Spanish employee.  Very bravely, a few years ago, after graduating in Economics, she moved to China to learn that most difficult of languages which today she is fluent in and which is, of course, a great asset in her new job.  Sara can tell many a funny tale of working there and the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese nationals.

On Wednesday, a very cold and grim day, the main news was of the tragic coach crash in Switzerland.  The death toll was some 28 Belgian children coming back from a skiing holiday.  I can only imagine how that news dominated the media in Belgium.  Awful!

Finally Thursday arrived, the day of our journey to England.  We were going to Yorkshire for a long weekend.  The excuse for going was another school reunion dinner with some of my fellow class mates from the still, even today, all girls Catholic Convent School we went to, St. Joseph’s College in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where I grew up. I left in 1975 and was to see some of my class mates for the first time since then at our reunion dinner on Friday night.  But more about that emotional reunion later.

St. Joseph's College Bradford, my old school

We took the only direct flight to Manchester, newly operated by Iberia and got there at English “teatime”.  Eladio was feeling pretty lousy on arrival but I didn’t let him complain, telling him strictly that we both had to be in optimum condition, to find the hired car and make our way on the frighteningly fast and at times congested motorways to Keighley.  First we had to tackle the M58 (or was it the M59?), then the M60 and finally the legendary M62 which our ex Geography teacher, Miss Fair, may she rest in peace, used to describe to us as a “marvelous feat of engineering”. Thus it was certainly not the time for self pity.  My “navigator” application on my clever little Samsung Galaxy S2 did the job perfectly taking us to our friends’ Phil and Kathy’s Yorkshire semi detached stone house in Utley, near Keighley, via Halifax in just under 1.5h.  It was the beginning of yet another trip down memory lane. 
Phil and Kath's house in Keighley

Our wonderful hosts were waiting for us with a hot meal of homemade lasagne by gourmet cook Phil in their oldie worldie cozy kitchen.  I was bowled over by their efforts to make us feel comfortable and at home, not least by lending us their very own bedroom.  The fresh flowers, fruit and bottled water provided for us were much appreciated and we felt welcome, comfortable and at home throughout our stay. I must also add that it seemed the whole four days were an exercise in laughter therapy.  Most of our time with Kath and Phil and then Amanda, Gill and Simon was spent laughing. Oh how I love and miss, British humour.  I read in an airport magazine later, the name of which I cannot remember, that it is now making its way even more into politics, via the likes of London’s larger than life Boris Johnson or even PM David Cameron and that it is a quality much sought after in corporate management.  I for one would advocate for more humour in the Spanish corporate world, something usually frowned upon here, unfortunately.

We spent most of Friday with our host Phil as Kath was at work.  She is an assistant head of year at an enormous local school and seems to be busy the whole time with all the possible problems you can imagine that 11 year olds  may have.  I do not envy her job.  Meanwhile the three of us made our way to the most elegant town in Yorkshire, Harrogate, dominated by the beautiful Stray, the name of the 200 acres of land that “wraps round” the old spa town.

The Stray in Harrogate

Our destination was the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Harlow Carr Gardens where we had been in the summer but were very happy to visit again with Phil. Here, as everywhere, typical British spring flowers were in bloom: daffodils, crocuses and the fragile snow drops I remember seeing as a child in Ruskington, just after the snow had melted. 
The daffodils at Harlow Carr Gardens in Harrogate

We must have spent nearly two hours walking through the delightful gardens, visiting the kitchen garden, the scented garden, the rock gardens as well as the gardens in times gone past, where you can see what gardens were like in Edwardian England until now.  I particularly liked this little conservatory which I would love to have in our own garden in Spain. Maybe one day we will.

A conservatory I would have liked to bring back from the gardens

After so much nature and outdoors, it was time for lunch.  Harrogate must have countless numbers of restaurants, bars and pubs, but the only place I ever want to go to there is Betty’s Tea Rooms, that wonderful genteel establishment which serves and sells fabulous Yorkshire fare with a touch of Swiss flavor which you can read about in the history of the tearooms in the link above. 

The queue at Betty's in Harrogate.  Spot Phil and Eladio!

We could have had anything on the menu, as everything is so tempting. However what we all wanted most was their amazing fish and chips.  Well, after all, we were in Yorkshire which is where they come from I think.

Betty's fish and chips, the best in the world

We drove back through the lovely Yorkshire countryside to Keighley and were soon joined by Katherine and her iPad and IPhone, extensions of herself.  Phil referred to both of us as the “technological lasses”.  More like addicted to capturing our life on camera and posting our activities on Facebook for all our world to see, something that does not attract Phil or Eladio, although I must add they always want to know what people post there.

After the proverbial cup of tea, Kathy and I had to get ready for our school reunion dinner as we were to be there early in order to decorate the room with all the stuff I had brought: bunting, balloons, name badges, party poppers, bunches of sweets, you name it, as well as a dvd of photos of us in the 6th form in 1974 or 5.  You can see that video here.  See if you can spot me or Amanda.

Some of the stuff I took to our reunion dinner

It was to take place at Hollins Hall, a country club hotel on Hollins Hill which didn’t exist when I lived in Yorkshire.  However Hollins Hill is an area I know very well, mainly from the time we lived in Baildon on Roundwood Road in the mid 60’s before we moved to Heaton Grove.  It was on this infamously steep hill that my brother had a minor cycling accident when he was young.  It is also very near where my Mother is buried in Charles Town Cemetery.  At the top of Hollins Hill, when you reach the town of Guiseley, we used to go the most famous fish and chip shop in the world owned by Harry Ramsdens, a Yorkshire landmark that was sadly closed just this last autumn. 

Hollins Hall hotel where we had our school reunion dinner.

So as we drove towards the country club hotel, owned by Marriott, on Hollins Hill, all these memories were going through my head, as well of course as memories to do with my school days. 

The evening was amazing.  There were 17 of us of who I remembered or knew well some 8 or 9. People had brought along photographs which helped jolt our memories a bit, although some of the “girls” were totally unrecognizable to me.  But it was great to see Eric, Jackie, Maggie, Brenda, Ellen, Amanda, Catherine, Kath of course, as well as Maureen and the others.  Here is a group photo.  To think it was 37 years ago that we left school, I think most of us are looking quite good, although it is not true that people improve with age, as I’m sure you will agree.

The SJC reunion dinner at Hollins Hall

Saturday, was, together, with the school reunion dinner, one of the highlights of our trip.  We drove to the Yorkshire Dales, the beautiful countryside to be found in Yorkshire and our first stop was the delightful village of Arncliffe.  Here we walked around the village, visiting the Norman church, taking photos of the scenery and finally stopped for a drink at the Falcon, a wonderful old pub.  Here Eladio tried the local ale, out of politeness more than anything, but I’m afraid he is not a beer drinker.

With Kathy in Arncliffe by the delightful Norman church

Our next stop was Starbotton where we were to meet up with Amanda, Simon and Gill.  We had a lunch appointment at the Fox and Hounds, a typical old Dales pub.  The food was not that great, but we had a whale of a time.

By the Fox and Hounds with our friends in Starbotton in the Yorkshire Dales

Amanda, Simon and Gill are not newcomers to this blog, but to refresh your memory, I went to school with Amanda and we were in the same class as Kathryn.  It was their first reunion since school, but not mine, of course.  Simon went to the school my Father taught at, Bradford Grammar School and Gill is his lawyer wife.  In fact they are both lawyers! 

After the lunch, a walk was in store for us, a wonderful walk in the Dales in the lambing season, from Starbotton to the picturesque village of Kettlewell and back. 

Picturesque Kettlewell as seen from our walk from Starbotton

Map in hand, Simon guided us through fields and over stone walls and across endless number of age old styles and by the river Wharfe.  We must have done just over 4 miles but stopped in Kettlewell for a cup of tea at the Blue Bell Inn to refresh before walking back by the river to Starbotton. 

With Kathy and Amanda crossing one of the styles on our walk in the Dales

Here we parted but were to meet again later at Simon and Gill’s for a fantastic evening and dinner together.  We went home for another cup of tea and to change before making our way to their house in Sowerby Bridge.  We all concentrated in Simon and Gill’s huge and cozy kitchen where a lot of wine drinking went on, while they prepared a simple but delicious meal of roast chicken and salad and the most English of desserts: “bread and butter pudding”.  It was a fabulous end to a glorious day and I have to admit we ate and drank, talked and laughed endlessly until we could no longer keep our eyes open.  It must have been 2 in the morning when we got to bed, but a great day and night was had by all.  I was so glad too that my two sets of friends who were meeting for the first time hit it off so well.  I need not have been hesitant and should have known that they would get on “like a house on fire” to use the proverbial quote. 

Pre dinner drinks in Simon and Gill's kitchen

The next day was our last day but one and it was to be nearly as full as Saturday, if a little quieter.  We had breakfast late – thanks Phil for the great croissants, orange juice, fruit, toast and pain au chocolat which I couldn’t resist, after which we all got ready for yet another long and much needed walk.  This time it was to be local.  We crossed the Skipton Road to the Keighley Golf Club where we had to look out for “passing shots”.  But we were not going to play golf as our destination was a fabulous walk on the Leeds Liverpool canal, some 4 miles or so in the direction of Silsden.  We were to go past what Phil and Kath call the “I love you house”. They call it that because many years ago, on a walk with his Mother, Phil spied the words written and dug into the garden.  Imagine!  The photo illustrating this blog was taken by Kath and is of Eladio and I by the “I love you house”, a photo I am very pleased with.  The walk on the canal was accompanied by great weather too which made the walk even more pleasant.

On the walk by the canal with Kath and Phil

We took photos of everything and I especially like the close up taken by Eladio of this drake on the canal.  Just look how luminous the green feathers on its head are.  Pretty good I thought.

A beautiful duck on the canal and a great picture taken by Eladio

I mentioned earlier that it was the lambing season and there was lots of evidence of this too on the walk on Sunday.  So, naturally, I took many photos also of the sheep and their young offsprings, like the one below.

It was lambing season when we were in Yorkshire last week

Sunday was Mother’s Day in England and when we got back from the walk, there waiting in the street to greet his mother, armed with a card and flowers, was Tom, one of Kath’s four sons. 

Tommy Lee, Kath's footballer son bringing her flowers on Mother's Day

Tom Lee is actually the goal keeper for Chesterfield FC, having joined the Manchester United football school when he was young.  He even shared a room with Gerard Piqué!  As I write today Sunday 25th March, believe it or not, he is playing for his team at Wembley, against Swindon Town in the final of the Football League Trophy (between the 1st and 2nd Division football teams in the UK).  Phil and Kath went up to London this weekend and will be biting their teeth from now until the end (Chesterfield is leading so far).  Kath must be such a proud mother to see her son play at Wembley that icon of world football.  Here is a great photo of her with Phil at the pre match lunch posted earlier by her on Facebook. 

Phil and Kath at Wembley today

Tom joined us for an impromptu lunch of the Spanish wine, ham and chorizo we had brought with us.  It was accompanied by Phil’s delicious homemade bread, after which Eladio was in dire need of a siesta.

Later Phil shoved Kathryn and I out of the kitchen whilst he prepared a secret gourmet dinner.  Kath’s boss Joan and her husband David had been invited and everything had to be perfect.  They are great fans of Spain as they have a house in Nerja and have been trying to learn Spanish for a few years now.  Dave was delighted to practice his Spanish most of the evening with Eladio who is always a willing teacher.  We had a great night, mostly talking about education, me being the only odd “girl” out, but I didn’t mind.  The conversation was mostly about how things have changed so much in the UK and in their mind rather for the worse. They used a few expressions I wasn’t familiar with and Phil remarked, correctly, that I was a little out of touch.  They were referring to chavs and other similar terminology which of course didn’t exist when I left the UK in the early 80’s.  So I wasn’t the only person to be learning new vocabulary that night after all. 

Eladio with Joan and David on the last night at Phil and Kath's, what a great dinner

Phil’s cooking was fantastic.  He made a sea food platter to begin with, followed by beef cooked in beer.  The dessert was my favourite, rhubarb crumble. Again a new word for Eladio which has no translation in Spanish I’m afraid.

And so as the evening came to an end and Joan and David left, we had to say goodbye to our hosts as of course they would be up very early in the morning to go to their respective schools.  We couldn’t thank them enough for their hospitality and look forward to hosting them again in our house very soon.

Monday was our last day and we were determined to squeeze as much in as possible before our flight back to Madrid in the early evening.  After packing and locking the door of the house,  we got into our little hired car and headed to Sainsburys in the centre of  Keighley. I wanted to get some essential British produce I can’t get at home or even online, such as disposable kitchen wipes which I bought in copious quantities.  Afterwards we decided to go to Bradford, the town I lived near in my formative years.  As I always write here, it is probably the ugliest town in England, but still it is home to me and I always have the need to go back there, like the criminal to the crime scene I suppose.  We parked in the dirty multi storey car park near Morrisons (yes the first Morrisons store that was built by Sir Ken, Amanda’s old neighbour) and walked towards Darley Street.  Here I wanted to go into Boots and then Marks and Spencers.  I got this great little blouse as well as some basic cotton tops.

The blouse I bought at M+S in Bradford on Monday

It was strange walking down the most commercial street in Bradford and seeing the familiar shops and banks, except that the Halifax Building Society is now the Spanish owned Banco Santander. 

Shopping in Bradford on Monday

We wanted fish and chips for lunch but I had no idea where to go, so asked the assistant in M+S.  An American girl student who I couldn’t imagine why would be in Bradford of all places, recommended the In Plaice on Sunbridge Road in Centenary Square next to the Town Hall.  Erected in 1873 this A Listed building is Bradford’s most famous monument and is built in a distinct Venetian style.  Funnily enough I have never been inside it but I do know that Bradford would just not be the same without it, as it wouldn’t be the same without all the Victorian and Industrial revolution buildings and factories, now turned into museums or flats.  These are Bradford’s saving graces.

Eladio by Bradford's landmark, the Town Hall, now called the City Hall I think.

The fish and chips and mushy peas were not as refined as Betty’s but very good in any case.  The establishment very “Yorkshirey”, as you can see from the photo below.

The In Plaice where we had our lunch in Bradford on our last day

Soon we were walking up Sunbridge Road and to the multi storey car park to get our car and drive to Manchester Airport.  We had lots of time to kill at Terminal 3 but I was very disappointed with the shopping on offer.  It was so bad even I, an airport shopaholic, was not tempted to purchase anything.  We were not home until after 11 in the evening, so there was only time to unpack and go to bed.  Monday was Father’s day in Spain, but for Eladio, it passed uneventfully.

On Tuesday I was back to full speed with my work, the Yorkshire trip happily tucked to the back of my mind.  I had brought my Father lots of English goodies back, biscuits from Betty’s and plenty of Turkish delight and walnut whips, his favourite.  The girls got their favourite too,  jelly babies, a tradition my Mother started when they were small.

Suzy had had a great weekend herself.  I must mention she went away to Salamanca with her girlfriends for a weekend hen party for Caju who will be marrying this month.  Here is just one photo of a great moment when they went laser fighting. They must have had a huge laugh all weekend, judging by this and other photos.

Suzy had a great time at a weekend hen party in Salamanca whilst we were away

Oli, meanwhile had Paula, her cousin to spend the weekend with her.  I heard they had a heavy clothes shopping session in Madrid beforehand, just what they both like best.  I would have loved to have been with them but that will have to be next time.

On Wednesday, the official start of Spring, believe it or not it snowed in Madrid. I woke up to this scene in our garden. Later it sleeted and turned into rain which actually was a huge blessing as I think it hasn’t rained here properly since before Christmas and there is much news of the drought in the papers.

Believe it or not it snowed here on Wednesday 21st March, the first day of spring.

The week was short thanks to Monday being Father’s day and soon it was Friday. That night we had another date in town with José Antonio and Dolores.  We went to a modest little place near where they live and where we used to live.  It was called El Rincón Murciano (The Murcia corner).  Surprisingly there was no rice on the menu but the food was good. 

And now I have reached yesterday, Saturday, a glorious sunny day.  Eladio took the opportunity to sew some grass on the back lawn, as you can see in the picture below.

Eladio sewing grass in the garden yesterday

We had a Ukranian married couple to spread the fertilizer come manure on the lawn and that took them until well after lunch.  It was funny to notice the young Ukranian wife, who confessed it was her first time, doing the heavy job with a typical Russian kerchief on her head.

Meanwhile the girls and I escaped to the Tres Aguas shopping centre with the excuse of needing to buy some basic t-shirts.  I ended up buying this lovely green checkered blouse which Eladio remarked this morning looked like a table cloth. I suppose he is right.  You will have noticed I have a thing about striped and checkered clothing.

Another great blouse, this one from H+M with the girls on Saturday

I have done quite a lot of shopping this week, but all of it, apart from Monday in Yorkshire and yesterday in H+M, was online.  So what did I buy you might wonder? In the first place, seeing so many chocolate Easter eggs whilst in England, reminded me I should stock up.  Being a huge chocolate fan myself, not to mention my sweet toothed Father and girls, I decided to splash out on something luxurious.  And I found this amazing creation on The Chocolate Hotel website which will soon be with us, along with a wonderful box of chocolates I couldn’t resist on the same site.

I ordered this amazing Easter Egg from the Hotel Chocolate website this week

My other online purchase was also inspired by our trip to England.  I noticed Phil using similar mixing bowls for making his bread to two I have inherited from my Grandmother.  So I started investigating online and found out they are called Green's Gripstand mixing bowls.  I had an amazing find on a site called Your Vintage Life where they were selling two 10.5 inch replicas of my Grandmother’s for the ridiculously low price of 30 pounds each.  Needless to say I grabbed them immediately.  When you see this picture, if you are English, you will know exactly what I am talking about as you probably will have one at home or if not you will have seen them in countless British homes. 

Recognise this very British Green's gripstand mixing bowl?

Of importance yesterday of course was the fact that the clocks went forward one hour for what is known in England as “British Summer Time”.  That meant that we got one hour’s sleep less but that didn’t really matter because we go to bed early and get up early anyway.

The clocks went forward on Saturday

And today is Sunday and I have come to the end of this bumper edition of my blog.  Today there is not much to mention, apart from the fact that it has been another sunny and glorious day.  It was even hot enough for Suzy to sunbathe by the covered pool, no doubt with the aim of keeping up the tan from her recent trip to Africa.  Of note today, I made cheat Siberian pelmeni (a Russian dish similar to ravioli and eaten with Smetana, sour cream).  Susana had been to a Russian shop in Madrid and brought home a huge packet of frozen pelmeni. It is my Father and my favourite Russian dish and Suzy’s too.  This is what it looks like and I can assure you it is delicious.

Siberian pelmeni with smetana (sour cream)

Now I have come to the end of my blog.  You may well be wondering how Kathy’s son Tom Lee got on at Wembley.  Well I am delighted to tell you his team Chesterfield F.C. won the Football League Trophy.  And now I am posting a photo of the proud Mother and Son savouring the moment during the match after drinks.  They must be ecstatic. Well done both of you, I’m so happy for you.

Happy mother and son, Kath and Tom savouring Chesterfield's victory at Wembley today

It’s also well done to Spain’s Formula One double champion Fernando Alonso for garnering victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix for his Ferrari Team today.   Another great win for Spanish sport. 

On that happy note, I leave you until next week.  Hoping yours is a good one,

Cheers Masha
PS You can see the rest of the photos of our memorable trip to Yorkshire here.

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