Sunday, October 14, 2012

My novel of the week, Jimmy the creep, a courageous girl, Oli reporting on the Red Cross day, a Chinese writer, the truth about Lance Armstrong, a funny peace prize, a national holiday and family lunches and the film about the Spanish family that survived the Tsunami.

Sunday 14th October 2012

Cooking for a family lunch on Saturday
Hi again everyone,

I hope your week has been good.  Mine has been fine and quite uneventful but there has been lots of news that meant a lot to me and I will comment on in this week’s post. 

On Monday my latest book arrived from Amazon, my novel of the week, “The Casual Vacancy”, JK Rowling’s first novel for adults after the Harry Potter saga.  I was interested to know what it was all about, having read that this so called “big novel about a small town” was set in the fictional town of “Pugford” on the border of Wales but is actually inspired by her own home town, Tutshill which she is supposed to despise and includes her experiences at the local comprehensive, a nightmare of a place.

JK Rowling's new book, The Casual Vacancy, my novel of the week

The central plot is a battle for the vacancy left on the parish council following a councillor’s death. Here everyone is at war in a small town way over local politics.  In a way it is a criticism of prejudices and hang-ups as well as the terrible snobbery of the middle class. It sounds boring and has been criticized as such by some media but I suspect they haven’t read the book till the end.  Some of it is uphill, but as you get to the end you are riveted by the doings and dealings of her characters, nearly all of whom she most obviously hates.  No wonder the people of Tutshill have protested.  One villager is quoted as saying: ‘I suppose she’s got a bit of a chip on her shoulder. This has always been a happy area.’

Tutshill where J.K. Rowling is from and the town that inspired her new book

Without giving the story away, I must say she has some great lines which have you in stitches, some very explicit sex descriptions and an awful lot of bad language.  I haven’t counted but I think the four letter word beginning with “f” must be the most repeated word in the book.  However the novel, a sort of tragic comedy, with a lot of realism is actually damned good.  I finished it yesterday afternoon and have found myself thinking about it ever since and am sort of missing the nasty or unfortunate characters and hoping that there will be a sequel.  This is not Harry Potter but it’s good stuff and a great read.

This week much of the UK news was peppered with stories about Jimmy Saville, an icon of British TV who first became famous in the 70’s with the TV ads to get people to wear seatbelts.  I always remember his famous phrase “clunk click every trip” but today that is tinged with disgust.  I always thought this man was a bit of a creep.  I mean you just have to look at some of his photos, like the one below, to realize he was not exactly “normal”.  

Jimmy Saville, the creep for me

He went on to present his own charity show called “Jim ‘ll fix it”, supposedly bringing ill and underprivileged children’s dreams come true.  He died last year in his 80’s and now one year after his death, people have come forward claiming he sexually abused them when they were children and used the programme to do so.  These people were often underage boys and girls, some as young as 10.  They have done so after a documentary about the paedophile side of this ghastly man by the ITV. The BBC apparently knew, or it was common knowledge that his predatory behavior went on but they turned a blind eye. The BBC has a lot to answer for in this case, perhaps more so than Jimmy the creep for whom, unfortunately, it comes too late.  

Straight after the news of this awful man, comes the news on Tuesday of a very courageous young girl, Malala, aged 14, from the Swat valley, once called the Switzerland of Pakistan.  She stood up to the Taliban subjugation of women where she lived and had become well known for promoting the education of girls and denouncing the atrocities of who can only be known as thugs..  For this she nearly died on Tuesday when angry Taliban men boarded her crowded school bus and shot her with a near fatal bullet close to her brain.  But Malala has not died and is out of danger for the moment, although the Taliban have sworn they will try to kill her again. Meanwhile she has become an icon in Pakistan where people are outraged and are protesting, something the authorities and people have never really dared to do for fear of the revenge of these thugs.  Malala’s was one of the few voices to take them on, perhaps now there will be more.  I hope so.

Malala the courageous Pakistani girl

Wednesday was Red Cross day, at least in Spain and is known as the Red Flag day.  Oli was to be reporting on the members of the Spanish Royal family’s participation as patrons of this wonderful organization.  She and her TV team were present where the Princess Letizia was presiding over one of the tables where people queued up to donate in exchange for the famous Red Cross flag sticker, in the centre of Madrid.  In other places nearby the Queen and her daughter were also presiding over Red Cross tables but of course it is Letizia who is more newsworthy. 

Oli reporting on the Red Cross flag day

Here you can watch Oli’ s reports if you fast forward to 12.07 and 12.46.  She was unlucky to just miss the arrival of the Crown Prince who made an appearance at all three tables a few minutes after her live reporting.  It was the second time Olivia was to report on the Royal Family and I was proud to watch her do so.

On Thursday we had the pleasure of the company of Susana for lunch, upon her return first from Santa Pola and then from Barcelona where she had given a training course to new colleagues from her company Aramark.  It was the first family lunch for a long time and it was good to get Suzy’s news.

On Thursday too most of the world heard of a Chinese author, Mo Yan, for the first time ever as he was given this year’s Nobel Literature prize.  It was also the first time, I think, that a Nobel prize has been awarded to a writer embraced by a communist regime.  The Chinese government is delighted, just as it was reviled by the award of the 2010 peace prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo. I wonder if this is politics to appease the Chinese.

Mo Yan the Chinese writer and this year's Nobel Literature Laureate

I know nothing more about Mo Yan but have read he is the Chinese equivalent of Franz Kafka, so I will probably not be reading his books, preferring the likes of JK Rowling or Ken Follett and other less high brow writers.

On the same day the literature laureate was announced, a bomb shell exploded in the sports world. Finally the truth came out about the lies and doping of Lance Armstrong who I now know for sure cheated his way through 7 Tours of France.  For on Thursday the USADA published a 1000 page report and denounced what they called "the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen".  You can read the full report here.  I waded through some of it yesterday and read many of his team mates testimonies, some of whom I knew such as George Hincapie, Kevin Livingstone and Frankie Andreu when they rode for Motorola. At that time I don’t think they did take drugs.  I read later that it all started at the Milan San Remo in 1995 (I was there at the time) and that Lance was furious they had done so badly so commented to one of his team mates it was time to start on EPO.  How sad.

Me with Johnny Weltz and Frankie Andreu, Lance's best friend at the Tour of Spain in 1996

I never saw anything, but of ourse it would have been  hidden from me. This was cloak and dagger stuff. The report makes amazing reading and presents overwhelming evidence against the famous Texan who since its publication has remained practically silent on his usually very active Twitter account.  Up till now it seems he did everything he could from bullying to threatening to lawsuits to silence those few who tried to tell the truth, but he cannot stop them all, including Tyler Hamilton.  The latter, a former team mate, has just published a book called “The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping,Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs”.  I ordered it this morning on and look forward to reading it this week.  I always remember seeing Lance at the Tour of Spain when he had just recovered from cancer.  Knowing his aggressive character I had heard that the illness had changed him for the better.  So I asked Frankie Andreu if this was true.  He answered me: “oh no, he’s still the same old son of a bitch”.  And he was because he bullied his team mates and made them drug their bodies too whether they wanted to or not. It is common knowledge, despite the code of silence in the cycling world that is now gradually being broken, that his generation of cyclists doped to perform to an extraordinary extent but he was the greatest of them all and has now sullied that sport for ever.   I wonder how long it will take until he is stripped of his 7 Tours of France.  If that hasn’t happened yet, it is partly due to the cycling ruling body, the UCI, who do not come out well in the USADA report either and look like they also have a role in covering up Lance’s story, in the same way as his and his team’s doping doctors, such as Pedro Celaya (I remember him as the Motorola team doctor; he spoke with a fast Basque accent I could hardly understand) or masseurs such as Freddy Viaene (the nice friendly Belgian soigneur who used to make bacon sandwiches with mustard which I hated for me at some of the races) or team coach where the spotlight is also on Johan Bruyneel, a very shady character in the cycling world who I remember once shouting at me when he rode for the ONCE team asking where the phone I had promised him was.  Since the report has been published he has been fired as coach of his current team but even covers that up too by saying on his Twitter that he has resigned.  For me these people are just as much to blame as Lance.  However it isn’t just Lance and his team mates who have taken dope.  This is a practice that has gone on always and probably explains the code of silence from many top and ex cyclists today.  How can they condone Lance Armstrong when they themselves are not free of guilt? And if his titles are to be stripped, maybe theirs will too.  And where would the investigation start, with Eddie Merck or Tom Simpson who died in the Tour of France on Mt. Ventoux because of doping in 1959?  The only hope here is that the Armstrong doping issue will clean up the sport forever.

Lance Armstrong and Johan Bruyneel both equally guilty of doping in cycling.

Friday was a national holiday and brought with it a three day weekend.  It was the day of celebrations for Hispanic nations and also the day of the Spanish saint, Pilar.  It was also the day the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded.  I was astonished to see that this year’s prize went to the European Union, far too big an entity I thought and just as ridiculous as the prize to Barack Obama.  It sort of under minded the importance.  I understand that the European Union was awarded the prize for its role in uniting the continent over the last six decades but it comes at a time when the Union is at its weakest, embroiled in the Euro crisis and found it surprising that it came from a nation, Norway, which has always refused to join.  It came also during the week the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, visited Greece where she was greeted by protesters with Nazi salutes, not exactly a peaceful event!  Maybe though it will serve to strengthen the Union, but I for one could have thought of more deserved peace prize winners, such as Vicente Ferrer for his outstanding service to the poor people of India. 

That night we discussed the peace prize and the euro crisis and unemployment in Spain with our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen over dinner.  We went to Síbara which serves great fish and chips and came up to speed on the lives of our friends whom I hadn’t seen for a long time. As we left the restaurant, Eladio and I commented on just how civilized their relationship is given that they are now divorced.

On Saturday we had another family lunch and Juli came too.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me cooking in the kitchen. Notice the pc with FB on the screen, the maps on the wall which are an inspiration for travelling, as well as Elsa at the door wanting to come in for the umpteenth time.  For the record I made Russian pelmeni with sour cream sauce (Smetana), roast chicken with vegetables cooked in honey and mushroom risotto.  After lunch it was sunny and Suzy was going to sunbathe but Eladio had decided that yesterday was the day to cover the swimming pool.  So we made a joint effort of putting on the cover and were all a little sad to see this as a symbol of the end to summer.

That night the girls were to celebrate Anita’s birthday as they had done Dave’s the night before.  They call their group of friends, “la manada” or the herd and here you have a photo of them on Friday night with part of the “manada.

The girls (in stripes Suzy left and Oli right) with part of the "manada" celebrating Dave's birthday

Whilst they were preparing for the birthday do, Eladio and I had a date at the cinema.  I had bought tickets to see the new film, The Impossible.  It is a Spanish made film but shot in English and stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and is about the 2004 Tsunami in South East Asia.  The story is based on the experiences of a Spanish family, Maria Belón and Enrique Alvarez and their three young boys who amazingly survived the tragedy.

Members of the Spanish family with the cast who starred in the film The Impossible  based on the family's tale of survival of the 2004 tsunami in South East Asia.
 Eladio called the film the wave, and in a way he’s right because the replica on screen of the “wave” or tsunami was the most important moment of the film.  I think they used 12 million litres of water at the film studios in Alicante to make it.  The film was beautifully made and had me crying at all the right points and also left me wanting to know more about how this, up till now anonymous Spanish family, coped with returning to normal life after their awful and incredible experience.  It also made me understand what it must have been like to live through the Tsunami and just how terrifying and devastating it was.  Well done Juan Antonio Bayona for making this great film.

The Impossible a great film

Afterwards we went to Ginos for dinner and an ice cream at Hagan Dazs for “pudding” which had me feeling guilty.  Luckily I slept well afterwards.  

Today Sunday is a cool Autumn day with rain threatening any time.  Olivia will be leaving very soon for Galicia from where she will be reporting this week.  After publishing this week’s entry, we shall probably read a bit in the lounge – how different from reading outside in the sun – and then go for our daily walk.  You know us, creatures of habit, usually. 

And the week ahead will be busy and I hope a good one.  

Meanwhile I wish you all the best and sorry for too much international news and not much about home, but as you see it’s been very quiet here and there is not much to tell. 

Cheers for now

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