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,



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