Monday, September 09, 2013

Feeling like Phileas Fogg, Santander again, Microsoft bought Nokia my old company, home again, a birthday weekend with the Maher sisters in Badalona and other stories.

With three of the Maher sisters at Grainne's birthday party this weekend in Badalona
Hi everyone,

Well this week I felt like Phileas Fogg, the character in Jules Vernes “Around the World in 80 days”, as I have been travelling nonstop since the beginning of the summer.  My trip started in Santander at the beginning of August.  It continued to Montrondo and then home again before we went off again this time to Santa Pola in Alicante.  It was home again from Santa Pola and a few days later we were off to Peñacaballera in Salamanca. Our next destination was London where we had a blast celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and visiting Suzy.  We came home at the end of August and then last Tuesday I was off again this time to Santander for the annual telecoms conference which I will tell you about later.  I came home last Thursday and believe it or not the next day Eladio and I went to Barcelona for a 60th birthday party.  We were home yesterday but it won’t be for long because this next weekend we will be going to the beach again, this time to Campello (Alicante) with our friends Julio and Fátima.  It will be home again for one night and then the following day, next Monday, I will be off to Stockholm for a communications meeting with my TeliaSonera colleagues.  So now you know why I feel like Phileas Fogg.  Having never read the book I don’t know how Jules Verne’s character travelled, but my voyages have been by car, by airplane and by train. To tell you the truth I’m a bit tired of travelling and could do with a long stint at home.  But it’s not to be. As Olivia said to me this morning when I told her I felt like Phileas Fogg, “good for you” and “enjoy”.  Well I always do “enjoy” so I shall heed my younger daughter’s advice of course.

The last time I was home since I last wrote was on Sunday, the first day of September.  Olivia came back from Menorca, where, for the record, she had coincided with her cousin Juan – the world is truly a small place.  We had the privilege of her company and Dave’s that day when I made my famous Chicken Korma curry.  Oli played tennis with Dave that day and the following – she is truly sporty I have to say.  Meanwhile we spent a quiet day with the dogs.  You might know that Toño and Dolores’ mongrel dog Nuba is staying with us whilst they are in China.  So the house has been full of dogs.  The best photo I got on camera of the three of them playing together is this.
Nuba, Elsa and Norah playing together

I should expand on Toño and Dolores’ trip to China – a ten day tour which includes time with their daughter, my niece Sara.  We have been following their travels via whatsapp and this is a photo Toño posted which I wanted to share with you here.  After all, my travels pale in comparison to theirs, this year at least.  I think they have had a great time but we all laugh as Toño would never have gone there if Dolores hadn’t dragged him, far preferring to spend as much time as he can at their home in the family village, Montrondo.
Toño and Dolores with Sara in China

That Sunday I swam in the pool as I have done most days this summer but this time I tried to get Elsa, our golden Labrador, to join us.  I have only ever seen her in the pool from pictures sent to me by Juli, the girls’ friend, so this time I tried to get her to join me.  I was only partially successful as you can see from the photo.
Coaxing Elsa unsuccessfully into the pool with me

Sunday 1st September will go down in British television history as the day David Frost, that quintessential English journalist, died.  I well remember him on the BBC and have always thought Spanish journalists could take a leaf out of his book when it comes to nailing politicians or putting them in a corner.  The latter are far too lenient when it comes to interviewing public personalities.  

But Sunday 1st September family news was more important to us.  It was the day Mario, my very tall and good looking nephew debuted with Ademar, the León handball team which plays in the first division.  We were all very proud of him and I had to record this news in my blog. Well done Mario.
Mario in the Ademar handball team kit

On Monday I worked from home and was very busy finalizing Yoigo’s communication activities at the telecoms congress in Santander, the most important in the year’s agenda for our sector.  Later that day, as usual, Eladio and I went for our hour long “power walk”.  It was a bit of a challenge taking three dogs with us, as you can see in the photo Oli took of us when she spied us as she returned home in her car. She thought we looked very funny.  Do we?
Eladio and I on our walk with the three dogs - sort of challenging

And on Tuesday we all woke up to the news that Microsoft, the internet giant, had bought Nokia the previous number one mobile phone manufacturer from my beloved Finland.  It shocked many people but for me and my ex Nokia colleagues, it was a very emotional piece of news.  What can I say? How do I feel? Well I worked for Nokia when it was at the top from 2000 to 2006 and in a way forged my career there.  I had good times and bad, so my feelings were mixed when I read the news.  The news was not unexpected really as both companies had entered a joint venture not so long ago.  To me it seems quite probable that the ex Microsoft employee Stephen Elop’s, mission when he was appointed CEO of Nokia was for the company to decline and make the purchasing price for Microsoft much lower than it was when he joined.  After all Microsoft paid a lot less for the Finnish company than it did for Skype.  Does that make sense?  Well in my analysis I think it does.  It also paid a lot less (5.5 billion euros aprox) than Google paid for Motorola a while ago.  For me it seems ironic that now both the companies I once worked for – Motorola and Nokia, in less than a lustrum have been bought up by their once arch enemies.  I felt sad for Nokia really but was not surprised.  They just lost the momentum and went from bad to worse and have been overtaken since by the likes of Apple, Samsung and the new and coming Chinese manufacturers.  The latter should learn from what happened to Nokia and not make the same mistakes.  In simple terms I think that the mistakes are basically a wrong technology direction but even more importantly a lack of listening to your customers and the arrogant behavior of a top player.  These three together are a disastrous recipe.

Much has been written this week about the news. There have been jokes too and I particularly found this picture a clever piece of work.  You might like it too.
A joke about Microsoft buying Nokia but it wasn't a joke

On a personal note, many of my ex colleagues posted all sorts of comments but the one I liked best came from my dear Finnish friend Anne. She was once my boss at Nokia and we had so much fun together.  I couldn’t have put it better. She wrote this: “ref to big N news today; it´s like when your family breaks up and then a few years after one of the parents re-marries. Break up is sad and takes time to process, maybe there is a little hope of things getting back to what it used to be. But no, that wedding invitation puts a stop to any silly ideas you might have had. Life´s gotta move on. So am joining the many ex´s in expressing my gratitude for the great ride back in the day and wishing good luck to all”. I couldn’t have put it better and want to join her in thanking Nokia too for the ride, it was great.  I travelled the world with Nokia: all over Europe, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Shanghai, Morocco, you name it I was there with journalists on some very exotic trips.  I organised and went to some amazing events too.  I have just dug out a photo together with Anne when Nokia staged their incredible “Totally Board” snow event in blazing sunshine in Seville in 2004 I think.  Here it is, for you Anne.  Thanks Nokia for connecting people the company’s best trait.
With my dear friend Anne  - just one of the great moments with Nokia

That morning when I went to work for an early meeting before I left for Santander, I was hit with sad news.  One of the Yoigo family, José Luis, from the technical department, had died the night before from a sudden heart attack.  He was only 40 and leaves behind a very sad family. My own heart went out to his family and his colleagues at work who were devastated. It was truly a sad day for Yoigo. 

Life went on of course and it was with a heavy heart that I made my way to the airport to catch the small airplane to Santander in the north of Spain.  I was greeted with sunshine and soon made my way to the hotel, the one I always stay at, the Silken Río opposite the Sardinero beach.  This is the view from the hotel.
The view of the Sardinero beach from my hotel window in Santander

I had lunch with Julio after which I worked from my room. There was time though for a wonderful walk on the beach that afternoon.  The day was dedicated to Julio with whom I have been coming to Santander for at least 13 years now.  That night I walked into town with him and his friend Luis and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, La Bombi.  Here is a photo of us there.
With Julio in Santander

Wednesday was busy and I spent most of it working from my room. That afternoon I sent out a press release to communicate our great new mobile tariffs – the “infinitas” where for our postpaid customers, voice is now totally for free and they just have to choose how much data they want.  We also launched the advertising campaign which you can see here.

That evening, before the traditional Yoigo party for all the participants at the conference, I hosted a dinner for our distributors at the nearby restaurant De Luz, which is a beautiful English style house and garden.  Here is the photo I took just as I entered the path to the restaurant.
Casa De Luz in Santander is a very special place

After dinner a vintage car came to pick us up – it was all part of our Great Gatsby themed party which was to take place nearby at Buenas Noches Santander, a great venue right on the beach and opposite our hotel.
With my team from the PR Agency Ketchum by the vintage car we hired for our Great Gatsby part in Santander

I think this year’s party was possibly the best we have ever hosted in Santander.  You can judge for yourselves from this set of pictures.  One I particularly like is with the group of journalists who report on all the news that comes from the telecoms conference we were all attending.
With some of the telecoms press at the Yoigo Great Gatsby party in Santander

People partied until past four in the morning but I made a discreet exit at around one in the morning as the next day I had to be up early and bright and fresh for our presentation at the conference.  It went off well but the conference was running late and I had to leave the mini press gathering with my boss afterwards in the hands of Carlos from my press agency Ketchum, if I was to catch my plane to Madrid.  Luck had it that Julio and Luis were on the same flight and we enjoyed a humble sandwich for lunch at the airport before we took off.

You can see the set of photos I took at the conference this year on this link.

 I was happy to see the papers the next morning when Eladio showed me El País, before I had even seen our daily clipping service.  There was a lot of expectation in Santander about Yoigo offering fixed services and that was what had been discussed after our presentation.  I am happy with the media coverage we achieved, especially this particular clipping.
I always get a kick out of good media coverage for Yoigo like this in El País last week

But my mind was soon on to other things as Eladio and I were off to Barcelona that morning and we had to rush to catch the AVE (high speed train) which was leaving the Atocha train station at 10.30.

It was Eladio’s first journey on the AVE and he was thrilled.  My job has taken me many times on this train and to Seville and Valencia and I no longer feel thrilled but always enjoy the trip.
It was Eladio's first trip on the AVE (high speed train) on Friday and he was impressed

The journey (621km track) takes just under 3 hours to Barcelona and the maximum speed is some 300km/h.  Spain, as you probably know, is one of the leading nations in the world in high speed railways.  You will probably remember the recent train accident in Santiago but let me tell you that that train was not technically a high speed train or rather the track wasn’t.  Eladio and I were happy to know that all the top safety measures of both were in place on our trip on Friday.

We were going to Barcelona to join my ex school friend Grainne for her 60th birthday party in nearby Badalona, a dormitory town on the coast of some 200.000 inhabitants 15 minutes away from the capital and where she has lived since she came to Spain more than 30 years ago.  It was going to be a real school reunion as her sister Brenda (one of my best friends at St. Joseph’s college which we joined when we were aged 11) was coming too with her husband Ian and two of their three beautiful daughters, Laura and Beth.  Also coming were their two older sisters, Anne and Susan.  I hadn’t seen the four Maher sisters together since their mother’s funeral in 1972, more than 40 years ago. She died when she was 56 and the tragedy of her death made an enormous mark on all the girls. I was a living witness to how it affected Brenda mostly as we were very close and I used to go to her beautiful house in Redburn Drive in Bradford most nights to study with her. The Maher family was very much a part of my teens, so it was wonderful to be reunited, this time with all four sisters, as well as Brenda’s daughters and Anne’s husband Harry and Susan’s husband Oli (Oliver). Another school friend was coming too, Ellen and her husband John, so the weekend turned out to be not only a wonderful birthday but also a great school reunion.

Grainne had booked those of us she couldn’t fit into her flat, into a simple but very comfortable hotel right on the beach, one of two only in Badalona. I’m not quite sure why but for some reason Badalona has been kept away from the tourists and the beach seems to be used only by locals which we found quite refreshing.  We booked into the Hotel Miramar but as our room with a terrace and sea views wasn’t quite ready we decided to cross the railway line via the tunnel and go across to the only restaurant we could see on the beach.  It was the very unattractive looking “Doncella de la Costa” but boy was their “fideua” (like paella but made with thin noodles) delicious. This is what it looked like before we polished it off.
Fideua at Doncella de la Costa on Friday in Badalona.  It was fab.

We spent the afternoon, or what was left of it, on the beach sitting on our hotel towels and enjoying the sun until it decided to disappear.  We bathed too but not a lot as it got deep very quickly and the waves were quite strong – indicative probably of the storm coming the next day.  As you can see in the picture, the clouds were already gathering.
On the beach at Badalona on Friday afternoon

Later we went back to our simple but comfortable and big room to get ready to go to Grainne’s pad for dinner with her family.  Grainne is the most welcoming, warm and charismatic person I know and she had thrown a wonderful party ahead of the official birthday celebration taking place the next evening.  We spent a great evening on her terrace where I laughed until I cried together with her sisters and their friend Maggie.  All I can say is that it was one of the best nights I have had in years.  This photo of Grainne, Brenda and I cracking up with laughter says it all.
Laughter is always guaranteed with Grainne and Brenda

The quality is not great and that’s probably because we were all laughing so much. Here is another picture of that great evening, this time with more members of that wonderful impromptu party.
Fun and laughter with the Mahers and their friends and family on Friday night at Grainne's place

Saturday was a full day.  It started with a splendid breakfast with Grainne’s sisters at the hotel, after which I went shopping to the Calle de Mar. I was in search of something summery and comfortable to wear as my jeans were boiling.  I found a great pair of blue cotton trousers very soon and then visited Grainne and Brenda and co for a quick cup of coffee.  The rest of the morning was spent with Eladio by the swimming pool at the yachting club opposite our hotel where we relaxed on sun beds for a minimal entrance fee of 3 euros each thanks to an agreement with the hotel.  We were soon joined by Anne and her lovely husband Harry. 
Eladio at the pool by the beach at the Yacht Club in Badalona on Saturday morning

Lunch was there too where this time we had a sea food paella and it was just as good as the fideua the day before. This was the creamy paella we enjoyed on Saturday and which we just couldn’t finish this time.
Paella just for Eladio and I on Saturday in Badalona at the Yacht Club

Just as we joined Anne and Harry again and who have different eating times, it began to rain so we all headed back to the hotel.  It rained and poured and we were worried Grainne’s party that night on the beach at the Paradis “chiringuito” would be washed out.  We spent the afternoon relaxing in our hotel room where we watched the televised Olympic Games candidacy competition for the 2020 Olympics between Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo. The decision wouldn’t be made until the voting later that night.  It was only when we were at the party that we found out that Madrid was knocked out in the first round.  Tokyo was the winner in the end. We were disappointed but not surprised, suspicious that it was because of the economic crisis Spain is in the throes of.  This was the third disappointment for Madrid and I suspect that the “competition” is usually decided beforehand and would suggest the Olympic Committee do away with this ridiculous process and just decide for themselves which city is the next one to host the games. I am sure a lot of Spaniards agree with me. 

Anyway, back to Grainne’s birthday party.  Whilst we got ready to go out, thankfully the rain ceased and we were happy her birthday on the beach would be a dry event.  We left the hotel to find the rest of our friends at a bar opposite.  Soon the four Maher sisters were together in all their finery and this is the photo I took of them.  It’s great isn’t it? 
The 4 Maher sisters are just as colourful in life as they are in this  picture taken of them on Saturday just before Grainne's birthday party at Paradis in Badalona

From left to right they are standing in order of age downwards.  Far left is Susan who lives in Ireland and looks just like their Mother and who has jet black hair even though she is in her mid 60s, followed by Anne who lives in Manchester, then Grainne from Badalona and on the far right, my class mate Brenda who is a nurse and lives in Manchester too. 

The party was fabulous. All of Grainne’s important friends were there and the atmosphere she created was unique.  The food was superb too and we spent the night talking English and Spanish. Anne made a great speech all about the different men in Grainne’s life and I had the honour of translating for her non English speaking friends. The photo of me with Grainne, Brenda and Anne at the party is the one illustrating this week’s blog and I love it.  It was just great to be with the Maher sisters this weekend.  As I said to them all, I just hope we don’t have to wait another 40 years.  I suspect we won’t.

Eladio and I, being the early birds we are, left early and went to have an ice cream on the Rambla before we returned to our hotel room.  The news that Rafa Nadal had got through to the US Open final where he will meet Djokovic today, somewhat lessened the disappointment at Madrid not winning the Olympic candidacy for 2020.  The irony here is that if Spain had been judged for its sporting prowess Madrid would have won hands down. But that wasn’t to be so.
We were up early on Sunday too and enjoyed breakfast with Ellen and John.  Later we had to pack and get ready to go but before leaving we went to Grainne’s flat to say goodbye to everyone.  Grainne, if you read this, it was a fabulous weekend, thanks for inviting us and I hope to see you here in October as you promised.

Our train was leaving at 13h from the Sants train station in Barcelona and we bought our lunch at the station to enjoy on the journey.  Afterwards I napped for a while and very soon we were slowing down and entering Atocha station. Here we paid a hefty parking fee (over 80 euros) and drove back home in the warm sun.  It was great to be back again to be greeted by the dogs and to greet the people at home; my Father, Fátima, Olivia and her friend Dave.

And today is Monday 9th September, the day most Spanish schoolchildren go back to school.  Friends of mine have been posting photos of their small children in uniform throughout the day which made me nostalgic for the days when Suzy and Olivia would pose for our camera on their first day back after the holidays.  I have a photo of them together every year but especially like the first one taken in 1988 when we had just moved into our previous house.  The school was then called Alonso Madrigal after which it turned into St. Michael’s and where the girls, I think, were very happy pupils.  This is them in autumn 1988 when they were 3 and 4 years old.  Weren’t they cute?
Suzy and Oli's first day at school in Boadilla in 1988 they were just 4 and 3 years old

In a way Olivia had her own particular first day at work today, in that she has a new timetable which I gather she is not very happy about.  Instead of working from 07.30 to 14.30 she now starts at 12.30 midday and works until 21.30. On the bright side she will be able to sleep longer in the morning.  Suzy doesn’t have a job at the moment since she left for London in May.  But last Friday she had an interview with a catering and party design company in London which I think went very well.  So maybe, cross your fingers, she will be experiencing her first day at work there too very soon.

And that my friends, is it for this week.  I look forward to a quiet few days at home until we go away again this weekend, this time to Campello near Alicante which you will read about in next week’s post.  Meanwhile I wish you all a great week,

All the best 

PS You can see more photos of our stay in Badalona this weekend here.

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