Saturday, April 25, 2015

Taking Pippa to Oli’s newsroom, Results day, retail therapy at Zara, a surprise party, Suzy with Sandeep in London and other stories.

Saturday 25th April 2015

With Olivia and Pippa at her newsroom in Madrid on Monday
Hi everyone.

I’m writing my blog today Saturday as Suzy is coming tonight for four nights for her birthday, so I want to be free to be with her tomorrow.  I can’t wait for her to arrive. This post will be short, mainly because there is not much to tell but also I am in a rush as I have a thousand things to do before she arrives.

Let me start with last Monday, my fasting day.  There was terrible news in Spain that morning when we heard that a 13 year old boy had killed a teacher and injured another one as well as some of his fellow students.  It happened at the Joan Fuster school in Barcelona. This is the first case in Spain where a pupil kills a teacher.  Olivia pointed out to me that it happens in the US once a week. Imagine!  The boy killed the teacher with a home-made crossbow. As he is a minor, he is not responsible for his acts so I’m not sure what his punishment will be. 
A woman lights a candle in memory of the teacher killed in Barcelona on Monday by a 13 year old boy
A much worse story was unfolding in the waters between Africa and Italy when a boat with nearly 900 migrants capsized and more than 700 lost their lives.  Boats are coming daily from the coast of Libya organized by human traffickers and they are difficult to stop.  This is a story we are all used to.  It doesn’t seem to touch our lives; after all these are just poor Africans.  If it had been a European cruise ship we would have been more shocked.  Today I read an article which contains some horrific photos that talk for themselves of this human tragedy.  Of all the photos, this is the one that impacted me most. 
A migrant arrives on a tourist beach in the Canary Islands
On a brighter note, on Monday morning I went with Olivia to take Pippa to meet her colleagues and see the newsroom of the programme she works for: Aquí en Madrid for Telemadrid.  I also wanted to meet them and had made a promise to do so after they sent me a lovely card and chocolates when I broke my ankle. The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Pippa and I with Olivia and some of her colleagues.

Olivia might complain about the long working hours or disorganization of how the programme is run, not to mention the low salary, but the truth is I was impressed with where she works.  To start off with the newsroom is on one of the floors of one of Madrid’s tallest and most famous office building in Plaza Castilla.  It seems to me to be quite a privilege to work there.  The newsroom was small and crowded but there was a great atmosphere and I know that if I were Oli’s age again I would die to work there as a live reporter.

Oli at her desk in the newsroom with Marta her colleague
Tuesday was Results’ day which is always stressful for me. They were the first quarter results published by our Mother Company who owns 76% of Yoigo.  I had everything ready, our press release, internal release, statements etc and our results were very good as far as profitability was concerned; less so in sales.  But then at 7.45 in the morning when I was still in my dressing gown, I got a whatsapp from a well-known journalist who asked me if the figure of approx. 3.5 million customers was right for Yoigo. I immediately told him it wasn’t as we have just over 4 million.  When I opened my pc I found the results press release on their company website and there it was approx. 3.5m!  I immediately rang our head of finance who was shocked too as we thought the HQ would publish the 4 point whatever million we had reported.  It turned out our mother company had changed the way they calculated their operator companys’ numbers of customers by discounting those who were inactive in the use of their phone in the last 90 days but hadn’t warned us they would do so.   They are however still in the system, so of course we still have the 4 million customers.  I then joined the global comms conference call and when it came to question time I piped up asking them why they had they done that without explaining the new way of calculating customer bases.  They said sorry and promised that in the upcoming press conference they would explain.  However the damage was done and some of the Spanish journalists reported that we had eliminated half a million customers from our customer base.  I had to ring as many as I could to clarify the story which was not easy to explain.  I must say I was furious with the situation but there wasn’t much I could do.  As head of communications, blame for negative headlines always lies with me, which is often very unfair if I can’t control the news which is what happened on Tuesday.

 It was only at lunch that I began to relax after the unpleasant morning I had had dealing with the quarterly results.  Lunch was with an old colleague, Amalio M who used to be the editor of Spain’s number one newspaper, the sports paper called Marca.  He now works as head of sport for a big PR company; perhaps Spain’s biggest, Llorente y Cuenca.  I hadn’t seen him for years and we had a brilliant lunch talking about the projects we used to work on together when he was with Marca and I was with Motorola and Nokia. He took me to a restaurant called La Torcaz where he seems to have lunch every day. I must say it was a good choice and in a lovely street in Madrid called Lagasca.  It is in the elegant Salamanca district where we used to live.

The sun was shining as I left and I decided to walk along some of the elegant streets of the area. Being near Serrano, the capital’s most chic street, I decided to go into Zara’s flagship store there.  It was my first time in Zara since my accident and the first time I was buying any new clothes since my trip to Finland in March.  There were some lovely things.  Here are two I bought, a blue and white striped shirt and a long yellow cardigan.  Buying clothes in Zara in the centre of Madrid really cheered me up after the dreadful morning I had.  It was a true case of retail therapy.

The clothes I bought at Zara's flagship store in Serrano Madrid on Tuesday
On Wednesday I was busy again.  Apart from work, our routine, walks, etc, I have been making preparations for 3 upcoming birthdays; Suzy’s, Oli’s and my Father’s.  So that morning Eladio and I went to Centro Oeste in Majadahonda for some necessary items for these occasions.  It was when, I was entering Zara (again hahaha) that I bumped into our friend Ana and her youngest daughter María.  It was lovely to see them.  Once more I was tempted in Zara and bought fmyself a red long sleeved t-shirt and this lovely flowery blouse to go with the yellow cardigan I had bought the day before.

The flowery blouse I bought at Zara in Majadahonda on Wednesday
I had a long talk to Suzy on the phone that afternoon; the first for quite a while.  We don’t talk often but of course are in contact permanently via our family whatsapp group.  I wanted her to bring me things from England.  You might be interested to see the list: this is it: Waitrose essential all-purpose cloths, birthday cards, humbugs, big Johnsons talc and ear buds, Boots transparent shower caps, Boots toothpicks, walnut whips and last but not least some Cadbury cream eggs!  I think she managed to get everything except for the shower caps because Boots was out of stock and for the all-purpose cloths as there is no Waitrose in her area.
Waitrose Kitchen cloths, part of the list of things I asked Suzy to bring me from England.  Lorraine will be bringing me some in May.  They are excellent and you can''t find anything like them in Spain. 
That evening after our walk, I got ready to go out in the middle of the week which is most unusual for me.  What did I wear you may wonder?  Well some of my new Zara clothes of course. I was going to a surprise retirement party for a well –known and well-loved journalist, Ana G. who is retiring from the Spanish news agency Efe.  She had no idea all her friends and colleagues from the sector would be there.  She thought she was coming to a concert to see one of her daughters sing.  Well yes her beautiful daughter Cecilia did sing but at a big surprise retirement party for her Mother.  When Ana came in and saw us all she couldn’t believe her eyes. It was beautifully organized and great to see so many familiar faces.  I went with my friend Fátima and we had a great time.  As it was dark the photos I took didn’t come out very well but one did and it is of Ana and her three “children”, Carmelo, Fanny and Cecilia. 
Ana with her three "children" Cecilia, Fanny and Carmelo at her surprise retirement party on Wednesday night
I have known Ana since I worked at Motorola and she is one of my favourite journalists.  I took her on many trips with me, especially with Nokia.  The last trip with her was with Yoigo when I took a group of journalists to see how 4G worked in Stockholm in May 2013.  Here is a group photo of that trip.  Ana has curly hair, is wearing a brown jacket and is third left in the front row.  We shall all miss her dearly but hope to see her maybe working freelance or as a consultant in the sector sometime soon.
Ana on our press trip to Stockholm in 2013
Thursday was a quiet day.  I fasted of course and went on two hour long walks; one of them with Eladio and the dogs. 

On Friday I was busy with work but at the same time occupied interviewing women to substitute Gema who announced the other day that she was going to Morocco to one of her daughters’ weddings for a week.  She then told us it would be for 10 days.  She hadn’t even consulted us.  How were we going to manage for such a long time with no one to shower my Father?  I already wrote recently that we are a little disappointed with Gema who also announced recently that she can no longer push my Father up the path in his wheel chair as she has back problems.  It was after the announcement that she was going away for 10 days that we decided to interview other women to replace her and tell them that if they did the job better the woman chosen would remain with us. So on Thursday we had an unsuitable old Bulgarian woman who came and yesterday Friday we interviewed a 26 year old Rumanian girl, a 48 year old Spanish woman from a village in Toledo and a 50 year old Moroccan woman who came in her own car.  We finally decided on María Salud the Spanish woman who will be coming on Sunday night.  I rang the telephone numbers of the references she gave me and both people she had worked with spoke highly of her.  It's unusual to find a Spanish woman who wants to work as a living in home help.  Normally it is a job for immigrants.  I don't know María Salud's story but I am sure it has to do with the crisis and lack of other jobs, at least in her small home town in the province of Toledo. Let’s see how it works out.  I’ll keep you posted.

After all the interviewing we had to go on our walk and then do the weekly shopping which is no mean task as we are such a big household.  We completely filled up the boot of our new BMW X6 and had to put the fruit in the back of the car.  You may be interested to know that apart from the normal sort of fruit; I always make an order to my green grocer at the local supermarket of 10 punnets of raspberries, 5 of bilberries, 5 of blackberries, 2 boxes of strawberries, papayas and mangoes.  Our lunch dessert is always the same; fruit salad.  Soon that will be served with the meringues I ordered recently and which have still to arrive from Britstore online.

We were home late, at about 8.30pm and I had to shower, wash my hair, put my make up on and be in Majadahonda by 9.30pm and I made it! We had a dinner date at Tanteo with our friends Javier and Ana (the Ana I bumped into at Zara).  This was a new restaurant for us and the food was superb.  We spent most of our time talking about our children; if you can still call them that when they are in their 20’s and 30’s but I suppose you can.  We also discussed a book I have just devoured and which Eladio is reading too.  It is by the Queen of Spain’s first cousin, David Rocasolano and is called Adios Princesa (goodbye Princess). David was her staunch supporter in her first years in the Spanish royal family but was let down by her when he was involved involuntarily in a financial scandal. Since then he broke off relations with her and all his family. The behind the scenes story of the marriage of his cousin, a TV news presenter to the Crown Prince of Spain told by one of the members of her plebeian and once anti royalist and atheist family makes for fascinating reading.
The book I read this week and which Eladio is devouring now.  
Meanwhile Sandeep, Olivia’s Indian friend who she met in her Erasmus year in Falmouth, Cornwall, and who now works and lives in Devon, had just arrived in London where he would be staying with Suzy.  They posted this lovely photo of the two of them which made both Olivia and I a little jealous as we would have loved to be there too. I know Sumit, Sandeep’s friend who is also Olivia’s friend since they met in Cornwall, and who works for Bollywood in Bombay, would have killed to be there too.  Both boys, or should I say men, are wonderful people and I can tell you they would have made excellent sons-in-law but that was not to be.  On the good side, I know they will be friends for life.
Sandeep and Suzy celebrating their reunion in London yesterday.  We wish we could have been there too.
And today is Saturday.  I was up relatively early and had breakfast on my own reading the news on my iPad.
Breakfast this morning
Well I wasn’t on my own if you count the dogs which I do as we consider them members of our family.  I couldn’t resist taking this photo of the three of them in the kitchen where, as usual, little Pippa ignores her little bed and prefers to be with Elsa in hers.  Aren’t they adorable?
Our three dogs in the kitchen this morning.  As usual Pippa ignores her bed and prefers to snuggle up to Elsa
Gema has just left and won’t be back until tomorrow night which means I have to deal with the meals.  I am keen to finish now to make lunch and be free to read this afternoon by the pool and then go on our walk. Suzy will be arriving late tonight; at 11.30pm and we are dying to see her.  Tomorrow she has planned a big birthday party in the afternoon for God knows how many friends.  At least I have been invited hahaha.  Her actual birthday is on Tuesday 28th and I am worried about what food to prepare as recently, sadly for me, Suzy turned vegan.  When we talked about it on the phone, I was glad to hear she would make a concession on her birthday and tuck into Nutella (her favourite but not allowed now as it has dairy products in it) and croissants – not allowed either as they have milk and eggs.  Anyway, the important thing is that she will be here and we can celebrate her 31st birthday all together.

Of course you will be hearing all about her birthday celebrations in next week’s post.  Meanwhile my friends and readers, enjoy your weekend.  Until next time,

Cheers Masha

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Remembering Russian Easter, International kissing day, Spain’s archaic business habits and working hours, the “rise and fall and rise again of Nokia”, Game of Thrones for the King of Spain, Oli reporting on TV, 70 is the new 50, Spain’s Rodrigo Rato ex IMF chief arrested for suspected financial crimes, the dog walkers, Suzy in Copenhagen with “our Danish family”, visitors from England for the first BBQ of the season, dinner with ex Nokia friends and many other stories.

Sunday 19th April 2015
We had dinner with friends from my Nokia days last night
Hi everyone,

This week has been busy which is how I like it, being the hyper active being I am and there is lots to share with you.

I left off last Sunday when I had just been on Cuatro TV national news talking about whatsapp calls.  I can now share the link with you – here -   In the end, as I imagined, they edited the recording that so much of what I had said was cut out.  But that’s how TV works.

It was late on Sunday night that I found out through my cousin Sophie who lives in France that it was Russian Easter.  She wrote on her Facebook, Happy Easter including the words “Xristos Vaskresi” which mean so much to me as my Mother was Russian Orthodox and I was brought up to celebrate Easter the Russian way.  “Xristos Vaskresi” means “Christ has risen” and I well remember being taken with my brother by my Mother and Aunty Masha sometimes, to the Ukranian church in Bradford in the middle of the night to attend the Orthodox Church’s most important celebration of the year.  We would buy and light a candle – once George my brother nearly set my hair on fire!!! – and join in some of the singing. I loved the singing or chanting, the candles, the smell of the incense, the icons and the whole ritual. I did not understand much as Russian church services are conducted in what is known as “Church Slavonic”.  At one point in the very long service where you have to stand up the whole time – no pews in Russian churches except for the old and infirm – the parishioners walk around the church all together with their candles chanting “Xristos Vaskresi”.  It was very uplifting even for a child like me.  Afterwards we would go home to eat a feast which would already be laid on the table.  The most common food my Mother would lovingly prepare was coloured boiled eggs, kulich (a sort of tall cake with icing dripping on the top) and “paskha” (a type of cheese cake).  Thank you, Sophie for reminding me last week.  Xristos Vaskresi to you too.
A Russian Easter celebration meal 
It was on Sunday that Olivia posted a photo of herself and her boyfriend Miguel kissing; apparently in honour of “international kissing day”.  
Olivia and Miguel kissing 
Twitter seemed to think it was on Monday and when I googled it I got all sorts of dates.  However I went along with Twitter and also posted a kissing photo; this time of Olivia with our dogs Elsa the lab and little Pippa our irresistible 4 month old chocolate coloured miniature dachshund who may not have known it was International kissing day but kissed each other anyway.  Isn’t it lovely?
Pippa and Elsa kissing in Oli's presence on International Kissing Day last Monday
Monday was my fasting day.  It was also the day I had an appointment with the dermatologist – remember I had a sore on my breast which scared me last week?  It turned out to be folliculitis, something quite difficult to get rid of.  I think the fitbit I wear to measure my activity and which I used to wear tucked into my bra probably caused it as it must have broken the skin. She prescribed an antibiotic and cortisone cream which seems to be doing the trick.  I also got another antibiotic cream for an infected stitch on the scar from the operation on my broken ankle.  That is proving more difficult to heal whereas the sore has nearly gone. 

On Tuesday Eladio was taking me to see a well-known urologist for my chronic o.a.b  which is a bit embarrassing to write about here. Suffice it to say I went through some ghastly and very painful tests and got a verdict I had already suspected.  My condition is completely sensorial; there is nothing organically wrong.  The treatment seems to be a bit of a hit and miss thing as neither the well-known urologist, Dr. Esteban, nor my urologist, Dr. Litton really know whether the treatment will work.  Meanwhile I live with the condition and do my best not to let it interfere with my happy life.  The appointment was at a famous hospital in Spain (Hospital Nacional de Parapléjicos de Toledo) the only one of its kind in the country and it specializes in para and tetraplegics.  It was quite a depressing place and I felt very lucky as I walked along the corridors and saw all sorts of people in wheel chairs or moving around on stretchers using their arms!
The paraplegic hospital in Toledo
It was on the way there that I had a very old fashioned Spanish business experience which I want to share with you as it really annoyed me and summed up just how backwards Spain can be at doing business.  I got a phone call from an unknown long number and the person calling was the secretary of a man who heads up a telecoms association in Madrid and who I know quite well.  She was calling from his office to put me through to him on his mobile while he was somewhere else.  My first thought was, if he was on his mobile, why didn’t he ring directly?  The simple answer is prestige – his answer would be that he’s too busy a man to have to make his own phone calls. When she tried to put me through to him, he was talking to someone else which annoyed me even more.  I replied rather curtly that I would ring him direct later.  I tried to ring later but only got through to his voice mail.  I think Spain has a lot to learn from their business counterparts in the Nordics for example where they go to work on public transport, pick up their own kids from school, manage their own diaries and make their own phone calls.  In Spain CEOS have everything done for them and “work” from dawn to dusk rarely taking holidays and hardly seeing their children.  Reality is that they are not particularly productive, going to long and expensive lunches and staying on in the office just to be seen as it is frowned upon to go home at a reasonable hour even if you have no more work to do.  Part of this culture is because of Spanish eating, sleeping and partying habits which are all so late.   Prime time TV doesn’t start until 10pm, lunch breaks can be up to 2 hours in the middle of the day – and no they don’t use the time to take a siesta - and it is difficult to book a table at a restaurant for dinner before 9pm.  I am lucky because I now work from home but I pity city office workers who must be tired all the time.  It also makes it impossible to have a good work life balance. When will Spain learn from other countries in Europe that their chaotic working hours only lead to a lack of productivity; not to mention a constantly tired workforce? Part of the problem comes from the decision in 1942 to change the time zone.  Geographically we really should be aligned with UK time.  You may see Spain as a place of getting up late, long lunches (this part is truer of top business men) and afternoon siestas (definitely a thing of the past) but the truth is that the workforce have to put up with a very long and disjointed day.  The average annual work hours are 1.686, much higher than the UK, France or Germany as you can see in the graph below.  I just hope that one day Spain changes its archaic business habits such as ringing a person via their secretary as well as their ridiculous working hours. 
Working hours in Spain and other countries
On the topic of business, I was surprised by the news on Wednesday that my old company, Nokia is to “combine” with Alcatel Lucent the French telecoms giant.  I’m not sure if this is good for global business or not.  If the Finnish company’s venture with Siemens was a cultural shock and didn’t work in the end, I wonder what will happen with this Finnish French marriage.  I feel for colleagues who work for my old company and who fewer than 200 joining up with Alcatel which has a workforce of 900 or so people in Spain. One of President Holland’s demands was that there would be no reduction in employment in France but there surely will be in other countries.  When two big multinational companies get together there will always be duplicated posts and layoffs.  On the good side the agreement will make Nokia a bigger player in the infrastructure market, nearly as big as Ericsson and it will allow them to enter markets such as the US or China where their presence was limited. Under the new venture the company will be called Nokia (they will have 70% or so of the joint company and the French the smaller share) and will be calling the shots. I wonder if this means the rise and fall and rise again of the company I love so much and which in Finland is one of the things the people were most proud of?  I have copied the words of an article published by The Financial Times which you can read here suggesting this is the reinvention of the Finnish giant.

The CEOs of Alcatel Lucent (Michael Combes) and Nokia (Rajeef Suri) the day of the press conference

I’m not sure whether this story has any resemblance to the script of the popular TV series Game of Thrones which I have actually never seen; but there will surely be a battle inside the new company for the top positions; or the thrones; which brings me on to my next topic.  That same day at around the same time as the Nokia Alcatel press conference, in Brussels the new King of Spain was meeting Spain’s 54 members of the European Parliament including Pablo Iglesias.  Iglesias, the 36 year old ponytailed leftist and leader of the anti-austerity party Podemos whose increasing popularity with disgruntled Spaniards is changing the map of political power, was to meet the King for the first time.  Dressed in an untucked shirt and no tie he handed a boxset of the series, Game of Thrones, to the perfectly attired King; the King he seeks to unthrone if he comes to power in this year’s general elections.  He told the young King that he would like the series and that it would give him “some keys to understand the political crisis in Spain”.  Felipe VI politely replied that he had not seen the series and looked forward to watching it.  This tongue in cheek PR stunt gave Pablo Iglesias just what he was looking for; front page coverage in newspapers the world over.  You may or may not like the guy or his party, but you have to give credit where it is due and this was a master class in PR; something he or his advisors can be proud of.

Pablo Iglesias giving the King of Spain the boxset of The Game of Thrones 

I’m sure my daughter Olivia, a TV reporter, would have loved to report on that story. That afternoon (or should I say evening?), Olivia was home, early for Spaniards – at around 8pm - and together we watched one of her reports on the TV programme she works for “Aquí en Madrid”.  It was about “lock bumping”, a lock picking technique that seems to be in fashion with burglars.  As a reporter for the programme Olivia has to be prepared to report on nearly anything and hardly has any time to prepare herself on the different subjects she is confronted with.  It was funny to be with her physically and at the same time see her on TV.
A snapshot of Oli on TV reporting on "bumping" key locks
The news that interested me most on Wednesday though was about 70 being the new 50; something I had heard about before and totally agree with.  The article in both The Times and The Daily Telegraph confirmed my suspicions that people in their 60s and 70s are not considered so old anymore and that middle age lasts until 74.  This is good news for my wonderfully young looking 70 year old husband Eladio who has now suddenly become 50. I wonder if the same applies to other ages.  Is for example 50 the new 30?  If so I am now only 38.  Wouldn’t that be great!  On a more serious note this is all because we are healthier, less dependent on others, more mentally agile and of course live much longer lives.  I must say I was very happy with the findings in the research on old age reported on in this article.  In my view it’s all about ageing gracefully and healthily, wanting to look and feel good.  I maybe 58 but I don’t feel it.  I have my beautiful daughters to keep me looking good, I love to wear nice clothes, have well-manicured hands, keep the roots of my false blonde coloured hair at bay and feel beautiful when I leave the house to go out.  But not only that, I try to eat as healthily as I can by doing my two fasts a week and my daily walks.  You will be happy to hear though that I am no fanatic and can easily be seduced by a piece of cake or a biscuit; especially it if comes from Bettys!

On Thursday morning I had an appointment with a young student who wanted to interview me for a University project on how Communications Departments work at big companies.  I met Irene at a café bar nearby and it was difficult to get her to use the more familiar “tu” form rather than the more formal “usted”.  She was in her 20’s and didn’t know that 70 is the new 50.  I should have told her. The session lasted a couple of hours where she got a lesson in practical corporate communications as opposed to the theory she was being taught in the subject.  Here is a selfie of Irene and I just after our meeting.  It was a pleasure to help her.
Not a very good selfie with Irene who interviewed me this week on how a corporate communications department works 
It was on Thursday afternoon that the whole of Spain was shocked to hear of the arrest of the ex IMF chief Rodrigo Rato.  In Spain he is better known for being the Minister of Finance and Vice President under the Government of José María Aznar and head of the Bankia bank which became famous when it had to bailed out with European funding under his management. His home and office were being searched by the Fiscal authorities as he is suspected of tax fraud, money laundering and concealment of assets regarding his personal wealth which is estimated at 27 million euros.  This has come as a blow to the PP party in power and will not help them win the elections at the end of this year.  Spaniards are used to, yet fed up with politicians’ ambitions for personal gain and I think the Rodrigo Rato case is really the straw that may finally break the camel’s back in their mind. 

Rodrigo Rato being  pushed into a police car by a police officer this week
Friday was perhaps my busiest day.  It was the only day of the week I went into the office but as the meeting was at 13h, there was a huge traffic jam returning home afterwards as a lot of Spanish companies have Friday afternoons off starting from about 15h.  The meeting itself was very interesting.  It was with two representatives from the Swedish Commercial Office; two ladies with the same name; Malin.  The meeting was in preparation for Yoigo’s participation in an event to take place at the Swedish ambassador’s residence next month.   The Ambassador is, by the way, another woman.  When I heard this from the two Malins, I wondered to myself just how many female ambassadors Spain has and that Spain could learn a lesson or two from Sweden in many aspects of life.

Whilst Eladio had a siesta – he can as he is semi-retired – I had loads of work to catch up on before I could go for our walk and then do the weekly food shopping with Eladio.  The walk was like every day and the sun shined as it has a lot recently since spring began.  I have a lovely photo to show you of that particular walk.  I entitle it “the dog walkers” which is what we are but of our own dogs.  I think the one of Eladio with all three is just the best don’t you? 

It was while we were doing the weekly shopping that Olivia posted a photo on the family whatsapp and which I particularly like.  A colleague had taken a photo of her preparing for a live report in Madrid.  It was to be about the return match between El Deportivo de Coruña and Atlético de Madrid after the killing of a fan by the River Manzanares at the hands of a gang of football hooligans in the first match.  The story of course was unpleasant but I love the photo of Olivia sitting by the river lost in concentration with her note book and phone.  In the picture too are vital elements for any TV reporter; the microphone, a hair brush and her makeup.
Oli deep in thought preparing for a live report on Friday afternoon

Eladio and I went out to dinner that night to La Txitxarrería.  At the same time Olivia was relaxing at home having dinner with friends from “la manada” (herd in English) as the girls’ group of friends refer to themselves as. Meanwhile Suzy was in Denmark with Gabor her boyfriend. The tickets to Copenhagen were her Christmas present to him and they would be staying for three nights with what we consider “our Danish family”; with Pernille, her husband Thomas and their little girls Julia and Alberte.  Pernille was our au-pair when the girls were small and she was like a Danish princess.  She married her first and only boyfriend Thomas who she started going out with when she was a young teenager.  They have built a wonderful home together by the sea outside Copenhagen.  Today Pernille is a nurse with a great career and Thomas works for Microsoft.  They are busy people and we don’t see them often but they mean so much to us.  Pernille touched our hearts forever when she spent a year with us as an au-pair.  When they married all 4 of us went out to their fairy tale like wedding and on the few occasions over the years that I have been to Copenhagen on business trips I have been to see them. Suzy and Gabor are having a wonderful time with “our Danish family” to judge by the photos they have posted on Facebook.  Here are two of my favourites.
Suzy with "our Danish family" this weekend.
Suzy with Julia and Alberte in Denmark this weekend

When Oli saw the photos she commented that she and I should go out to stay with “our Danish family” too.  Yes we must.  I would love that.

And Saturday came and it was to be busy too.  We were having visitors for the first barbecue of the season and we also had a dinner engagement that night with friends from my Nokia days. 

We had hoped for good weather.  Yes the sun shone but it was not very warm; perhaps 18c.  In any case we dared the weather and cleaned and prepared the kitchen patio and swimming pool terrace; well Eladio did with Gema’s help. This is a photo of how they looked afterwards.
Preparations for our visitors and the barbecue on Saturday

José Antonio and Dolores, my brother and sister-in-law, were coming for lunch and were bringing with them their guests from England, Enid of South African origin and Kenneth who is English.  Both of them live in Norwich, a town very close to my heart, and were or are still teachers. 

Norwich is close to our heart because it was at East Anglia University that my parents used to be teachers at the yearly 3 week long summer Norwich Russian Courses from the early 70’s.  I remember going along with them nearly every year from the age of 12 until Susana and Olivia were born. I loved the city which is where my Aunty Masha went to live.  I well remember the campus of the University and staying in student accommodation at Norfolk or Suffolk terrace, the lovely seaside towns nearby such as Cromer or Sheringham, not to mention the Norfolk Broads or the city itself.  Norwich has a beautiful cathedral, a castle and a lovely old cobbled street called Elm Street.  Norwich is also famous for its covered market which we often went to – they sold lovely ice cream there.  Enid and Kenneth told me that it is the oldest covered market in England. My Father and I were delighted to have visitors from Norwich after all our memories of our stays there every summer for so many years. It was also a great occasion for my Father to be able to chat in English at lunch with “new” people.  It was for me too of course.

Their visit to Madrid was just a part of their itinerary of celebrations of their 50th wedding anniversary this year. Imagine!  They looked so fit and young that I could hardly believe they had been married for 50 years. They are a very interesting couple, we had lots in common and we got on with them famously. I was particularly interested in Enid’s story of how her family had to leave Durban in the early 50’s because of apartheid.  Even when Enid married Kenneth they could not go to South Africa as a couple as she is black and he is white.  They were only able to do so when apartheid came to an end in the 90’s.  Fancy.  It couldn’t have been easy to come from warm South Africa to cold and damp London in the 50’s and adapt to British life. Enid and Kenneth have three sons.  Two of them are identical twins, Jon and Phillip.  On our walk later in the afternoon Enid told me the story of how Jon, the elder by 20 minutes, managed to get on Big Brother in the UK when he was in his 20’s and became very famous afterwards.  His surname is Tickle and if you live in England I’m sure you know who he is.  It can’t have been easy for his family.  Enid also told me that when the show started, her son Jon warned her on the phone to leave Norwich that weekend as there would be a hoard of media around their house which is how it turned out.  What a story, don’t you think?  It cracked me up I must say.
José Antonio and Dolores, their visitors from England, Kenneth and Enid and Eladio 
While we chatted in the sun around the pool, Eladio and José Antonio got on with making the barbecue – sausages, fillet steak and lamb.  This is a photo of the two brothers by the barbecue.
Eladio and Toño doing the bbq yesterday
Everyone was very polite about the food but I realized it was rapidly getting cold in the cool air even if it was sunny.  Afterwards we spent the afternoon drinking tea and coffee, having the odd Bettys’ biscuits.  At one moment in the afternoon I was upstairs and suddenly heard my Grandmother’s old Broadwood piano being played in the lounge.  Kenneth was playing it and even though it was out of tune it was wonderful to hear it being played.  I was impressed to hear that the piece he was playing was of his own composition.  So apart from an Oxford graduate in Chemistry and a teacher of mathematics, he is also an accomplished musician.  I was impressed.
Kenneth playing the piano at home yesterday
The day ended with a wonderful walk with the dogs in the sun and breeze on a new path we have discovered on our walk.  Because Kenneth had blisters on his feet due to so much walking in Madrid he stayed behind but was happy to be left alone to read my Father’s Daily Telegraph whilst we were away. You can see the rest of the photos of yesterday here.

When our visitors left it was time to get ready to go out again, this time to dinner at Zurito in Pozuelo with our friends from my Nokia days.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of us all together.  Dinner was with Juana and Oscar, Fátima, my friend, ex colleague and neighbour, Julio who used to be their boss, Eladio and myself. I was quite tired at dinner after being outside all day and had partially lost my voice from so much talking in the cool weather but thanks to the wonderful food and company I soon forgot the tiredness and when we finally left the table it was one in the morning.  That’s late even for Spain I can tell you. 

Thankfully today is Sunday and I could sleep until 8 instead of my usual 7 in the morning.  Also thankfully Gema is here too – she will be taking her two days weekly leave from tomorrow instead of Saturday – so she made today’s lunch, leaving me time to write my blog and relax. It was lamb, artichokes and potatoes made in the Moroccan style which is one of her best dishes. 

As I write, everyone in the house is resting.  So now when I have finished publishing this post, I shall be sitting outside by the pool with my kindle and reading the latest book I have downloaded: “We got the water, tracing my family’s path through Auschwitz” by Jill Klein. Her Father, Gene Gabriel Klein survived and is still alive today and it is his story and that of his family that she tells in We got the Water. 
The book I am reading now on my kindle

And that is now the end of the stories of this week, the things that I did and the things that interested me.  I hope you enjoy this week’s tale.  Until next week my friends and readers,



Sunday, April 12, 2015

Winnie the Pooh and breakfast, Miguel’s 40th birthday, to Valencia with Samsung, a man called Burger to marry a woman called King, Pippa’s new toy, ordering meringues, imperial leather soap and other British produce online and other stories including me live on TV talking about Whatsapp calls

Sunday 12th April 2015
In Valencia on Thursday
Hi everyone,

I hope you’ve had a great week. Mine has been quite busy and interesting but it wasn’t all good as you will find out if you continue reading.

I left off on Sunday which was Easter Day.  That afternoon Real Madrid beat Granada 9-1 in La Liga.  Ronaldo scored 5 goals which is probably his first.  I don’t know if there is a word for 5 goals although the media were talking about a hat trick which for me means 3 goals or strikes in any sport.

On Monday I fasted as I did on Wednesday. That day we interviewed two Bulgarian ladies as possible substitutes for our current home-help Gema who is Moroccan.  We are quite happy with her except that recently she won’t take my Father up the path to the kitchen in his wheelchair as she says she has a bad back.  This of course means that if we are not at home he has to stay downstairs.  However after talking to a few possible candidates and interviewing Danka and Tanya, we decided that there is no perfect home-help and for the moment will continue with Gema. One of the deciding factors is that she makes excellent home-made bread which Eladio loves.

On Tuesday it was lovely to have breakfast without fasting.  On my fast days I have oat bran with a mixture of skimmed milk and water.  On my non fast days I have a kiwi, a glass of orange juice and a piece of toast; much more enticing.  One day this week I saw a quote from one of the Winnie the Pooh books of a conversation between Pooh and Piglet and it’s all about breakfast.  This is the quote.

I can’t but help being in agreement with Pooh as breakfast is my favourite meal of the day.  I love Piglet too.  It was my Mother who instilled my love of A.A. Milne’s books; the adventures of Christopher Robbin, a tradition I carried on with my own children.  These books are timeless and I always adored them. So when I saw this picture I knew I had to share it with you.

On Tuesday whilst I was having breakfast I read an article in a popular Spanish news portal: “El Confidencial”.  It was about the use of Yoigo’s new Sinfin tariff and quoted me as the journalist had sent me some questions the day before.  It’s always funny to see your name in print.  You can read the article here (in Spanish).

Tuesday was Miguel, Olivia’s boyfriend’s 40th birthday.  She gave him her present at breakfast; the Samsung Galaxy S Tab.  Here are two photos of him enjoying the moment.
It was Olivia's boyfriend Miguel's 40th birthday on Tuesday
Olivia hadn’t warned me it was his birthday that day so we had nothing for him.  I put that to remedy very quickly and Eladio and I drove to a shopping centre nearby where we bought him the original tablet case and screen protector.  Whilst there we had a cup of coffee and I succumbed to an exquisite fruit tart.  I posted the photo on Facebook and added this footnote: “like Mr. Kipling’s cakes, “naughty but nice”.  When I was young my Father bought a lot of Mr. Kipling’s cakes. When I googled the phrase I was astounded to find out that it was coined by Salman Rushdie: “The slogan is said to be his creation when “trying to raise a few bob to write novels by working as a copywriter”. Now that did surprise me. Later Lyon’s changed the tagline to “exceedingly good cakes” which I think is still in existence.  But for me they will always be “naughty but nice”.
My "naughty but nice" fruit tart with coffee on Tuesday
To celebrate Miguel’s birthday Olivia surprised him by taking him out to dinner to Pedro Larumbe, one of Madrid’s top restaurants.  I was already in my pyjamas as she was getting all dolled up to go out. She inspired me to change our evening plans and there and then I got ready to go out, dressed up and took Eladio to one of our favourites – on a much more humble scale - La Vaca Argentina.  We had a lovely mid-week dinner out.  Sometimes it’s nice to change routines and habits, don’t you think?

There is not much to report on Wednesday apart from the fact that I fasted and went to the hairdresser for a well needed cut.  What I do want to mention though is that both on Tuesday and Wednesday I went on two hour long walks. 

Thursday was the highlight of the week.  I had been invited as one of the Spanish mobile operator communications director by Samsung Spain to their press conference for their national launch of the new S6 and S6 Edge smartphones which would be going on sale in 20 countries, including Spain, the next day.  The press conference was happening in Valencia and we went by high speed train.  At the train station there were some 50 or so journalists from Madrid and when we arrived at the Joaquín Sorolla station in Valencia there we greeted more journalists who had come from Alicante and Barcelona.  We were all put on a bus and taken to an event centre by the port near the famous Malvarrosa beach.  In big writing all across the building you could see the words “Welcome Samsung Galaxy S6”.  It so reminded me of our times gone by flashy and glamourous Nokia launches.  However this time I was not the hostess but the guest. It felt strange.
With some of my favourite journalists outside the Samsung event location

It was funny for once not to be part of the group of organisers which is usually my role but I felt relaxed looking on and seeing how Samsung do it.  We were taken upstairs to a big hall, the major attraction of which was a door to a big terrace overlooking the port and beach.  Here is another photo, this time with the GM of Samsung Mobile Spain and some journalists.  The big wheel behind us is very similar to the London Eye.
In Valencia with Samsung and journalist friends
The presentation was very similar to any big multinational type presentation but all went without a hitch. Afterwards there was time for demos and interviews – reminding me once again of our Nokia launches.  I liked the phone, specially the Green Edge model but did not like their funny glasses with the actual phone inserted at eye level.  They made me feel very claustrophobic.

From the event building we walked across the road to the restaurant where we were to have lunch.  Samsung had organized the tables, like they are done at weddings.  I was to sit, as I did on both train journeys, next to my counterpart from Telefonica, Juan Carlos and in between us was our counterpart and host from Samsung José Luis.  This was just one of the spectacular paellas served to us at El Coso right on the Malvarrosa beach.  The photo illustrating this week’s blog is of me overlooking the beach and also the famous Hotel Arenas where Eladio and I once stayed.  For the records it is the best in town.
Authentic paella with Samsung in Valencia
I wondered where all the Korean staff were who were present at the launch but found out they were having lunch on their own somewhere else.  Was I surprised or not? I’m not really sure.

Soon the day in Valencia was to draw to a close and we all got on the bus to the station to catch the train leaving at 17.10 which would arrive in Madrid at 18.48, a very short journey.  In the old days when Spain had no high speed trains, instead of 1.40h it used to take a whole morning.  I once remember many years ago, in the 70’s taking a train from Barcelona to Alicante which took a whole day.  Spain in infrastructure has really come on and has the longest high speed rail track in Europe and in the world is second only to China.  However it is not cheap to travel on the “Ave” and there is a big discussion going on in this pre-election year whether to go ahead with plans of extending the network as much as is planned: one day to cover all provincial capitals.
Spain's high speed rail network and its now famous "Ave".
Thursday in Valencia was my highlight of the week but it was somewhat tainted by an ongoing worry I had.  You see on Tuesday I discovered a sore on my breast which seemed to ooze liquid and wouldn’t heal.  I rang the hospital to get an appointment with a dermatologist and the earliest I could get was next Monday.  All day on Thursday I was worried and googling the web on my phone and reading all sorts of nasty possible causes.  On top of the oozing there was an annoying itch so that night when I got home I rang a doctor via my health insurance policy and she told me to go to A+E at my local hospital.  As soon as Eladio was home after his UNED classes, off we went.  In my mind I was imaging the possibility of either breast cancer or melanoma that my Mother and brother respectively died of.  It’s amazing how something like that can completely change your outlook on life.  At the Montepríncipe Hospital in Pozuelo I was seen by two gynaecologists.  Their diagnosis was “mycosis fungoides”; however they are not dermatologists so I’m not sure they are right.    They prescribed a special cream and told me to see the dermatologist on Monday.  It has improved only very slightly since. But I must say I was relieved to hear there was no lump or anything dangerous although my worries won’t go away completely until the appointment on Monday.  On top of that the next day I woke up to find one of the scars of the stiches from the operation on my broken ankle to be infected quite badly so now I am changing two damned bandages on my body daily.  All my life I have had the sort of skin that heals very badly and the ankle stitches still look very sore after 3 months when after such a long period of time they should be completely healed. In any case both sores seem completely minor incidents after my thoughts on Thursday in Valencia. 

When we finally got back from the hospital and it must have been past 10 at night, I was starving as the paella had long been digested by then.  So it was lovely to sit down to a meal Olivia had prepared specially for us.  She coined it a “Russian dinner” and indeed it was: “pelmeni” (sort of ravioli) and “perushki” (meat and rice pies).  Thanks darling. 

Friday was a rainy day.  I was terribly busy in the morning as I had to prepare for a taped TV interview by the national Spanish private channel “Cuatro TV”.  They wanted to interview someone from Yoigo on our opinion on Whatsapp calls and the future of IP voice calls.  It was to be at 4pm in our offices.  On a Friday at that time, it was not surprising that no other spokesperson was available. There was no other choice but for me to do it.  In the past I have always had a bit of stage fright for TV and radio interviews or presentations but for some unknown reason recently I have completely got over it.  I don’t know why; maybe age helps because you get, or I at least do,  more self-confidence.  In any case the interview went well.  It is supposed to be included in their news programme this weekend.  It didn’t get broadcast yesterday and I’m not sure it will today either.  This is because it is the sort of news item which is not time critical and could be used at any time.  Also if there is more sudden urgent news, it could well be dropped.  Well, if it does come out, I shall of course let you know next time.

Friday was very busy for me, as apart from preparing for the interview which took me most of the morning, I had to get our walk in and do the weekly food shopping.  This is a major weekly task as we are a big household of 5/6 people not to mention 3 dogs and 1 cat! We had completely run out of everything; mostly fruit of which we eat an awful lot in this house.  The best thing about shopping these days is that I don’t have to do the putting away part which I leave to Gema. I leave everything in the car and scuttle off feeling just a little guilty whilst she and Eladio carry all the bags up to the kitchen.

Talking about food, it was on Friday that I read a story which I found very amusing.  It was about a man from the US (not sure which state) called Joel Burger who was to marry his childhood sweetheart Ashley King.  They had a photo taken outside Burger King who, when they got a whiff of the news, immediately offered to pay for the wedding.  The Daily Mail dubbed it as “whopper of a wedding”, in true tabloid UK journalistic speak.  I liked the story of course but can hardly imagine wanting a wedding with Burger King food.  How awful. 
Burger to marry King!
I am not a fan of Burger King and never have been. I quite like a McDonalds meal about once or twice a year but really am not into fast food.  So dinner on Friday night with Eladio was at Gino’s a great semi Italian chain of restaurants owned by Vips.  We are always welcomed there when we go back.

Meanwhile Olivia had gone to Valencia with Miguel who was to take part in an open swimming race in Cullera on Saturday and to celebrate his 40th with his friends there. Thus we were to be quite alone this weekend.

Miguel, Olivia's boyfriend, taking part in an open sea swimming race in Cullera on Saturday
And Saturday came and brought more birthdays.  It was my sister-in-law Dolores birthday yesterday.  Happy birthday my dearest.  It was also Carmen’s birthday.  Believe it or not she was also 40 yesterday but I will always remember her when she started working with me as a trainee at Nokia when she had just finished her studies.  In a FB message today she called me a “super boss”.  Well she is a super person and was a delight to have in my team.  You might be interested to know that today she runs a very successful music school with her partner Mapi and that she is the oldest of 13 or so children and that her Mother who had the last child in her early 40s, never lost her figure.  Carmen used to describe to me breakfast at their house with mountains of cereal boxes or Christmas day which was complete pandemonium.  There were too many presents to wrap up so they arranged them in little piles with the name of each child on each pile and her brothers and sisters would excitedly run into the lounge to see their presents.  Carmen was a treasure to work with.  Happy birthday my dear too.
Carmen who turned 40 yesterday
On Saturday morning after breakfast I went out to pick up the white anorak from the cleaners, the one I had worn when I fell and broke my ankle.  Well right next door to the dry cleaners there was a new pet shop and I couldn’t resist going in to buy a toy or two for little Pippa.  I bought two in the end, the one in the photo below being the most successful.  Pippa adores it as we adore our little 4 month old cute chocolate coloured mini dachshund.  Of course we also adore our beagle Norah and our lab Elsa and try not to spoil Pippa too much in front of them.  If they knew she slept with us they would be furious but they don’t know and we keep it a secret.
Pippa delighted with her new toy yesterday
Having some time on my hands on Saturday I also did some online shopping.  We love meringue nests and these are not available in Spain to buy off the shelves.  So sometimes I buy them in bulk online from a British store.  Yesterday I ordered 100, 50 for me and 50 for Dolores from Brit Super Store.  They seem “cheap” at 2 pounds a box of 8 (Sainsbury’s brand) but when you add up the shipping costs they nearly double in price. 
I ordered 100 of these online yesterday, 50 for us and 50 for Dolores!
As well as meringues I ordered other British produce I love but can’t get in Spain.  I bought imperial leather soap, my favourite - if you are English you will know it.  It annoys me that Eladio always removes the red metal label in the middle which is part of its trade mark and is not supposed to be removed but of course this brand of soap means nothing to him does it?
Imperial Leather soap

The rest of the order included Marks and Spencer’s “extremely chocolatey – milk chocolate – biscuits, Fry’s Turkish delight for my Father and E45 body cream. 

My online shopping of “British produce” didn’t stop there.  Later that day I was drawn to an article about a man called William Tallon who was the late Queen Mother’s most devoted servant and a character of a man, the story of who is filled with steamy gay and other anecdotes below or maybe above the stairs at Clarence House.  There and then I downloaded the biography by Tom Quinn called “Backstairs Billy, the biography of William Tallon the Queen Mother’s devoted servant”.  I am thoroughly looking forward to the book as I am sucker for behind the scenes stories of palace life, a life so secret to the general public like me.
The book I bought online yesterday 

My mind most have been compassed towards England on Saturday as I was also interested to see and hear it was the day of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race which takes place on the River Thames.  My Father was watching it too.  Oxford beat Cambridge but the story of the day was that for the first time the women’s boat race was taking place on the same day.  The other story was that the women from Oxford won too. I’m sure my Father, who went to Cambridge, would have preferred it to be the other way round; me too as I was born there.
A scene from the Oxford and Cambridge boat races yesterday on the River Thames
Meanwhile in Valencia, Miguel’s 40th birthday party was in full swing. He was to invite nearly 40 people to a dinner where he and his guests, including Olivia, must have had a great time.  Here is a photo of Miguel and his birthday cake, themed on swimming which is his passion.
Miguel and his swimming themed 40th birthday cake yesterday in Valencia

And today is Sunday.  The sun is shining and we are hoping for the temperatures to rise at least a few degrees as it has been quite cold this week, although the sun has been out most of the time except for Thursday.  In Montrondo it has snowed but thankfully not enough for the builders to stop work.  They are sending us promising pictures of the progress, such as the tiling on the bathrooms.  I’m not so interested in the plumbing or electricity wires although Eladio is of course. 

And that, my friends, is the story of this week.  Next week will be quite full with lots of appointments, conference calls, interviews and a dinner with our friends Juana, Oscar, Fátima and Julio but of course you will hear all about it in next week’s post.  Meanwhile, I wish you all the best,

Cheers Masha

PS Just as I finished this post, I found out I did come out on TV Cuatro news today at 14h.  I didn't see the news but many people told me they did and that I did it fine with the right messages coming out!  Here is a photo of me on the TV.  Hopefully I will get the clipping soon.