Sunday, January 26, 2014

Spanish sport does it again, a trip to Stockholm, hacked, Suzy in Paris, home again, walking, cooking and other tales of this week.

Cooking lasagna in the kitchen on Saturday morning.
Good morning my friends this wonderful sunny day in January – at least here.  

How has your week been?  Mine has been busy with a great trip to Stockholm but it also had its hiccups as I was hacked whilst I was there.  But more about that later.

Let me start where I left off last Saturday.  After I had written my post, there was great news for Spanish sport, first from Chile and then from Budapest.  In Chile the toughest rally in the world, the Dakar, ended with good news for Spain in a double win.  Nani Roma won the car rally 10 years after winning the motorcycle race and Marc Coma won the motorcycle race for the 4th time.  How many nations can perform such a feat as they did last weekend?
Nani Roma left and Marc Coma right celebrating their double win for Spain at the Dakar Rally last weekend
Spain is great at sport, perhaps it is the top sporting nation in the world currently.  This week Nadal beat Federer to get through to the final of the Australian Open which he is playing today.  If he wins it will be his 14th grand slam victory and second win at the Australian Open.  Yes Spain is great at football, tennis, car racing, golf, basketball, handball, cycling and other sports, but it has never been great at winter sports such as ice skating.  Well that changed too last weekend when Javier Fernández won the European Figure Skating Championship for the second time in a row in Budapest. 
Javier Fernández making ice skating history for Spain last weekend.
Suzy meanwhile, who is not interested in sport, was continuing her long weekend in Paris with her boyfriend Gabor.  She told us all, that she had fallen in love with Paris where she had only been once when she was about 12.  Here is a lovely photo of her by the Moulin Rouge in Montmartre.
Suzy by the Moulin Rouge in Paris last weekend.
On Sunday she met up with Cynthia, the girls’ French friend from the Nokia N-Gage training camp they attended in Finland about 10 years ago.  The Finnish company was once again true to its catch phrase: “Nokia connecting people”.  Here is a lovely photo of the two girls reunited in Paris last week. 
Suzy reunited with Cynthia in Paris last Sunday
On Sunday of course I set off to Stockholm.  It took me most of the day as there are no direct flights at the weekend. I flew through Munich and arrived in the late afternoon to find it was dark and cold of course (about -3ºc) with snow on the ground.  I was really looking forward to the snow so as soon as I had checked into my hotel, the Stureplan, next to the company (TeliaSonera) offices in the heart of the city, I wrapped up and went on a long walk.  Off I went and my destination was the small island of Skeppsholmen which you get to via a bridge of the same name, just past the Grand Hotel with views of the old city when you walk along the pathway bordering the Baltic Sea.  The evening was beautiful and the snow conjured up a sort of peaceful silence. 
Approaching the island of Skeppsholmen last Sunday night.  I enjoyed a walk in the snow on the island.
I reached the boat stop on the island and turned round to walk all the way back to Stureplan.  I must have walked for over 2 hours.  I came back through the park just off the Grand Hotel plaza area to find people skating on an outdoor skating rink.  I can skate and was slightly tempted but decided against it.  If I hadn’t been alone, maybe I would have tried.  Also I was hungry and looking forward to room service whilst watching series 2 of The Paradise which I had bought recently on Amazon.  However that was not to be as I found out the restaurant was closed and there was no room service. Thus I had to walk out again in the cold and find somewhere to eat alone; not an attractive prospect.  I happened upon a French Bistro called Zink Grill on Biblioteksgatan which looked very inviting and there I had a wonderful meal accompanied by my friends on Facebook.
The Zink Grill in Stockholm during the day time.
Whilst Suzy and I were having dinner in Stockholm and Paris respectively, Olivia was returning home from Andorra via Valencia.  On Sunday evening she dined in company, with friends from the “manada” who according to Eladio filled the house.  That, I commented to them on whatsapp, is how I like the house to be; full of people and cheer.

Monday morning was mine for the taking.  I was free until 14h when I would be meeting my communications colleagues at the company headquarters.  So off I went again for a long walk.  This time I walked along the famous Drottninggatan Street (Queen Street), all the way to the old town, Gamla Stan.  From there I made my way via the Royal Palace to the square again where the Grand Hotel is located.  Once again my destination was the beautiful island of Skeppsholmen.  That day my fit bit (remember the wearable device I have that monitors all my activity during the day) recorded I had walked 14.55km and had burned 2.265 calories.  I am delighted with this device and am forever competing with myself to beat my own records and stopping to sync it with my phone to find out how much I have walked so far.
My fit bit statistics last Monday after so much walking in Stockholm.
Walking in Skeppsholmen during the day was lovely as this time I could really appreciate the snow and the views. As I walked on the path along the Baltic Sea it felt like being in the country, even though the city is a stone’s throw from the island.
Snow on the ground on the Island of Skeppsholmen on Monday morning.
It was midday by then and I had two hours left until my meeting.  I decided to do some shopping at Lindex (a sort of Swedish Zara) in Galerian where I bought a jumper for Olivia and yet another blue and white striped long sleeved top for me.  Afterwards it was time to eat something. I had spied a lovely cafeteria called Vienna (Wiener Caféet) in Biblioteksgatan and decided to have my favourite meal there: an open topped prawn sandwich which is called “räksmörgås” in Swedish. 
My favourite Swedish dish "räksmörgås" which I had for lunch on Monday

It was while I was eating that my friend Fátima rang to ask if I was ok.  She said she had received an email from my gmail account saying I was stranded in Cyprus!  I realised immediately that my account had been hacked.  This was the email the hackers sent to my approximately 1000 email contacts.
The email the hacker sent to all my contacts on gmail.
Those who replied got another email asking for them to send me 1000 euros to a Western Union account in my name!  Suddenly I was inundated with calls and messages on all the platforms with my friends and contacts warning me I had been hacked and some of them worried and even offering me money.  Very soon I got a message from google on my work email to say my password had been changed and that if I hadn’t done it which of course I hadn’t, to reset it and recover my email account. That was one big hassle.  Of course I didn’t have time to do it there and then at the Vienna Café as I had to rush to my meeting.  Meanwhile I was totally incapable of enjoying my “räksmörgås” which I had to leave unfinished.

During the meeting about our activities at the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, my mind was not on the meeting but on solving the hacking.  Once I re-established the gmail account I realised the hackers had not only sent out the emails hoping to make some money, but they had been very spiteful and had deleted all my emails of the account I must have had since about 2005.  They didn’t stop there.  They also added an “e” to every email address making it invalid, they created another email with my name at Yahoo and changed the settings so that all emails I received at my google address would be copied there.  I then saw that all my emails were being sent straight to my spam folder.  They had even changed the information on my signature and the number for my mobile phone contact.  Thankfully help was at hand.  Our lovely CIO at Yoigo, a commanding officer from the Spanish Civil Guard, helped me reconfigure the settings.  However, no one so far has been able to help me recover the emails. Google maybe a great company in that it has wonderful products, but they are vulnerable and there is no customer service to contact when you are in trouble, just forums where you can post your problems with no guarantee of an answer.  I found out that the hacking happened at 11.15 that morning via a Blackberry phone through a server in Lagos Nigeria!  Imagine!  I still do not know how the hackers acquired my password. They also acquired my Facebook password but thankfully didn’t do any damage there.  Since then of course I have changed my passwords but I have also added extra security so that my accounts will never be hacked again. 

I have installed “2 step security” whereby you access your email account not only with your password but with a code which is text messaged to your phone.  You add your pc as a “trusted computer” and thus don’t have to add the code every time.  Anyone trying to access your account from a different computer or mobile will not be able to do so without the code.  You can read more about how to do this here.  Other accounts such as Hotmail, Yahoo, Facebook, etc, have similar extra security tools which I have now installed.  It seems password “pawning” is rife.  This week one fifth of the email accounts of the population of Germany were compromised (i.e. hacked) so look out and add that extra security to yours if you haven’t already.  I think maybe as I travelled through Germany that is when my password could have been pawned but I will never know.  All I can say is that the feeling is horrible.  You feel violated, naked and attacked.  Until Monday I was rather lack about internet security but after the hacking attack, my attitude has changed, for the better. There are some nasty people out there hoping to make money from innocent people like me and they are spiteful as you have seen.  So beware my friends, beware.

After the meeting we had some spare time which of course I had to spend on finishing solving my hacking problem!  We were to meet again later and walk to Nybrogatan 38, the restaurant where we were to have a goodbye dinner for our Norwegian colleague, Oyvind who was leaving the company and even changing sectors – yep he’s going to the food sector.  We will miss him. He was one of the most senior members and also a lot of fun. I asked my Finnish colleague Timo to take a photo of me next to Oyvind opening his presents to remember him and you can see it below. Thanks Timo (better late than never hahaha).  Later I left the group slightly early as I wanted to get a good night’s sleep and I walked back to my hotel accompanied by the delightful Irene, a beautiful Swedish colleague in a wonderful mink coat – something you don’t see much in Stockholm. 
A photo with Oyvind (opening his presents) at the farewell dinner in Stockholm on Monday night

The next day was Tuesday and it was the end of my trip and I was going home.  I had breakfast but not completely alone as during the meal I communicated with my family via Whatsapp.  Eladio sent me a “selfie” of him and Olivia having breakfast at home which comforted me.  Suzy sent greetings too and we all looked forward to a breakfast together again sometime soon.
The "selfie" Eladio sent me of him and Oli having breakfast on Tuesday morning at home.
Again it took nearly all day to get home.  I caught the 9.50 flight from Arlanda to Frankfurt and must mention that it was at the flight gate that I got the Swedish newspaper, the Svenska Daglabdet and the main German paper, Die Welt (the world) for my 94 year old polyglot Father.  I am very proud of him and his knowledge of languages, amongst many other things. I wonder how many other people of his age are so mentally fit and can read in 6 languages like him (English, Russian, Norwegian, French, German and Spanish). Not many I am sure.
The Swedish and German newspapers I got at Stockholm airport on Monday morning for my Father
At Frankfurt I had an hour to kill and as it was nearly 14h I decided on lunch.  The problem was that the only restaurant near my gate was a Japanese one, not my favourite food. But there was no choice so I ordered a chicken curry dish with rice. It turned out to be delicious.
My Japanese meal at Frankfurt airport - notice I asked for a knife and fork!
What was not delicious was having to put up with 3 Japanese companions eating at the same table.  They were eating a Miso soup and were making awful disgusting noises.  Funnily enough it was the two men who were eating in this disgusting way, not their woman companion.  Thankfully they were in a rush and had to leave their meal half way through so I only had to put up with their disgusting eating for a short while.

On the flight to Madrid I continued watching the end of The Paradise Series 2 which had kept me entertained on all of my flights to and from Stockholm.  I arrived home in the middle of the afternoon to sun and much warmer temperatures than in Sweden of course.  I was home by about 5 and unpacked and went for my walk alone as Eladio was away invigilating exams at the UNED University, something he did every afternoon last week. We had dinner together when he came home and that night I slept like a lamb in my own wonderful bed.  I say slept like a lamb as my fit bit told me the next day that I had only woken up 3 times which is the least amount of times I usually wake up and which can go up to about 9 times.  I know now thanks to my fit bit that I never sleep longer than 2 hours in one go. 

Wednesday was a quiet day. It was also a fasting day and on Wednesday, to keep up with the high statistics of my wearable device (fit bit) I went for a walk twice, once in the morning with Eladio and the dogs and on my own in the afternoon where I was accompanied by my great collection of classical music thanks to Spotify.  This whole week has been about walking and walking, walking a lot in Stockholm and walking twice a day at home nearly every day since I have come back!  It feels so good.  It was on Wednesday evening that I finally saw Olivia who I had not seen since she left for Andorra.  Miguel her boyfriend had come to stay this week too. 

Thursday was very busy.  I was up early to go with Olivia to Iralta Films, a production company who will be doing her video book.  I left her to it there at about 11.15 as I had an important appointment at 12 at the Faculty of Media Studies at the Madrid Complutense University.

I was attending the Elocuent Prize Giving ceremony there as one of the jurors.  The prizes were for best communicators in as many fields as you can imagine.  There were two categories, “pop” prizes voted on by the public at large on internet and “top” prizes awarded by the jury. 
The jury at the Elocuent Prize Giving Ceremony on Tuesday
The best thing about the event was seeing familiar faces I hadn’t seen for a long time, such as Ramón Pradera who was the MC or Vicente F.B, a journalist friend from way back.
With my friend Vicente at the Faculty of Media Studies at the Complutense University on Tuesday a.m.

Friday was quiet, the only to activity to record being our dinner out that night.  We used The Fork (El Tenedor) again to book a table with 40% discount at La Terraza Escondida in nearby Pozuelo.  We have been there twice now and I think it will become one of our favourite restaurants as the atmosphere is so cozy, the staff welcoming and the food superb.  I look forward to taking our friends Phil and Kathy from England there when they come at the end of February.

On Saturday I slept badly and was awake early.  Once awake I am not the sort of person to stay in bed. So I was up at 7 and had breakfast on my own in the kitchen with the dogs. This is what I had; lovely healthy food with a great cup of real coffee and foamed milk.  Actually it is what I have for breakfast every day when I am not fasting.
My breakfast on Saturday morning  - notice the iPad on the left, very much a part of it.
My morning was very productive.  After breakfast I set about making lunch and had decided upon homemade beef and vegetable lasagna.  Eladio who loves to see me cooking in the kitchen took the photo which illustrates this week’s post.

Later, wearing the black jumper with white hearts Eladio’s brothers and sisters had bought me for Christmas, the two of us went off to the Centro Oeste shopping centre to buy a birthday present for my friend Fátima.
Wearing the jumper Eladio's brothers and sisters bought me for Christmas.
We got home on time for the first walk of the day and then lunch with my Father.  I think both men enjoyed my lasagna.  The weather yesterday was wonderful and when we went on our second walk in the afternoon the weather application on my iPhone told me it was sunny and 16ºc. Well that is something for January.
The weather in Madrid on Saturday
On Saturday nights we usually stay at home but yesterday was different.  We had been invited to dinner at José Antonio and Dolores flat in Madrid, the block of flats where we used to live too many years ago.  It was a wonderful quiet dinner, just the four of us and Dolores had made a delicious fish dish followed by apple crumble and fresh pineapple.  They impressed us with a pineapple slicer and corer which I never knew existed. Well they do and they are great and cost very little as I have seen on Amazon, just a few euros. No doubt we will be investing in one soon too.
A great gadget for coring, slicing and pealing pineapples
We were home after 12, very late for us but the occasion was worth it.  We had a lovely dinner and spent most of the time talking about our village Montrondo and the family of course.

And today is Sunday, Oli and Miguel have gone off for a bike ride, Fátima has just left for her days off and won’t be back until tomorrow evening.  Hopefully we will all have lunch together.  Tomorrow will be busy. Eladio will be off early and I have a conference call at 08.30 with Stockholm and then I have to go to the office for a mid-morning meeting. 
Oli and Miguel out on their bikes this morning.  
Now it’s time to leave you. I’m sure you know what I’m going to do now after writing this week’s blog.  Well yes you are right, going for our first walk of the day. I’m back now and just on time to add a photo of the walk, a moment when our dogs Elsa and Norah met an Afghan hound.  See how sunny it was.
On our walk this morning we met an Afghan hound which is pretty unusual.
Cheers till next time


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Olivia in Andorra, The Ballon d’Or, President Hollande’s private affairs, how to make real fish and chips, Suzy in Paris, who is Ibn Sina and other stories.

Suzy went to Paris with Gabor this weekend
Hello everyone,

Here I am writing to you on this wet Saturday morning in January, rather than tomorrow Sunday when I will be travelling to Stockholm. The week has been very quiet but there are still many tales to tell.

It was to be a week without the girls.  Of course Suzy no longer lives with us, so really it was Olivia who was missing.  She went on Sunday to Valencia to join her boyfriend Miguel with whom she would be driving to Andorra the next day with another couple.  They were going there to ski.  We weren’t to hear much from her as roaming from Andorra (a tiny independent state in between Spain and France) is expensive.  However we spoke once and towards the end of the week I got to see some photos.  Here is one I like of her looking the professional skier, at least in my eyes. They will be returning to Valencia today and she will be coming home tomorrow but I won’t see her until next Tuesday when I come back from Stockholm.  Apart from skiing I’m sure she has done quite a lot of duty free shopping as Andorra is a tax haven.
Olivia skiing in Vallnor Andorra this week
Monday was a frustrating day in various ways. It was my fasting day of course which doesn’t always put you in a good mood.  My temper frayed when I had a kafkian type of experience with Smartbox.   I don’t know what you think of these companies that package experiences and sell them in glossy boxes as gifts at department stores.  From the very beginning I suspected that booking your own trip or hotel is probably cheaper and it is.  I won a “La vida es bella” box last year but found it so difficult to use, it expired and I threw it away.  So when I won a Smartbox this Christmas at the office party, I decided to try and use it straight way rather than leaving it to expire.  I tried out their website at the weekend but it kept crashing.  So I waited until Monday morning to ring them.  I must have tried 10 times but never got an answer.  So I went to their twitter and facebook pages and what did I find? Complaints and more complaints.  I did get an answer there and was redirected to an email address.  So I wrote an email with my preferred hotel, only to be told it was fully booked on St Valentines when I wanted to go.  I thus suspected that smartbox probably only have a few, if no vacancies, at most of the more popular establishments at weekends.  I then went on to suspect that their supposed “customer care team” actually only consists of one poor over worked rather surly person called Sara.  She finally rang me after I had posted very strong comments on twitter and facebook.  In the end I managed to get a booking at my 6th choice – as everywhere else was not available.  My conclusion is that these companies’ profits are based on people buying their “experience boxes” and not using them.  In order to do this they make it nearly impossible to make a reservation.  So when you see these glossy boxes at the shops and think of buying one as a gift, please think again.

The news that day was of course this year’s Ballon d’Or award for the best in football.  Lionel Messi has won the best footballer of the year prize for the last 3 or 4 seasons.  His rival Real Madrid’s striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, aka CR7, was expected to win this year’s prize as the Argentinian was injured at the end of the last season.  And indeed he did and cried whilst doing so which goes to show just how important the prize is to these mega sports stars. 
Cristiano Ronaldo shedding a tear or two at the Ballon d'Or awards this week
Messi was the media star of the show though due to his attire; a very unflattering and showy red suit which had twitter on fire the moment he appeared.  In a way I was pleased that a star from Real Madrid won the award as I was bit fed up of Messi’s domination of the Ballon d’Or. 
Lionel Messi in his silly red suit at the Ballon d'Or awards this week
Much more important that day though was the story of Spain’s premiere, Mariano Rajoy’s visit to the White House to meet President Obama which didn’t get a quarter of the media space attributed to the football award.  He didn’t actually meet him until Tuesday.  I had read that Rajoy had been learning English since 2011 in preparation for the visit.  We never got the chance though to see whether he put into practice.  The objective of the Spanish government was to get the blessing of the American administration on the recovery of the Spanish economy.  Even El País, Spain’s left wing newspaper dubbed the visit a success.  These words from Obama put Spain in a very favourable light after so much bad news about the crisis: "The economy had undergone some wrenching difficulties that existed throughout Europe and the eurozone, and I congratulated the prime minister on the progress that's been made in stabilizing the economy, moving into growth, reducing the deficit, and being able to return to the financial markets in a way that reflects sound leadership".  The most important problem however, 25% unemployment, has still to be resolved.
Rajoy and Obama talk economics at the White House this week, through the help of interpreters
But it was another President, Hollande of France, who was the main focus of the news this week, due to his amorous affairs.  François Hollande is the most unpopular socialist French premiere ever and the story of his affairs has only served to make him more so.  It could be argued that in France, as in Spain, most people don’t bat an eyelid at sexual scandals – it is the financial scandals that force politicians to resign. However the “affaire Gayet” as it is known, has now become an “affaire d’état”.  You probably already know he was married to his socialist presidential opponent, Ségolène Royal but was unfaithful to her conducting a secret relationship with Paris Match political journalist Valerie Trierweiler.  When Hollande became President Ms. Treierweiler became “first lady” with an office in the Elysée Palace and a number of personal staff.  Meanwhile, the 41 year old actress Julie Gayet played the same trick she played on Ségolène and the couple has maintained a secret amorous relationship over quite some time now.  They were caught out by the Closer magazine who published photos of Hollande on a motorbike riding to an apartment, apparently linked to the mafia, for his encounters with Gayet.  When Ms. Trierweiler found out she took an overdose and has been in hospital ever since.  On Tuesday Hollande faced the press where he argued that his personal affairs were personal and private.  However when faced with the question of which first lady would accompany him in his upcoming trip to the White House he was stuck for an answer.  Meanwhile I read that Ms. Trierweiler’s greatest concern is having to forego the status of first lady and not accompany him to Washington.  The British press, who love sex scandals, are having a field day with the story as are the opposition party in France.  One Jean-Fraçcois Copé, leader of the UMP (right wing) said the conclusion abroad was that “France is decidedly more gifted at slap and tickle than carrying out economic reform”.  I just loved the reference to “slap and tickle” haha.
François Hollande and his women .  He's 59 and if he wasn't the President of France neither of them would have even looked at him.  Oh for the power of men in high positions.
On Wednesday in between being busy with so many preparations for our participation in this year’s Mobile World Congress, I did the cooking that day.  We had decided on fish and chips and I was determined to make this dish the way it is served in England.  Usually we bread our fish but this time I found a great batter recipe made with beer and also decided to make mushy peas out of some fresh peas I had.  The latter should be made with dry peas but they are difficult to find here.  The recipe for the batter was 400 grs of flour (put in the fridge an hour before), two teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of salt and 550ml of very cold beer.  You have to mix it just before you are going to deep fry the fish.  The other secret is that the oil must be very hot and not to put in more than 2 fillets of fish in the frying pan at the same time.  This is what my dish of fish and chips looked like made the right way.  My Father, Eladio and Fátima loved it. I ought to add that Fátima who is Muslim cannot consume alcohol but I persuaded her that alcohol that has been heated loses its substance.  I do hope I am right.
I made fish and chips the traditional way this week
Whilst we were having lunch, I gathered from Suzy that she was flat hunting in London.  She will be moving out with Gabor as soon as they find somewhere suitable.  She told me in a conversation the next day that they may well be joined by a Czech colleague from work called Jane who, by the way, has a well behaved black Labrador.  I do hope they find somewhere soon as they can no longer stand living in the ghastly accommodation they share with 12 people in Whitechapel.

The next day, Friday, Suzy and Gabor were off to Paris on the Eurostar train to spend the weekend.  It was his Christmas present to her – how romantic!  Later I heard they missed the train as Suzy had left her passport at the flat but luckily were allowed on the next one.  Suzy was tired as she had only slept a couple of hours that night – coming home late from a work event and getting up at 4 in the morning to catch the train – but ecstatic at being in Paris with Gabor.  She sent us some photos on the family whatsapp and I chose the one of the two of them by the Eiffel Tower to illustrate this week’s post. Here is another; a  “selfie” (yes that word again) they took by the Arch of Triumph. 
Gabor and Suzy in Paris yesterday
Friday was the highlight of this week really.  Food for lunch was good again. Fátima had frozen a Moroccan “pastel” (chicken pastry with almonds) she made at Christmas and we decided to have it yesterday. This is what it looked like. I remarked to Eladio that it’s a bit like a savoury sort of baklava; delicious. 
Fatima's Moroccan pastela chicken and almond pie we had yesterday
Eladio wanted to see the film The Physician so we went to the cinema that night.  I was vaguely interested in what I thought would be a “doctor” type film (I’m a sucker for hospital series) but was put off because it was in medieval times; an era I never really liked.  I couldn’t understand why Eladio would want to watch a film based on a bestselling novel by Noah Gordon.  However he explained that what interested him was the figure of Avicenna, who in the film is the mentor and teacher of the main character Robert Cole.  Neither my Father nor I had ever heard of Avicenna or Ibn Sina, but Fátima our Moroccan home help had.  So through the film and some internet research I have learned who he was.  Ibn Sina was a Muslim philosopher and doctor of the 11th century who was born in Uzbekistan which then belonged to Persia (Iran today).  He is the author of the Canon of Medicine, considered one of the most famous books in medicine.  He finished writing it in 1025 and amazingly it was still in use in the 18th century in Europe. 
I learned who Ibn Sina was this week
Eladio was disappointed at how Ibn Sina was portrayed in the film but actually the film is not about his story but about how a young English boy travels to Persia and pretends to be a Jew and learns medicine under him.  I thought it was fascinating.

Afterwards we had dinner in nearby Pozuelo at another restaurant I had booked via The Fork (El Tenedor) called Gecko Food and Drinks which offered a 30% discount. However when the bill came there was no discount as apparently they only apply it if you have two first courses and two second courses!  I am still looking for the small print on the website!  These days Eladio and I can only share a first and second course.  The older you get the less you eat, even though we both consider ourselves “very happy eaters” hahaha.  I should add that we won’t be going to Gecko again.

And today is Saturday.  There is not much to report.  Eladio bathed the dogs this morning and they look lovely.  I’m not sure they agree though.  They both apparently don’t like their baths but sit there and don’t move throughout so I suspect that they might actually enjoy at least the rubbing soap part. Here is a photo of Elsa our nearly 3 year old golden lab in the middle of her bath.
Elsa having a bath this morning.
I have done the cooking again and, at Eladio’s request, we will be having “cocido madrileño” (a two course dish - soup made with the broth followed by chickpeas, veg and all sorts of meat) for lunch.  Then there will be a short siesta and a long walk with the dogs.
Cocido madrileño, a wonderful winter dish.
Tomorrow is Sunday and I will be off to Stockholm which will take me most of the day as there are no direct flights or only two a week at inconvenient times. I am looking forward to seeing the snow and going for a walk to the little island of Skeppsholmen when I arrive in the early evening.  On Monday we have a long meeting with my fellow communications team members all about our participation at this year’s Mobile World Congress.  You will read all about my trip to Stockholm in next week’s blog post.

Before I sign off, I just want to share with you a picture I found extremely funny of two twins about food. I hope you like it as much as I did.  I think I will keep it in my phone if I ever need cheering up.

On that funny note my friends I wish you a great week ahead,

Cheers till next time,


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Kings’ Day, Suzy living it up for once in London, Oli reporting for TV from Barcelona, news from a past pupil and words of wisdom from Charles Courtenay Lloyd when he was a teacher at Bradford Grammar School, the “polar vortex”, the best and worst lovers in the world, and other stories.

The family lunch at home on Kings' day  - only my daughter Suzy who lives in London was missing.
Hello again,

I can finally say it, Christmas is now over and it has been as good as it gets. I left off last Sunday which in Spain is known as “Noche de Reyes” (the night of the Kings, as in the visit of the 3 wise men or magi who bring Spanish children their presents on that night - the correct term being The Epiphany),

Sunday 5th January was a magical day as it is supposed to be. Olivia went out to buy the last minute presents which we would be giving each other the next day; Kings’ day.  Meanwhile Suzy was in London living it up with her boyfriend Gabor.  Her present to him was a blind dinner which I told you about in last week’s post.  It was also a night at a 5 star hotel which must have been sheer luxury for them who live in a cramped flat in East London which they share with 12 flat mates.  I love this pic Suzy sent me of them dressed in their bath robes about to enjoy the spa at the hotel near London Bridge.
Gabor and Suzy enjoying her Christmas present to him, last Sunday
That night Eladio lit the fire in the TV lounge where the dogs joined us and it was the last evening but one, we spent there this Christmas.  Here is a wonderful photo of Eladio sitting by the fire there on one of the most magical nights of the year.
Eladio in the TV lounge by the fire on Kings' night
Monday was King’s Day and it was the first King’s day ever I think without Suzy.  We missed her at breakfast when we opened our presents as we did all day.  I could have kicked myself for not buying her a present which I could have given secretly to her friend and flat mate Chati.  I certainly will next year. We opened our presents after breakfast and although they were only token presents – the important ones being given on Christmas day, I think we were all very pleased. I was delighted with the blue leather gloves Oli gave me and the black suede Camper bootees Eladio bought for me (well I bought them with him hahahaha). Breakfast of course consisted of roscón, the Kings’ cake I told you about in last week’s post. We have been eating it for a week and are now sick and tired of it.
Me showing off my Kings' day present from Olivia 
That day we were to celebrate the Three Kings at lunch with our family who live in Madrid, Eladio’s next brother down, José Antonio, his wife Dolores and their grown-up children, Miguel, Sara and Juan and Juan’s girlfriend Cristina.  It is something of a tradition for them to join us on 6th January. Dolores came loaded with presents as she always does and this time brought us a new tablecloth for our gigantic dining room table, a bag of garlic, a wonderful bottle of wine as well as a bag of walnuts.  She never comes empty handed! For the occasion I made a wonderful trifle; the main course being a typical English Sunday meal: roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings.
The trifle I made for Kings' Day
Oli helped me with some of the cooking as it was Fátima’s day off.  We were to be 10 around the table and my Father remarked whilst I was laying it that it looked terrific.  I replied to him that I just love making the effort on such occasions and it is true I adore doing so. In fact he later said that Kings’ Day had been his Christmas highlight.  The photo illustrating this post is of us (except for me who took the photo) sitting around the festive table heaving with delicious English food.  Sara remarked that the only place she ever ate Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was at our home!

Soon after lunch the younger generation left the four of us alone with our dogs and off we went for our walk.  We came back to a cup of tea in the TV lounge where the fire would probably not be lit again until next Christmas.  In any case it was a lovely end to this year’s festive season.  You can see the rest of the photos of King’s day here.
Tea in the TV lounge on Kings' Day
On Tuesday it was time to remove the Christmas decorations, one of the worst tasks of the year. The 7th January is a very depressing day, very flat and a bit of an anti-climax.  When I was a child, at home we would celebrate Russian Christmas on this day, a bit like we celebrate Kings’ Day today at our home in Spain.  I’m afraid I haven’t continued the tradition.  The day was made even flatter as it was my first fasting day after Christmas.

However the day was brightened up for us by Olivia.  She had been sent to Barcelona for the week to report on events there for her programme, La Mañana de la 1 and she would be busy all week.  The story she reported on that day was very uplifting.  It was about a 91 year old lady called Angela from Lérida who had won the prize of most active elderly person which you can read about here (in Spanish).  This lady who is incredibly lucid and active spends most of her time busy on her old fashioned sewing machine, much like the Singer we brought back from Léon after New Year and which used to belong to Eladio’s mother.  Olivia asked Angela what the secret of her success was and she replied that it was to never stop being active.  So now we know if we want to be in good shape in our old age, we must be active.  You can watch the clip here (fast forward to 13.22) which is quite moving.
Olivia interviewing Angela - the active 91 year old in Lérida on Tuesday
Tuesday was also brightened up by the arrival of this year’s Downton Abbey Christmas special which was delivered by Amazon.  I watched it that night when Eladio went off to his UNED (University) tutorial and enjoyed every moment of it.  I had read bad reviews but I thought it was great.  I just love immersing myself in this classic period drama. 
This year's Downton Abbey Xmas special arrived on Tuesday  -it was devoured within hours!
On Wednesday I got a pleasant surprise by way of an invitation to attend a meeting and farewell dinner of a colleague from Norway, in Stockholm on 19th January.  It came from the head of our communications team for Europe and I much look forward to it.  I just hope there is some snow when I go.

Again our day was brightened up by watching Olivia live on the TV.  She was very busy that day with three appearances, two about a young Moroccan who had attacked two old men in a bar and killed one of them and later about the notorious Noos case.  This case is the one the Spanish Royal family is embroiled in and is usually taboo for Oli’s programme.  However the news was of too much importance for them to ignore it that day, as the King’s daughter, Princess (Infanta in Spanish) Cristina, suspected of being involved in her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin’s embezzlement of public money, had been summoned to court.  This case is a huge headache for the Spanish Royal family and is the first time one of its members has been summoned to court as an official suspect.  It was Olivia’s job to get a statement from the Princess’ high profile lawyer, Miguel Roca an ex politician and one of the founders of Spain’s new constitution.   Later Olivia told me she had no idea she would be reporting on the story and of course was not well versed.  Thankfully no one would notice she wasn’t.  You can see the live report here if you go to 11.49 and 12.07.
Oli reporting on Wednesday from Barcelona on the case of the Spanish Princess summoned to court

Thursday was the second and last fasting day of the week – it’s always uphill so I try and fill these days with lots of activity.  Olivia was sent to Zaragoza that day, some three hours away from Barcelona so a long haul.  Little did she know she would have to stay the night there whilst all her things, including her charger, were at her hotel room in Barcelona.  The story she would be covering that day and the next was the story of a missing 19 year old Brazilian boy, Víctor, who had disappeared from the face of the earth on the morning of the 1st January.  In her report which you can see here if you go to 12.09, Oli interviewed the cousin of Víctor and his Mother who was so devastated she couldn’t utter a word. The case is now of national interest and the main theory is that he probably had an accident and drowned in the river. Ghastly!
Olivia reporting on Thursday from Zaragoza on the case of the missing 19 year Brazilian boy
In the afternoon I went to the dentist.  You are probably wondering why I am recording such a mundane activity. Well actually it’s because it was my first visit to our adored dentist, Dr. Garralda, in two years.  He had to mend two fillings and tighten my implant which had come loose.  I will have to go back for more treatment soon but don’t really mind as I have so much faith in this great professional.

Friday was probably my busiest day of the week.  Whilst Olivia continued reporting from Zaragoza, I went off to Yoigo where I had two meetings with my PR agency and the customer care department about how we deal with complaints and issues on social media.  They were both very productive and I came home satisfied and looking forward to lunch with my Father and Eladio which I had prepared early that morning. 

It was on Friday that I received an email out of the blue from a past pupil of my Father’s at Bradford Grammar School.  Simon H, who studied French and History at Oxford but regrets not studying Russian there and who now lives in Geneva where he is an art critic, told me he had been my Father’s pupil of Russian in the 70’s and went on to say that he had had a profound influence on him.  I was very touched, printed the email and gave it to my Father who remembered him.  My 94 year old Father has an elephant’s memory. So I wrote back to thank Simon who a few hours later sent an email telling me more about himself.  He enclosed a 12 page document of bits and pieces of funny cranky things my Father had said or taught his pupils.  Amazingly he had written these pearls of wisdom down when he was a pupil and kept the document until this day.

Simon brought to life a view of my Father as a teacher at Bradford Grammar School which I could only scarcely guess about.  I knew my Father was nicknamed Clarence and had the most chalk filled gown of all the masters, I know of my Father’s obsessions with weather forecasts, geography, the second world war, travelling in Scandinavia and most of all with etymology but I did not know how far his passion for Russian vocabulary and life in Soviet Russia had reached in the classroom. 

The document (words and wisdom of CC Lloyd Russian Master Bradford Grammar School) written by Simon is entitled “Stalin’s breath”, which apparently my Father had told his boys was the way to say Eau de Cologne in Communist times.  The document which had me reeling with laughter included such comments as: You don’t get way-out pop groups in the USSR. They’re musically much more literate, You’ve all heard of Molotov cocktails? Molotov was a stone-faced, hard-line Stalinist if ever there was one!, Did you sleep good, bad or indifferent? Well, to wake you up, let’s REAP THROUGH that vocab!, Russians do a lot of swearing, damning and dashing. It’s their verb to give, Let’s say it with courage, determination and conviction: read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, as the old Biblical prayer goes, From Sanskrit, probably. I’ll look it up in my Russo-Sanskrit etymological dictionary. It tells me everything, I’ll get my big super etymological dictionary RIGHT NOW. Where’s it gone? Oh, here it is. This real gem of the dictionary is produced by the Academy of Science. Yes: 21 volumes! Ah yes, now, er, let’s see, right…. what am I looking up? I’ve forgotten, Fibberty-gibbet is my type of word. It’s got panache, that’s the great thing !, No dots in the singular, but dots throughout the plural. They’re a bit stingy with little dots, you know. But nice big fat commas are essential!, French "r’s" are throaty, English has them near the front of the mouth, but in Russian they’re trilled – "Rrr-rrr-rrrr-rrrrr-rrrr!", Any queries or difficulties? The subject goes dative. The object goes nominative. Is that quite clear ?, Where’s my chalk ? Oh, it’s on top of the blackboard; thank you. Where? What – it was a crack in the wall you say? But where’s my chalk? Who’s got it? It’ll be my form! STUPID OAFS! I’LL THRASH THEM!, I’m frightened of putting up nice Russian posters about Dickens because my form are a set of vandals. Well, not really vandals, you know. They just slob in and chuck ink about, I’ve got a German atlas at home.  It’s the biggest atlas you’ve ever seen. I can scarcely carry it around. I got it from a German prisoner-of-war. It’s got the German names for towns in Czechoslovakia. I’ve spent hours pleasantly thumbing through it, When I’m free, I don’t spend the evening watching tripe. My God no! I twiddle the knobs on my £14 wireless-set getting short-wave Hungarian radio. It’s music, you know! Not like Radio Luxembourg! Pop music is music for the illiterate, Poles coming to West Germany are dazzled by the surfeit of onions, week-in week-out. They just can’t understand it, It’s a scandal that we don’t have our radio weather-forecasts read with poetry! They’re so deadpan… it’s an absolute disgrace! But there’s poetry about the shipping forecast. I enjoy that. I’d love to receive world temperatures from the Met Office through the post, Russians have a little saying: To know someone, you’ve got to a eat a pound of salt with them, I’m interested in the Russian phrase for mumps. It means little pigs in your mouth.

My Father chuckled as he read it and the next morning commented that he remembered Simon as a rather jokey sort of pupil.  I, meanwhile, am extremely grateful for this wonderful document.  I well remember my Father’s quirky dictionaries, the huge German atlas, his love of the short wave radio and how he would say we watched rubbish on the TV.  However it is thanks to me as a teenager that I actually got him hooked on Coronation Street; something I am sure he is not very proud of but makes him a bit more human to me; not always the forgetful cranky passionate teacher!

That evening, being Friday, Eladio and I went out to dinner.  This time I wanted to try somewhere new and used The Fork (El Tenedor) website to find a recommended restaurant with a discount that accepted luncheon vouchers.  I came across one in Pozuelo called “La Terraza Escondida”.  We were in for a great find, we loved the place, the atmosphere, the open fire, the welcoming staff and above all the wonderful food, the price tab of which was reduced to 20 euros each thanks to El Tenedor.  We shall be going back I can assure you.
We liked the restaurant "La Terraza Escondida" where we went on Friday night.
Saturday was perhaps the best day of the week after Kings’ day.  Olivia had arrived home the night before and we were determined to have some quality time together. So what did we do you may ask? Shopping in the sales of course. We had a great morning at Centro Oeste and came back to enjoy a good family lunch, one I had prepared before we left: Russian meat patties (bitki), Fátima’s Moroccan rice and steamed artichokes, followed by Eton Mess. 

Last night we had an important dinner date.  We were going to the annual post- Christmas dinner at Julio’s house in Madrid.  We were supposed to be going with Fátima who, as usual, was late and didn’t appear until quarter to eleven by which time we had nearly polished off all the food. Fátima is one of my best friends but there is one thing we do not see eye to eye about and that is punctuality.  Anyway she was on time for the roscón (O.M.G. more of the kings’ cake!), the crackers, champagne and exchanging of gifts.  As we are such close friends we had all told each other what we wanted so it was no surprise to open a parcel with one of my favourite perfumes in it: Flower Bomb by Viktor and Rolf which I always remember discovering in Berlin.  In any case I was delighted.  The photo below of the three of us, Fátima, Julio and I, was taken by Eladio.  I’m not very happy with it but it’s all I’ve got to record last night’s dinner.
With my great friends Fátima and Julio at the annual dinner at his house last night.
And today is Sunday.  It has been a very foggy day and very quiet too.  We have had lunch together, Fátima has gone away for her weekly break (Sundays and Mondays) and soon we will be going for our walk.  Later we will be taking Olivia to the train station.  She’s off again but this time for pleasure.  She will be going to Valencia on the AVE (high speed train) where her TVE cameraman boyfriend, Miguel lives and tomorrow they will be driving with another couple all the way to Andorra where they will spend next week skiing. 

Talking about skiing and snow, this week will certainly go down in history for the extreme weather conditions in the US.  There is a polar vortex – a new weather term for me and which basically means a blast of freezing cold air, in this case pushed further south than normal– which has caused huge snowfalls and the lowest temperatures in many years  - in some places below 50ºc!  The picture of the week most certainly must be that of the Niagara Falls completely frozen.
The Niagara Fall froze over this week thanks to the now famous "Polar Vortex" weather phenomenon.
Not understanding anything about weather really, I have read that the cold comes from Scandinavia an area which is now undergoing unusually mild weather due to this phenomenon known as the Polar Vortex.  It is so mild there that even bears are coming out of hibernation.  I do hope it goes away allowing for some snow when I visit Stockholm next week.
The unusually warm weather in Scandinavia has caused some bears to come out of hibernation thinking it is Spring.
This week will also be remembered for Angela Merkel injuring her pelvis in a skiing accident and more tragically for the death of Ariel Sharon, the ex Israeli Prime Minister who had been in coma since 2006.

But perhaps my favourite piece of news trivia this week was the publication of a report on the best and worst lovers in the world.  I was not surprised to read that Spaniards came first – actually quite proud of that.  But what I found extremely funny was the ranking of the worst nationalities and the reasons why: 1. Germany – too smelly, 2. England – too lazy, 3. Sweden – too quick, 4. Holland – too dominating, 5. America – too rough, 6. Greece  – too lovey-dovey, 7. Wales – too selfish, 8. Scotland – too loud, 9. Turkey – too sweaty, 10.Russia – too hairy.  Having only ever had experience with Spanish, English and Americans, my conclusion is that the outcome of the report, at least for those nationalities, is correct! 

And on that rather risqué note, I leave you for this week, wishing you all the very best,

Till next time, cheers