Sunday, August 17, 2014

A quiet week at home in August, rediscovering Nevil Shute, a new walk, Oli reporting on the “fiestas” of the Assumption, prickly pears, Suzy with Sandra at a Toastmasters' event in Hyde Park and other stories.

Sunday 10th August
A selfie of me on our new walk this week
Good morning all,

How has your week been? Mine has been very quiet and can be summed up as in this week’s headline.  Officially I am still on holiday and most afternoons have been spent with Eladio and the dogs by the pool quietly reading. We were going to spend this week in Santa Pola but didn’t go in the end because of one thing or another.  So in a way our pool became a sort of substitute for the beach; not as good of course but beautifully private.
Our pool at home, not quite the beach but a good substitute
On Monday we got the results of my Father’s scan.  You may remember a month or so ago we took him to hospital because of “hematuria” (blood in the urine).  Well the news is not too bad in that they have found a small tumour in his bladder which can be removed in a very simple “keyhole” operation.  We were told to take him for pre-operation tests on Thursday which we did.  He passed them all with flying colours – he is so fit for his age, 95 – and now we are waiting for the date for the operation which should be within the next two weeks or maximum a month.  Of course none of this is very pleasant for my Father and infringes on his peaceful routine, but we have to look on the bright side as the diagnosis could have been much worse.  It’s apparently quite common in elderly men and easily dealt with.

Monday was my first fasting day for 3 weeks.  It was tough and I got a headache that night. But I’m glad I’m back to my home eating routine after so much food this holiday. 

Now that I’m home I can watch Olivia on TV more regularly. She reports on all sorts of things as you know and on Monday she reported on a forest fire in nearby Las Rozas.  There are so many of them in Spain because of our dry and very warm climate.  Talking about warm, it really has been hot this week and I would sweat even on my early morning walks, although thankfully the morning temperatures dropped quite a lot towards the middle of the week. 

While I get my exercise walking (two hours a day), Suzy uses her bike.  On Monday she and Gabor cycled to Greenwich and back.  She told me it only took twenty minutes from where they live.  I love Greenwich and if I lived in London it certainly would be an area I would consider living in, near the centre but far enough to get away from it all.  She didn’t tell me whether they visited the Meridian centre but I imagine they did.  We were very impressed when we visited it for the first time last year with Sue.  The views of the city of London are spectacular from up there as Suzy and Gabor found out last Monday.  Here they are on their respective bikes enjoying the view.
Suzy and Gabor on their bikes in Greenwich last Monday
On Tuesday after my two early morning walks, one of them with Eladio and the dogs, I found out that the Spanish missionary priest, Miguel Pajares who had been flown home from Sierra Leone with Ebola, had died that morning.  He was the first European citizen to be infected and to die of the dreadful disease.  There is an international outcry on its spread in Africa which is one of the big topics at the moment.  In the afternoon Olivia reported from the funeral parlour where his charred remains were taken, on the death of this very high profile priest who until not so long ago was totally unknown and is now a household name. 

That day Olivia not only reported on the missionary priest’s tragic death, but also on an interesting topic for her, about underground work in Madrid in the summer, whilst most of us are on holiday and enjoying the sun.  These poor workers on line 5 of Madrid’s metro spent their whole days underground improving the line and under the instructions and supervision of a 29 year old woman engineer.  Olivia was most impressed with the girl and her job and so was I.  Here is a photo of Olivia with some of the underground workers.
Olivia having fun on the job on Tuesday when she did a report on the Madrid metro underground works 
Olivia works so hard, very often she has no time to eat what I prepare for her to take with her for lunch when I am at home.  She is rapidly losing weight and if she has to work such long hours a proper diet is vital.  So every night this week I made lovely dinners for her and the three of us enjoyed them together.  On Monday I made “perushki” (little homemade Russian meat pies) for her which I know she loves.  The idea is to make tempting things that she will eat.

Tuesday of course was the day the comedian actor Robin Williams took his life.  Apart from battling with drugs and alcohol the 63 year old had also been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  His death was big news this week and all of us who enjoyed him in Dead Poet’s Society, Jumanji, Peter Pan or Mrs. Doubtfire were shocked to hear the news.  RIP Robin Williams you were a great actor and made us all laugh.  I’m so sorry to hear you were a sad person underneath your fun loving exterior.

Wednesday was very much a repetition of Monday and Tuesday.  I did my two walks and the only difference in routine that day was that I went to the lovely Corte Inglés (Supercor) supermarket to buy fruit which we had run out of.  They really do have lovely fresh produce. Whilst there I bought some of their fresh gazpacho and salmorejo (the latter to tempt Olivia of course) which we soon finished as it was delicious.

You will have noticed I haven’t done much shopping recently, apart from food shopping of course.  One of the reasons is that I do not need any more clothes.  However I have been shopping online and at my favourite online store, Amazon.  On Wednesday I bought a fresh orange juice maker to be sent to Suzy and Gabor as whilst I was there we had to use their plastic manual one which wastes about half of every orange.  Now they will be able to enjoy their breakfasts even more.  I also bought another manual milk frother with a view to taking it to Santa Pola where we don’t have one.  I wanted the WMF brand which we have at home but it is no longer available so I chose one by a brand called Judge which looks similar and I hope works as well.  I also ordered two books online for Eladio which had been recommended by Keith: “When Nietzsche Wept” by Irvin Yalom and “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, much more highbrow than my Nevil Shute but then again my husband is an academic and I am not.  The latter was only available as an ebook, so I was amused to see Eladio using a kindle this week. He was much impressed.

Meanwhile Olivia was so busy at work she never told us what time she would be on.  That day the programme twitter account posted a picture of the newsroom which I thought looked terribly cramped.  You can spot Olivia if you look carefully.  She is at the far right and looks very busy indeed.  They really do work them far too hard, plus there will no holiday for any of them as the programme only started at the beginning of the summer.  I feel rather sorry for them all.  On the bright side, Olivia is learning a lot and is on TV every day. 
Olivia's newsroom, you can spy her on the far right of the picture.

On Thursday after my two walks followed by a quick shower, the ambulance came for my Father to take him to the hospital for the pre-op tests.  I went in it with him and Eladio followed behind in our Volvo with his wheel chair folded inside as we would be bringing him back by car.  The journey in the ambulance was incredibly bumpy and we had to pick people up on the way.  So in the future I think we shall rely on our own transport.  Once at the hospital the whole process was very automized, punctual and efficient. Our experience of the Spanish national health service is very positive in general and I have a lot of faith in Spanish medicine. The one big positive difference between the Spanish and the English NHS is that the Spanish doctors in general are far more “human”, less “tin god” which is my experience of English doctors. First my Father had an electrocardiogram, then an X-ray and finally an appointment with a very young and good looking anesthetist who after looking at the results of his tests and asking us all sorts of questions, pronounced him fit for the operation.  We were very pleased and I was very proud of just how fit my Father is, especially mentally and I just hope I have inherited his genes.

It was that afternoon I rediscovered the well-known British author of the 40’s and 50’s, Nevil Shute.  I had run out of new books to read so went to my library to see what I could find.  I have inherited a small collection from the middle of last century from my Aunty Gloria, some of which are treasures my Mother and I loved and reread many times, such as “The Willow Cabin” by Pamela Frankau I mentioned last week.  Well another of those treasures is a book by Nevil Shute called “A town like Alice”.  However I have read it so often I didn’t choose it on Thursday afternoon, but spied more novels by the same author.  One is “On the Beach”, his most famous novel but it’s about the end of the world and I remember it as being very depressing.  But next to these books I discovered more novels by the same author and took pot luck and started on one called “The Trustee from the Tool Room”. I loved it and devoured it in about a day and a half. I then started on two more, one I couldn’t get into and another I found very strange; his first novel called Mazaran.  So I picked up another one; “No Highway” and this is the one I am devouring now.  Reading and rereading Nevil Shute brings me back to Britain (and sometimes Australia) in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s which proves both alluring and nostalgic.  I love the vocab and wonder at life without the technology we have today.  People seemed to have so much more time on their hands.

Meanwhile, Olivia’s boyfriend Miguel was taking part in an open sea swimming competition in Gandia.  She sent us a photo of him on the podium.  He came first.  Later he told me there were 400 participants.  I was impressed.
Miguel, Olivia's boyfriend, a clear winner

After feeling a bit saturated with reading I watched Olivia report on the TV that day.  It was all about the preparations for the next day’s feast of the Assumption.  In Madrid that is one of the biggest “fiestas” of the year and is commonly called “La Virgin de la Paloma”, wherein lies a fascinating story too long to tell here.  At dinner that night Olivia asked our resident expert in religion, Eladio, all about the background of it as she has little knowledge or interest in the subject.  I listened in very interested as religion is a subject quite close to my heart.  At lunchtime that day we had a discussion about what the Assumption was as opposed to the Ascencion.  My Father, whose own Father was a Canon in the Church of England, immediately told us that the Church of England does not celebrate the Assumption and he is right. That is one of the major differences between it and the Church of Rome.  According to Eladio’s layman’s explanation, the ascension was done by Jesus Christ himself, i.e. he ascended by himself into heaven, whereas the Virgin was helped up. 
Madrid's "virgen de la paloma"
In any case, it is a feast celebrated in the whole of Spain on 15th August and is an official holiday. Unfortunately for Olivia she was not on holiday as her programme was going to concentrate on news of the “feast” or “fiesta” in Madrid that day.  All the reporters donned carnations, which seems to be the flower that symbolizes this day at least in Madrid and it was Olivia’s job to describe and report on the procession of the Virgin in the streets of Madrid that day.  There was a whole range of new vocabulary for her to learn in the process.  It’s amazing the things she learns in her job.  We tend to learn them to, as a bit of a spin off in a way, hahaha, either helping her with the subject or listening to her explanations at dinner.
Olivia (front row second right in a white t-shirt) and her team with carnations ready to report on the Madrid festivities on Friday.
It was on Friday that we discovered a new walk.  Being 15th August, the feast of Assumption it was also the start of the hunting season, Spain’s equivalent to England’s “glorious 12th”. This meant there would be shooting and quite a lot of it on our normal walk, so we decided just to walk on the streets.  However when we reached the top of our street and turned left, we discovered a parallel path which we went down so as to let Elsa off the leash. It goes in between the houses and through woods and is very peaceful.  We have thus discovered a much better walk for our daily exercise.  It is slightly longer (just under 5km there and back) but also steeper which my fitbit loves.  In calculating how many calories I burn each day, it is not just the distance I do in steps but the “active minutes” that burns them faster and on this new walk I do nearly double those of the old walk. On the plus side too, there are no other dogs, people, bikes, cars or motorbikes which makes Norah at least a lot calmer. The photo illustrating this week's blog is of me on the new walk.

That night, Eladio and I had dinner out.  Being a national holiday, I thought La Vaca Argentina may be full so I was surprised when I was able to get a table via The Fork portal which offers a 40% discount. I was even more surprised to see when we arrived and throughout our dinner that we were the only diners.  Of course a lot of people are on holiday making Madrid a bit of a deserted city in August, but not all surely?  I felt sorry for the restaurant but cheered up a bit as I saw a few tables filling up slowly just as we left.

Meanwhile Miguel had finished his 11 day stint working in Valencia for TVE where he is a cameraman, and was coming to stay with Olivia, and with us of course, for the next 10 days.  Oli picked him up from the train station and they had dinner in town and used The Fork too and came back happy with their choice, Gastro James near Cuzco.

On the new walk I had spied some big cactus plants with fruit on it so suggested to Eladio that we take along some plastic bags to pick some. 
The prickly pears we found on our new walk and which are so difficult to pick.
An extra plastic bag would be needed to avoid the prickle of this fruit which is also called “prickly pear”.  Before going on Saturday morning, we looked up the fruit on internet to make sure it was edible and just how it is eaten.  It apparently has lots of benefits; mainly fiber, vitamin c and iron.  So far so good, but when it came to picking the very abundant fruit which seemed to grow wild, we got awfully prickled for lack of gloves.  So we came home with a huge bag of the fruit but with a lot of unpleasant prickling on our hands. Once home Fátima, our Moroccan home help, immediately recognized the fruit and with her bare hands (!), cut the two sides off and then peeled off the skin which came away very easily.  The fruit is very tropical and has a nice enough taste but I don’t really like the thick black pips you have to swallow when eating the pulp.  Later friends on Facebook told me of various tricks on how to remove the prickle. 

Later I went food shopping with Fátima and then came home to make lunch.  It was to be a special lunch of homemade fish and chips to be had with Olivia and Miguel.  Then after a short siesta Eladio and I adjoined once more to the pool to read our books.  We were joined as nearly always by our delightful dogs.  I caught them on camera playing and I especially like this shot which shows just how much they love each other.
Our dogs Elsa the labrador and Norah the beagle who love each other so much.
Just as I was envisioning a quiet dinner with just the two of us, Olivia came to tell me she was making salmorejo and Miguel was making humous.  Olivia has never been known for her domestic qualities, so this new spate of cooking has pleasantly surprised me and you know what? Her salmorejo is delicious. She suggested dinner together and then playing cards when I would show them how to play Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline’s game called “seven”.  That immediately perked me up and made me feel very happy.  I went to bed that night counting my blessings for the wonderful life I have and the super family that are my “raison d’être”.

My other daughter, Suzy, meanwhile had spent the day with my dearest soul mate Sandra.  Sandra had taken her to Hyde Park, specifically to Speakers’ Corner to take part in a Toastmasters’ event there. Toastmasters is Sandra and Jeffer’s great hobby and is an international organization that promotes public speaking.  I wasn’t sure it would be Suzy’s cup of tea so when Sandra sent me photos of the day, including one of Suzy speaking in public I was happy and surprised.  I wondered what the topic had been and Suzy later told me it was about dinosaurs!  Apparently the aim that day was to learn how to speak off the cuff, or “impromptu speaking” as it is officially called.  Suzy, being a guest, hadn’t expected to speak but oh she did.  She said she had to explain what she preferred to have as a pet, a dog or a dinosaur and why! ;) Apparently the whole thing revolved around imagination and improvisation.  Sandra said she did a great job for a beginner and made some contacts too.  That’s great.  Good for you Suzy and thank you Sandra for taking her along and giving her the opportunity.  I laughed when my friend told me she had been asked if she was Suzy’s mother, to which she replied; “sort of as her Mum is like my sister.  Too true Sandra.  Bless you.
Sandra above and Suzy below giving an impromptu speech at Hyde Park Corner yesterday in a Toastmasters' event.
And today is Sunday and the end of the story of this week.  Today has been like most Sundays in the summer at home and there is not much to tell.  I look forward to reading by the pool after publishing this post and to dinner again with Eladio, Miguel and Oli and perhaps another game of “seven” with them.  I should add Miguel beat us both, much to Olivia's annoyance and that my score was the worst at the end of last night.  However, this game, like cricket, can go on for days, so there is plenty of room and time for improvement.  However I don’t think I will be able to beat Miguel who has a winner’s mentality in everything he does.

I will sign off now, wishing you all a great week ahead.  Till next time my friends,


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