Sunday, October 28, 2012

The dark age of cycling comes to light, site inspection in Madrid, the Poppy appeal, Nuba came to stay, Olivia a bride for one day, my film of the week, the clocks went back and other things.

Sunday 28th  October 2012

The dark age of cycling comes to light, site inspection in Madrid, the Poppy appeal, Nuba came to stay, Olivia a bride for one day, my film of the week, the clocks went back and other things.

On Friday Olivia was a bride for one day

Hi again this sunny but cold last Sunday in October.

I hope your week was good. Mine was much dominated with stories of cycling after the aftermath of the USADA report accusing Lance Armstrong of doping. This week I read David Walsh’s book From Lance to Landis where I read a lot about how he cheated his way to win the Tour of France and also discovered the stories of his team mates, many of whom I knew from the Motorola Cycling Days.  On Monday the UCI, also accused of corruption, acknowledged the findings of the USADA report when Pat McQuaid, its controversial head, said that Lance Armstrong had no place in cycling and thus finally stripped him of his 7 Tour de France wins. Not so long afterwards the Texan removed this description from his now very silent Twitter account.  

On Wednesday the Tour de France presented its 2013 edition which will celebrate its centenary but most of that event was clouded by the Armstrong scandal.  At the presentation, Alberto Contador, the Spanish cycling champion, also under suspicion, spoke out in favour of Lance, as did Miguel Indurain later, the 5 times winner of the Boucle.  When I hear cyclists like them supporting Lance Armstrong when the evidence is there that he cheated, it makes me think they don’t want to acknowledge the truth as they themselves may well be tainted in the process. Meanwhile the British team Sky, in an attempt to clean up the sport, announced they would ask all the team members, including the staff, if they had been involved in doping and if they had they would have to leave the team but would be paid “umbrella money”.  If they didn’t own up and it was later found out that they had been involved in doping, they would then not be paid.  Bradley Wiggins is the Sky Team’s leader and the first Brit to win the Tour and it is widely acknowledged he did so in a clean way.  The manager David Brailsford is on a mission to clean the sport and his starting point is the Sky Team.  On Thursday another ex Motorola rider, BobbyJulich, Sky’s race coach, admitted to doping and quit the team.  That left me thinking about Sean Yates, Sky’s Senior Sports Director, an ex British cyclist who had also formed part of the Motorola Cycling Team and was very much Lance’s mentor at the beginning.  Sean was a domestique but he did once wear the Yellow Jersey at the Tour de France in 1994, even if only for one day.  I was at that Tour de France and was given a wonderful signed photograph of Sean with the yellow jersey and Lance with the rainbow jersey for having won the 1993 road racing world championship just ahead of Miguel Indurain.  He was just 21 at the time, very brash but quite a nice kid.  I could never imagine when I was given that photograph what would happen 20 years later

Sean Yates and Lance Armstrong at the 1994 Tour de France.  I have a signed copy of this photograph

The photograph was taken by Graham Watson, the best professional photographer in the trade who I am sure must be even more shocked than I am at this week’s news.  I looked at his Twitter account and his only tweet recently was “ouch”.  Many other people I knew through my experience with the team seem to have remained pretty silent this week but I’m sure they must be as shocked as I.  I refer to people like Paul Sherwen (ex PR Manager for the Motorola cycling team and now a TV commentator and very close to Lance) or Rupert Guinness, the Australian cycling journalist.  Others like Johan Bruyneel will probably be silent as they are equally guilty as Lance Armstrong.

And finally today I read that Sean Yates also quitted the Sky Team after admitting that he too had been involved in doping.  So wow another Motorola cycling team member admitted to doping.  I wonder if anyone of them road clean.  I was confused to read just a few hours later on The BBC website that he had left because he wanted to retire and not because of having doped.  I wonder what the truth really is or if you can ever know the real truth in this sport.

Meanwhile on Friday the UCI announced that Lance Armstrong’s 7 Tours would not be allocatedto anyone, leaving the years from 1999 to 2005 blank.  They said they decided not to upgrade any other competitors, due to the widespread doping in the peloton at the time.  Those years are now considered the dark age of cycling which this week has finally come to light.  I am still in shock and so disappointed at the sport I always loved and became so involved in thanks to my job with Motorola in the 90’s. I can only hope that David Brailsford’s mission is a success but I have my doubts.  Let’s see how many more cyclists come clean in the following weeks.  My mind strays constantly to Miguel Indurain the Spanish cycling legend but also to what must be going on in Lance Armstrong’s head and whether he has any regrets.  But only he will know and for the moment he is silent although, knowing him, probably raging inside.

Lance Armstrong's 7 Tours are now blank years

My week wasn’t only about cycling. Monday saw me in the office for an interview with my new boss by the top financial daily in Spain Expansión.  I have yet to see the article which will probably come out tomorrow Monday.

Tuesday saw me in Madrid.  I went into town to site inspect venues for the Yoigo Christmas activities. I was accompanied by Bea, Gloria and Miguel from my events agency QuintaEsencia.  We met at the Costume Museum first on a glorious sunny day where we had a coffee and planned the morning’s visits.  I had been there before but knew before we left we wouldn’t be considering it for our Christmas party.  Our next venue was the sky scraper building Torre Espacio.  We took the lift in this very security conscious building to the top floor, number 42 from where you have great views of Madrid.  It is nowhere near as tall as any big American sky scrapers but is one of the tallest buildings Madrid has to offer.  I felt rather shut in as I often do in tall buildings, but could not help but admire the view outside. 

On the top floor of Torre Espacio on Tuesday with Bea and Gloria

Again I knew I didn’t want this venue for our Christmas party.  I was looking for something much more special or unique.

Our next stop was the new Spanish college of architects’ headquarters, the COAM, a modern building in the heart of Madrid.  It was very suitable for the party so we haven’t ruled it out yet. 
Then we went to a brand new location in Madrid, the swish new Isabela gourmet market in Paseo de la Habana, not far from the Bernabeu Stadium.  This place is really something special and has risen to the top of the list of possibilities for the final choice.

Our last stop of the morning was at the very fashionable and up market restaurant called Ten con Ten, another possible location for our party and where we were also going to have lunch.  I fell in love with the place but soon realised it was rather too small.  Later we learned they wouldn’t hire it out so it came off our list.  However it was a great discovery.  It’s the place where many of Madrid’s “beautiful people” come and as I Iooked at the posh and well dressed people eating here I wasn’t sure I really felt at home.

Afterwards we went to have a cup of coffee at another fashionable location, with a view for using it at an up and coming press event I have to organize.  I was intrigued to hear it was called “Whitby”, after the seaside town in North Yorkshire I so love but was disappointed to see no resemblance or relationship with its English counterpart, other than the name.

The next topic in this week’s headline is the Poppy Appeal.  You will wonder why I am including that.  Well I was inspired by our visit to the sky scraper Torre Espacio which happens to house the British Embassy in Madrid and here at the reception desk on the ground floor I saw they were selling the English poppies.  I have only ever bought one in England so was delighted to see them on Tuesday morning.

A Remembrance Poppy

Poppy Day, or the Poppy appeal is probably England’s most famous charity appeal.  The paper poppies people buy and wear in October and November are in remembrance of the Armistice on 11th November after the First World War and proceeds go to the Armed Forces in general.  I looked up why the red flower is a symbol and learned that it comes from the poem “In Flanders Field” by the Canadian  Lieutenant Colonel and physician John McCrae.

In Flanders Field, the poem the poppy day is inspired by

The poppies of course grew on the battlefields of Flanders, Belgium, where so many soldiers were killed.  So, on Tuesday I proudly made my donation and bought a poppy for myself and for my Father.  My friends, Bea, Gloria and Miguel loyally bought one two as I explained their origin.

Wearing my poppy at Ten con Ten on Tuesday

When I came home and gave the poppy to my Father, I was greeted not only by our two dogs Norah and Elsa, but by Nuba, José Antonio and Dolores’ mongrel of terrier descent.  They have gone away to a spa in Castellón with family and friends for 11 days, so Nuba came to stay.  So now we have three dogs in the house.  Nuba is much better behaved than our dogs but they do get on thankfully. 

Eladio with the three dogs

They are a bit of a handful on the walk as you can imagine, however they look forward to it enormously.  Feeding them in the morning is also a problem so we have to separate them.  As they sleep outside in the cold, they generally end up sleeping most of the morning in the kitchen.  Here is a great photo of them asleep (each on separate blankets) while I work peacefully from the kitchen table one morning this week.

Working at the kitchen table with the three dogs asleep at my feet

On a totally different topic, on Wednesday I was astonished to hear on the news that the famous London landmark, the Admiralty Arch between The Mall and Trafalgar Square, was to be sold for a 90 year lease to a Spanish developer Rafael Serrano.  This rich Spaniard will be turning the landmark built in 1912 by King Edward VII in memory of his Mother, Queen Victoria into a luxury hotel.  I wonder how many crisis struck Spaniards could even dream of staying there.  The selling price was some 60 million pounds.  Apparently it costs the British Government 1 million pounds a year to keep up this decaying building, so they will now make a profit over the next 90 years.  I wonder if Edward VII is turning in his grave at the news.

The London landmark Admiralty Arch has been bought by a Spanish developer who will turn it into a luxury hotel

On Wednesday evening Eladio and I enjoyed another episode of Gran Hotel.  I was thus interested to read later that the series, dubbed “The Spanish Downtown Abbey” will be shown on TV in the UK later this year.  I read this on The Daily Telegraph’s online site. I then looked at some of the comments and was upset to see a reader comment: “A show about a Spanish hotel? Will they have finished building it yet?”.  I thought the comment was not only disparaging but also prejudiced but then again that is the image Spain sometimes has abroad and which it has often brought upon itself.  In any case I hope English viewers enjoy the series which is very well done.  However I suspect they will not be too happy with the script writing which I think is not a patch on script writing of English series. 

A scene from the Spanish Downtown Abbey, Gran Hotel which will be shown on English TV soon

I have now come to the item in this week’s blog post referring to Olivia being a bride for one day.  You will have seen the picture of her dressed as a bride above and I bet you are wondering what this all about and whether she got married.  No, no, it wasn’t that, not yet at least.  On Friday she was asked to report on a wedding exhibition taking place in Madrid.  She decided to do the live report dressed in one of the gowns being exhibited and of course looked stunning.  She commented later that all the dresses were tiny, being model sizes and could only find one that fitted.  Olivia is quite thin so that does say something about models’ sizes at fashion shows, I must say.

Olivia reporting live from the bridal exhibition in Madrid on Friday.

She had no time to warn us of her TV appearance but Suzy actually saw her live.  I was able to see her later on internet and here is the link for you to see her too, if you fast forward to 12.51h. 
That day we all had lunch together and it turned out to be the only day of the week we did.  When José Antonio came to bring Nuba to stay on Tuesday he brought us some special chick peas and we had them for lunch on Friday. Ivanka cooked this magnificent stew made with chick peas, vegetables, chorizo and stock, a lovely winter dish for such a cold day.

The chickpeas we had on Friday

On Friday too, Eladio and I went out to dinner, after our energetic walk with the three dogs.  Our choice this Friday was Síbara, a place introduced to me by Juana and where we had been recently with Roberto and Mari Carmen. The best thing on the menu there, at least for me, are their pseudo fish and chips, the nearest you can get in this area to the real thing.

Fish and chips at Síbara on Friday night

Saturday was a quiet day.  We were joined by Oli for lunch and went for our walk in the afternoon, once again with the three dogs.  In the evening we decided to go the cinema as we wanted to see the new film Argo and Oli did too.  It was well worth it and one of the best films I have seen in a long time.  Directed by Ben Affleck who is also the main character, the story is true and amazing and is about the rescue of the 6 American Embassy staff who escaped just as the Embassy was taken hostage by Iranian students in 1979.  I remember the case as we more or less watched it live as it developed.  Jimmy Carter had just come to power, the Sha of Persia had fled Iran and taken exile in the USA where he was being treated for cancer and the famous Ayotallah Homeini returned from his own exile in Paris to Teheran to carry out the revolution of the time when fundamentalism returned to the country.  It was because the USA had given refuge to the Sha, that the furious students stormed the Embassy.  But what I did not know about at the time was that 6 of the staff had managed to escape and hide in the residence of the Canadian Embassy.  The story of their rescue was portrayed in the film last night, certainly my film of the week.  You can see the official trailer here.

Argo, my film of the week

We wanted to have dinner at Ginos with Olivia after the film, but despite the crisis, every restaurant in the leisure centre seemed to be choc a block.  In the end Olivia left us to go to a birthday party in Madrid and Eladio and I drove into Majadahonda and had dinner at Hollywood.  It was also pretty crowded and loud.  I noticed many places over decorated with the up and coming Halloween theme, something I can never relate to, not having been brought up on the tradition.  The girls, though, have and will be enjoying their Halloween party next week, on Wednesday, the last day of October.  The next day, 1st November will be a holiday and they will be able to sleep off any excesses and hopefully we all have lunch again together that day.  So, no, there will be no “trick or treating” in this house next week.

And of course last night, after coming back from the film and dinner, we came back to an extra hour of sleep.  That is because the clocks went back an hour last night, officially ending summer time.  It always takes some getting used to.  The upside is that it will lighter when we get up in the morning and the downside is that it will be darker when we go on our walk in the afternoon. 

The clocks went back last night

Thank goodness that the clocks in our mobile phones and pcs go back automatically, not so though all our watches and clocks which always have to be put back manually.  

By next week we will have forgotten the time change and get on with life as normal.  I don’t have anything particular to look forward to next week but trust that the week will be good.  I trust that it will be good for you too.

Cheers then till next week my friends.


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