Sunday, June 16, 2013

Remembering my first job with Defex in the arms industry, a “surprise visit from Suzy”, Oli reporting for TVE from Galicia, a heat wave in Madrid, the Ghosts of Spain and the connection with Tárbena, a lazy day by the pool with the family and other stories.

Me in 1982 at the Defex stand at an arms fair in Athens, my first business trip ever.  I was just 25.

Hi again everyone,

Last Sunday when I posted my blogpost on Faceook I got comments from an ex colleague, Iñigo, who used to work at the same company, Defex.  He said: “Do you remember Athens in 1982?  How could I forget?  So I foraged in our old photograph albums and dug out a photo of myself at the Defex stand at an arms fair in Athens, as well as a photo of the colleague and myself by the Acropolis. 
In Athens by the Acropolis with Iñigo and on the Defex stand at the arms fair - 1982

How could I possibly forget my first business trip abroad? I was just 25 and couldn’t believe my luck checking into the Hilton Hotel when all my trips up till then had been on cheap trains and sleeping at sleazy hotels around Europe.  It was in Athens where I first tried lobster which has gone on to be my overall favourite food.  It was in Athens too that I treated my taste buds to dishes like houmus or stuffed vine leaves.  And it was in Athens where it took me, together with Iñigo and Miguel S, more time than anyone else to set up our stand and to take it down in the port of Piraeus.

Defex was my first job.  When I applied for a secretarial/translating post with the company after seeing a vacancy published in El País, little did I know what I was letting myself in for.  I had been living “in sin” with Eladio discreetly in a working class area called Saconia for a few months and searching for a proper job whilst making a meager existence by teaching English to unwilling Spanish schoolchildren so I was delighted when I was called for the interview.  At the time I had no work experience, no residency and therefore no job permit.  Getting a job has always been difficult in Spain but it was even more difficult then because of my circumstances.  Also my degree in Spanish at Nottingham University wasn’t going to help much either.  People in Spain study degrees that will lead them to jobs for which they have studied, unlike in England.  And having a degree in Spanish, the language of the country I was in, was practically a useless piece of paper.   The job selection process took days and there seemed to be about 100 girls applying.  The “headhunter” was a funny chap called Mauricio Xandro whom I have since seen interviewed on the television as Spain’s most prestigious graphologist – the pseudoscience study and analysis of handwriting especially in relation to human psychology.  The tests of my handwriting must have been good as I was offered the job along with a lovely American girl called Rosa of Cuban origin who was married to a Angel, a Maths professor at the Autónomo University in Madrid and who, coincidentally, also lived in Saconia.

Whilst we were going through the job selection process nobody told us what the company’s business was about.  So when Rosa and I met at the offices in the Orense Street in Madrid to sign our contracts, we asked ourselves what the business could possibly be about.  She said it seemed all so hush hush that maybe Defex dealt in pornography.  Finally the mystery was solved by Sr. Ibañez who was dealing with our contracts.  When we asked him, he looked taken aback, took one breath and tried to explain.  He said something similar to this: “Well, Defex exports equipment. We actually export defence material and added “It’s like selling cars”.  l was so relieved to hear it wasn’t pornography that I didn’t stop to think that defence material, of course, meant arms and weapons.  He asked us if we had a problem with that but we both needed the job so badly we said of course we didn’t.  We were so happy to have a job and to be earning 58,000 pesetas a month, a fortune I thought. I worked for that company for 8 years and at the beginning especially it was great fun.  

Defex exported to all the imaginable countries in the third world which would buy Spanish manufactured arms and weapons, tanks and even airplanes and ships from companies such as Esperanza y Cía, Expal, Star, Bazán, Santa Bárbara or Casa.  It was a secret world which made a lot of money and I remember my bosses, Sr. Trujillo, Sr. Cervera, Sr. Esteruelas, Sr. Comín, Sr. Bergia, Sr. Presmanes, Sr. Alcántara and company travelling first class to cities in Africa, Asia and South America, some I had never heard of.  I would book them into marvelous sounding hotels such as the Shangri La in Kuala Lumpur or the Taj Mahal in Delhi. I learned a whole new vocabulary and my geography of those areas improved immensely.  At Christmas, our honorific President, Lt. Gen Oliete, the Head of the Spanish Civil Guard at the time and once henchman of Franco, called us all in one by one to give us a bonus in an envelope.  I went in trembling and when he handed me mine, he said: “so that you can buy yourself a pretty dress”. Thanking him I rushed to the bathroom to open the envelope and found a check for 100.000 pesetas, a fortune for me.  Gen Oliete lived in another world and would never know that the money would not be spent on a dress as of course it wasn’t.  

Soon the Falklands war broke out and I remember Sr. Trujillo telling me that as I was British I didn’t have to work on the project if I didn’t want to.  But of course I did because I wanted to know what was happening.  The Spanish government swore that Spain was not selling arms to Argentina, but I knew otherwise. Communication in the early 80s in businesses was by telephone, letter and telex.  Telex was fun and I loved it.  You would write on a keyboard and send the telex to an address abroad.  You could also write online and get immediate responses.  Often I would be dictated to and write to companies like Tedco in India.  We had to write in a sort of code which was even more fun.  I have many amazing memories of my years at Defex but some stand out more in my mind than others.  I remember an African “King” called Alhaji Abdul Asis and two other surnames beginning with A also.  I called him the “5 As”. He was an agent who for securing contracts with the corrupt Nigerian Ministry of Defence got commissions of up to 100% of the total amount.  Once he came to Madrid and insisted I accompany him to shops in Madrid to find white shoes in the winter.  I was relieved to hear I wouldn’t be on my own with him and that the Chairman’s chauffeur, Luis, would be taking us. This was mission impossible as Spanish men have smaller feet and do not wear white shoes, especially in the winter.  In the end I took him to a chemist shop and he turned up his nose disgustedly.  I remember visiting him too at his top suite of a Hilton Hotel in London.  My mission was to retrieve from him a “certificate of final destination” – very important for shipping arms (but that’s another story).  I had expected him to come down to reception and was petrified when he asked me to come up.  I was worried he might force me sexually.  Thank God he didn’t but I came away from the visit convinced I had been sent there because I was blonde and a good looking young woman.  I have many more memories, such as going to the Bank of Iran in London and having to wear a headscarf.  I also remember there being an “agent” called “Major Kaka” at the High Commission of Nigeria in London and asking myself if there could be one called “Minor Kaka”.  I can never forget either the visit of a delegation from the Ministry of Defence of Iran or was it Irak. I can’t remember but I do remember having to herd them into a private room to pray during the meetings and being asked which direction was the Mecca.  I had no idea so nodded towards the Real Madrid football stadium, the Bernabeu, which I supposed was the Spanish Mecca and would do for the occasion!  At these sorts of meetings no alcohol could be served of course but my Spanish bosses asked me to serve them gin or vodka which would look like water.  I was very worried I was putting the wrong glass in the wrong place on the table but thankfully that didn’t happen.  

Certainly Defex exported to both sides of the conflict, both to Irak and to Iran.  Should I have felt that my work was immoral at the time? I think it did worry me sometimes but not a lot.  I just needed a job and this was actually lots of fun and I got to travel to places like Malaysia, Greece, Turkey, Portugal and of course my beloved London.  But if I was offered a job today in the arms industry I would certainly not take it.  I always find it funny that my whole work experience started in that industry but this is the first time I have told the story.  The arms world is very hush hush and when I looked for a reference link on the internet to document today’s post I wasn’t surprised to find that Defex doesn’t even have a website. Perhaps that will change now after writing this story and if anyone googles Defex they will find this post and find out just a little of what the company gets up to. 

I have digressed but after Iñigo’s comment I thought it was time to tell the story of my first job at Defex in the arms industry.  I hope you liked it.

On Sunday too Olivia left for Galicia where she would be reporting for her programme La Mañana de la 1 all of last week.  We were in for good weather but she was not as you will find out later.

On Monday 10th June it was my dear friend Sandra’s birthday.  Sandra is my darling friend from Nottingham University who is perhaps the most exotic friend I have.  She was born in India to a Hungarian Jewish war survivor Mother, Magda, and to an Italian Father.  She was brought up in England and now lives in Brussels where we have visited her in the recent past.  I hope we meet up again soon Sandie.  

On Monday, Suzy “surprised” us with an out of the blue visit from London. I have put the word in inverted commas because it was not a surprise to me or Olivia but no one else was to know.  She had come back to do important paper work needed for her job seeking in London such as getting a criminal records certificate, a blood test as well as organizing for her unemployment benefit to be paid whilst living in London.  It was a delight to see her.  Eladio and my Father were indeed surprised.  Here is a lovely photo of Eladio and Suzy in the throes of an emotional embrace upon her arrival.
Suzy and Eladio hugging on her surprise arrival from London on Monday

It was just before her arrival that Olivia was live on TVE reporting from Santiago de Compostela on a horrible case of a man in his 40’s being beaten up by a group of young thugs, allegedly just because he was “old”. You can see it here if you fast forward to 13.05h.  These days I watch her on my iPhone and even now my Father watches her on my iPad which I set up for him. Fancy a 94 year old man watching his granddaughter live on the TV on a tablet.  Isn’t technology just great?
Oli reporting on Monday from Santiago de Compostela

On Monday my first order of the week from Amazon arrived.  I had completely forgotten that I had preordered The Times sportswriter, David Walsh’s “Seven Deadly Sins” about his pursuit of Lance Armstrong.  I devoured it very soon as the story, as some of you will know, is very close to my heart having once been the PR Manager in Spain of the Motorola Cycling Team to which he belonged. I could have told David a few stories too.

That night one item in the news which we watched from bed as we do most nights, struck my attention.  The CEO of Orange (France Telecom) had been taken into police custody as part of the Tapie arbitration case.  As I am a PR manager for an operator, my heart went out to my PR colleagues at Orange and wished them good luck in the story.  I could only imagine they had gone straight into crisis management mode, a worrying situation for any PR professional as I know from experience.

On Tuesday Olivia had a lovely story to report on for TVE.  It was about a tiny baby called Adriana who weighed 850 grammes when she was born in La Coruña.  She was given just 30% chance of living. Imagine weighing less than a packet of sugar or flour I thought whilst I watched Olivia tell the story. Olivia was in her element here as she adores babies and happily told her audience that today 3 months later Adriana weighs 4 kilos.  You can see the story here if you fast forward to 10.20h.
Oli's story of the miracle baby, Ariadna, which she reported on from La Coruña on Tuesday

This time I watched her live from the local supermarket whilst Jesús was serving me produce to later make Suzy cocido madrileño, one of her favourite dishes.  If you have never eaten it this is what it looked like.
The cocido I made on Tuesday in Susana's honour

On Wednesday I accompanied Suzy on some of her errands.  The heat had finally arrived and I think Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far.  As I waited for her in the shade outside a building in Pozuelo the temperature was 35c!   We had time on the way back to stop at Centro Oeste where Suzy needed to buy something. Needless to say I wandered into the shops.  It was very warm and I spied a pair of shorts I thought might look good on me.  I didn’t need them but thought they would be very practical for our daily walks.  You are probably wondering why I am mentioning a pair of shorts here.  Well let me tell you.  I have never before worn proper shorts since I was a child because of my lifelong chubbiness.  However, as those of you who know me will be aware, I haven’t been chubby for some three years now.  I am so pleased to be able to wear shorts now but at the same time was very cross to find out that you can’t shop online at H+M as I immediately wanted to buy the same pair in different colours which weren’t available at the store.  How can it be that such a huge fashion chain doesn’t sell online in this day and age I asked them this morning on their Facebook page? 
My H`+M shorts, a first for me

Oli was experiencing far lower temperatures and cold winds in northern Galicia and on Thursday the programme did a fun report.  It was with her colleague in Valencia showing just how warm it was there (in the 30c range) whilst she reported in Galicia with warm clothing that it was just 16c.  In fact that day Oli caught a cold, or rather laryngitis as we found out when I took her to the doctor on Saturday upon her return.  You can see the report here if you go to 10.28h.
Oli reporting on the cold weather in Galicia on Thursday

On Friday, her last day in Galicia, the report that day was about the mayor of a village called Noia who, owing to the crisis, had to double as a concierge in the afternoons. You can see the report here if you fast forward to 10.26h
Olivia interviewing the Mayor of Noia in Galicia who doubles as the town hall's concierge in the afternoons

It was on Friday that my second book of the week arrived.  It was The Ghosts of Spain by The Guardian correspondent in Madrid, Giles Tremlett.  But let me tell you why I ordered it.  Earlier in the week I had received an email from a British journalist who lives in Lanjarón near Granada.  She needed help with her Yoigo subscription.  As soon as I had dealt with that we started corresponding. She asked me whether I had read the book or knew the author.  Well, I hadn’t and I didn’t but immediately looked up the book on and realised I just had to buy it.  It was right up my street, the story of the recent history of Spain from a British author’s perspective, of someone who, like me who had lived here for a long time.  It was supposedly also a good travelogue and even slightly humorous. 
Ghosts of Spain, my book of the week

Shortly after starting it I showed it to my Father. Unlike me, my more academic Father knew immediately who the author was and even commented he had written a book on Catherine of Aragon (bought that too now).  He wanted to read it too of course but I had already started and was riveted.  Reading it in the shade by the pool on Friday afternoon I was amazed to read, when I got to the chapter about how bikinis were finally allowed to be worn on the Benidorm beaches, that the author, through his wife,  has family connections with the small village of Tárbena.  I read his description of the village which of course I know so very well.  I have very bitter sweet memories of that hidden village in the mountains on sinuous roads some 30km from the ghastly tourist mecca of Benidorm, the Blackpool of Spain.  When we first came to Spain in the early 70s which you can read about here, Tárbena was important to me as this is where I first fell in love. It was with a local boy, a student of medicine, whose black clad valenciano speaking Mother was afraid I would take away from the village where she had high hopes of climbing up the social ladder and becoming the village doctor’s mother.  She did everything in her power for that relationship not to work, including locking up her son all summer in his room and colluding with the local postman to intercept my letters which she never gave to José Francisco. As I later told Giles in an email I wrote to him to tell him about the connection, I came out of the relationship very scathed but had learned the language of Cervantes which I went on to study at Nottingham University.  

That night over dinner with Eladio at La Txitxarrería I told him about the incredible coincidence. He too will read The Ghosts of Spain and it is his opinion I really look forward to as Eladio was brought up during the Franco regime, the story of which takes up a good part of Giles Tremlett’s tale of Spain. 

Saturday was the best day of the week.  For once we were all going to be here for lunch and the weather was glorious; true swimming pool weather.  José Antonio and Dolores were to join us for lunch and the lazy afternoon by the pool after which we took the dogs for the walk.  At this time of year the sun rises before six in the morning and doesn’t set until 10 in the evening. 
It was lovely to have José Antonio and Dolores with us yesterday

The girls had invited their friends too to spend the afternoon by the pool and I just had to take a snap of their group they call “la manada” (the herd).
The girls with their friends by the pool yesterday afternoon

On Saturday Suzy took her first dip.  This is the photo to prove it.  Unfortunately OIi didn’t join her because of her laryngitis.
Suzy's first dip this year. She's going back to London tomorrow and will miss both the weather and the pool.

And today is Sunday and it is another extremely hot day.  I am writing this post by the pool with Elsa at my feet.  I think everyone else is asleep but hope they will join me here after publishing this.

And that my friends, is the story of my first job with Defex in the arms industry and the story of this week, a good week in many ways.

I wish you all the best until next time,


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