Sunday, January 27, 2013

Snow, to Barcelona and back, a reunion weekend with Andy and Charlotte, farewell Dave, great sporting news, goodbye Sara and other things.

Sunday 27th January 2013
The girls and their group of friends they call "la manada" off to Fresnedilla de la Oliva on Saturday for a goodbye weekend for Dave (in the striped jumper) who is leaving for Brazil.

Hi everyone and welcome back.  This week’s blogpost is full of news and looking back it has been a good week all in all.

On Monday morning I had a conference call with Stockholm.  You probably don’t know but I avoid conference calls like the plague and only accept them very occasionally.  However I couldn’t get out of this one, about our plans for the upcoming Mobile World Congress at the end of February in Barcelona.  The funny thing was that I was on line for about 5 minutes until my Swedish colleagues joined; quite unusual for them to be late.  Afterwards I drove to the office for meetings.  Of interest was the second meeting which was with the Chinese manufacturer of mobile phones, ZTE, about a possible joint launch of a new smartphone.  The Chinese were fast entering this market and now dominate much of it.  When I first started in the telecoms sector, it was the Americans and Nordic companies who dominated.  

I missed Olivia on the television that morning.  She had gone to Valencia on Sunday and would be working there all week with her cameraman boyfriend Miguel and I think they make a great team.  She did a live report about a very sad story of an abused baby in Castellón.  She hates this sort of news and so do I.  You can watch her here on this link if you go to 11.34h.

The news on Monday of course was the 57th presidential inauguration in the United States and Barack Obama’s swearing in on the commencement of his second term of office.  The funny thing is he had to so in private on Sunday afternoon because the Constitution says that was when his office begins but as it was not a good day to do so publically, the live ceremony would take place the next day when, also, all Americans would have a day off to watch and celebrate the occasion.  In the private ceremony the main news was that his daughter Sasha remarked afterwards that he had done a good job and “didn’t mess up” in reference to his having to repeat part of the oath in the first Inauguration Day when he missed some words out.

I didn’t watch him swearing in on Monday but most of the world did.  The biggest news I have seen seems to be about how Beyoncé mimicked the national anthem instead of singing live.  I suppose she must have recorded it beforehand and preferred to lip synch just in case something went wrong.  But I’m sure she now regrets the decision after worldwide criticism.

Barack Obama at his swearing in ceremony and Beyoncé lip synching the national anthem.
On Monday in Spain there was much warning about snow forecast for the next day and there were warning signs on the roads in Madrid whilst the capital prepared for this unusual occasion.  I woke up hoping to see snow in the garden but was disappointed.  After breakfast it started to sleet and a few moments later it snowed.  Unfortunately the snow fall lasted under 5 minutes and that was the end of the story.  I was very jealous seeing photos posted on Facebook by my friends in Yorkshire of the snow that had fallen there this week.  When Kathryn commented that her school had been closed, that reminded me of the good old days in Yorkshire when they used to shut down my school, St. Joseph’s College and we would have great days off enjoying the snow.

Snow in Keighley West Yorkshire this week
 I drove later to the office for the weekly management team meeting and the traffic was pretty dense, because people were worried about the snow that never came.   I was meeting Julio and Fátima for a belated birthday lunch nearby but Fátima, so frightened of the snow, refused to leave her house!  I ended up picking her up and the two of us had lunch in Boadilla at one of my favourites: El Buey. We had a great girly lunch and agreed to meet up soon again this time with Julio.

Finally Wednesday came and my awaited trip to Barcelona.  I was going on a site inspection trip to scout for locations for a party and press conference for our participation in the Mobile World Congress at the end of next month.  I always travel these days on the high speed train which takes under three hours to reach Barcelona.  However, I was astounded to see that the ticket cost 300 euros, a lot more than the airplane and more expensive than a flight to London for example. This was my first work trip without lugging my pc and my first high speed trip using my adored iPad.  With it I was able to deal with my emails, look up the places we were going to site inspect and of course use Facebook and Twitter. With work out of the way I was able to enjoy the rest of the journey watching television.  Yeah, thanks to the BBC iPlayer I watched three hilarious episodes of Benidorm, a series about English people on holiday in that tacky resort town which I know so well because my parents bought a house in the mountains some 20km inland in the late 70’s – those were what we call “The Callosa Days” and saw my beginnings in Spain and which you can read about here.

There may have been no snow in Madrid but there was plenty in the countryside on my train journey.  It was sunny too and I captured the scene with my iPhone.

The snow I saw from the train going to Barcelona on Wednesday
Whilst I was on the train Olivia would be reporting live again from Valencia, this time from Denia in Alicante; an amazing story about a false doctor who had been practicing for five years until he was detected.  I was able to watch the piece later on this link.  You can too if you go to 11.37h.

Olivia live on TVE1 on Wednesday reporting on a false doctor in Denia
A funny thing happened on the train.  Just as Olivia was reporting live, a team of TVE ambled towards me.  They were doing a story on the prices of the high speed train (apparently to be decreased shortly) and I agreed to be interviewed.  The journalist was Antonio Parreño who Olivia later told me she knew.  After the interview I sent a whatsapp message to my friend the sports presenter Sergio Sauca who promised to let me know when the report would be broadcast.  So far it hasn’t come out.  But watch this space.  My comment in the interview was that I thought the ticket was extortionately expensive and that if I had to buy it myself I would think twice about taking the AVE (high speed train) and that if tickets were cheaper these trains would be much fuller.

We actually arrived 30 minutes late in Barcelona because the train had to slow down because of ice on the rails, but luckily it was sunny in the Catalan capital.  I took a taxi to my hotel, the 1898 where I always stay in Barcelona. It’s on the Rambla and a stone’s throw from the Plaza de Cataluña.  I quickly checked in and then took a taxi to where I was having lunch with Gloria and Miguel from my events agency, QuintaEsencia.  We had chosen another favourite, the Agua restaurant by the beach and next to the Hotel Arts.  Amazingly we ate outside.

The Agua restaurant in Barcelona right by the sea, a great location

We then had a very productive afternoon visiting all the recommended venues for the party and press conference in February.  I was finished by 6 pm and had plenty of time until my next engagement, dinner at Grainne’s house in Badalona later that evening.  I went to school with Grainne and her sister Brenda in Bradford so we go back a long way and I can never visit Barcelona without meeting this amazing charismatic woman of Irish origin.  In order to keep to my Dukan diet I bought some of the food: ham and steak from the Corte Inglés which I enjoyed with Grainne and her son Marcel at their cozy little flat in Badalona, a suburb of Barcelona.  We had such a good time catching up I’m afraid I forgot to take any photos.

The next day I worked from my hotel room until time to check out.  We were to have lunch in the Barceloneta area at Cal Pinxo and it was such a lovely day, I decided to walk there from my hotel.  Here Gloria, Miguel and I enjoyed another meal outdoors and remarked just how much we love Barcelona – except for the local language of course.

With Gloria at Cal Pinxo in Barcelona on Thursday
We caught the 15h train and I spent most of the journey being entertained on my iPad.  I watched another hilarious episode of Benidorm and also two episodes of a wonderful BBC period series called London Hospital.  If you know me well you will know I love hospital stories, although I hate hospitals in real life.

I was home in the early evening, a bit too late for our walk unfortunately.  I had been sticking to my Dukan diet in Barcelona and was very cross to see the result on the scales the next day: I had put on half a kilo.  Since then I have cut back on the oat bran biscuits and fruit yoghurt and luckily today, Sunday, I am back on track.

Friday was a quiet day at home, working, food shopping and general routine stuff.  In the morning we watched Olivia report from Calpe, a town close to Callosa by the way.  It was another awful story, this time about how a Moldavan woman was killed by her partner, the third case of female genocide this year in Spain. 

Olivia reporting from Calpe on Friday
On Friday too we were getting ready for visitors.  A friend from the past, very much involved in our Callosa Days, Andy was coming to stay with his daughter Charlotte who will be living in Madrid for 6 months to learn Spanish.  Andy got to know my family at the University of East Anglia in Norwich where my parents and Aunty Masha taught at the Russian summer course every year for about 10 years.  These intensive courses were a highlight of my youth as I used to go along for the ride.  In those days it was not easy for students of this language to go to Russia and this course became very popular with students of all ages and from many countries.  Andy, a schoolboy from the North of England, joined the course 3 times and won the prize for best student each time.  Being a pretty brainy chap he then went on to study Russian and Philosophy at Oxford.  One of those summers he joined us afterwards at Callosa.  I remember him as a lanky awkward boy not used to “foreign food” but today he is a mature husband and father of 4 children living in France and working in External Relations for the United Nations in Geneva with the International Labour Organisation. His memory is much better than mine and according to him the last time we met was at the train station in Oxford in 1978 when I was saying goodbye to my friend Amanda who studied there.  

So, on Friday, my Father and I were to see him for the first time in 35 years.  His beautiful daughter Charlotte, 20, is the age we were when we last met!  He was keen to see my Father as he said my parents were very instrumental in his youth and a great help and inspiration.  They both taught him at Norwich and he remarked just how colourful and fun my Mother’s classes were.  I can imagine as she was very charismatic. 

Suzy and Olivia joined us for dinner – I hadn’t seen them for a week – and we had a truly international family dinner and even my Father joined us which made us all happy.

Andy and Charlotte at dinner at home on Friday night

The next morning after breakfast we took Andy and Charlotte on what I call our “special occasion walk” in nearby Boadilla.  We took the dogs and it was their first time together in the car.  I had expected them to behave badly but they were ok.  The walk was magnificent, with the sun and the view of the snow capped mountains outside Madrid.  In fact it got warmer and warmer and we had to take our coats off.  So much for snow, it reached 17ºc, a lot more than our visitors’ home town near Geneva I guess.

Out walking on Saturday morning with Andy and Charlotte in El Bosque de Boadilla
After such a long walk we treated ourselves to drinks and tapas at lovely bar called La Lonja de Boadilla opposite the palace.  I was wondering how the dogs would behave but they sat quietly at our feet.

Tapas with Andy and Charlotte, Eladio and the dogs in the sun in Boadilla on Saturday morning.
Lunch yesterday was the last meal together as Andy and Charlotte left to spend Andy’s last afternoon with his daughter in sunny Madrid.  We said goodbye but knew it would not be another 35 years until we meet.  We hope to see Charlotte whilst she is Spain and her family when they come to visit at Easter.

The house seemed very empty afterwards.  The girls were not there. They had left to spend the night at a rented cottage in nearby Fresnedilla de la Oliva with their friends. They call their group “la manada” or the herd and they are very close knit.   It was to be a goodbye event for Dave, their friend from school who is leaving Spain to find his fortune in Brazil.  Many young Spaniards are leaving Spain as the job market is so desperate here.  Suzy herself will be going to London in May, also to find her fortune.  It just remains for me to say “farewell and good luck Dave”. The photo illustrating this blog is of the “manada” just about to set off.

They  (Suzy, Oli, Elena, Elena, Rocío, María, Carolina, Ana, Dave and Juli) posted photos all afternoon from their lovely cottage which is located in a field with donkeys (my favourite four legged animals) just half an hour’s drive from where Suzy lives.  I haven’t heard much since. I will probably not see Suzy until next weekend but am expecting Olivia back this afternoon.  It won’t be for long though as tonight she will be travelling to Valencia.  Tomorrow she will be going with her boyfriend Miguel for a week’s skiing in Spain’s most up market skiing resort, Baqueira.

The girls at the cottage in Fresnedilla de la Oliva this weekend. 
On a normal weekend we would have gone out to dinner but yesterday was a PP (pure protein) Dukan day, so we stayed in, had an early dinner and went to bed to watch the news.  The best news was about sport.  A Spaniard from Madrid called José Fernández (equivalent of Joe Smith in English!) had won the European men’s figure skating and became the first Spaniard ever to win a gold medal.  I later read that he lives and trains in Montreal, Canada, which I suppose is one of the skating capitals of the world.  I have yet to see his performance which I hear was amazing. 

Javier Ferández, the Spaniard from Madrid who won the European figure skating gold medal in Zagreb yesterday

Now is the time to write about other sports news that has interested me this week.  First there was the Bradford City football team’s first too this week.  This is the football team of the city I lived at in my formative years.  Their feat is being in the 4th division and getting through to the final of the League Cup (now called Capital One Cup) by beating Aston Vila.  They will now play Swansea City in the final at the most iconic of football venues in the world, Wembley.  I really hope they win on 24th February.  Even if they don’t, they will still have made history for the club.

Bradford City FC fans celebrating their win over Aston Vila to get through to the final in Wembley
Today Sunday, there are two sporting fixtures that interest me.  First there is the Australian tennis final which Britain’s Andrew Murray is playing now against Djokovic.  If he wins he will make history for Britain.  So please cross your fingers.  The second is the final of handball world championship in Barcelona today when Spain meets Denmark.  You will have no doubts as to which side I am on, so please cross your fingers again my friends. 

And right now I am taking a break from writing this post as we are off to have lunch in Madrid at Eladio’s brother’s house, José Antonio and our sister-in-law Dolores.  We don’t often visit them, but today is special as it will be the last time we see their daughter Sara for a long time as next week she is going off for an extended stay in China.  My niece is yet another young Spaniard who is going to seek her fortune in another country.  It is a country she is familiar with as after University she spent two years there learning the language.  Again, then, I say goodbye and good luck.  Soon it will be Susana I will be saying goodbye to, but luckily London is nearer than Peking.

And now I am back at my desk from lunch in Madrid and have found out that Murray lost to Djokovic. We had a lovely time together and were joined also by Juan, Sara’s youngest brother and also Eladio’s godson.  I wish I had taken a photo for this week’s blog, but sort of hesitated as I know Sara doesn’t like her photo being published on internet.  We have all agreed to meet again for my birthday on 8th February and which is also Juan’s birthday.  Sara, of course, will be in China and we won’t see her again until the Summer.

And now I will leave you.  You have all this week’s news and as Olivia has just come back, I want to spend some quality time with her before adding the internet links to this post as well as the photos and all the palava (a good word for my Spanish friends – a slang word for “hassle”) of uploading it and publishing it.

All the best then till next week

PS If you haven't heard Spain won the Handball world championship - another great sporting victory for Spain!

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