Sunday, June 28, 2015

Good news for Suzy, a goodbye lunch, The Roof, planning my trip to England, frightening lone wolf ISIS attacks in Europe and the Middle East, Oli reporting on the increased terrorist alert in Spain, gay marriage legalized in the USA, a heat wave and time by the pool.

Sunday 28th June 2015
The goodbye lunch for Carlos
Good morning everyone.

Summer started last Sunday and the heat came with it bringing with it a record breaking heat wave for this time of year.   Today will be a scorcher as most of the week has been.

Last Monday I was awake at 06.50.  My body clock wakes me up far too early these days.  I try to think of it positively in that my days are longer and I can pack a lot more into them.  It has been a very busy week and I needed those extra hours to keep up with my work.  I fasted that day as I always try to do on Mondays and Thursdays; not that I am getting any slimmer as I tend to eat more than I am allowed on the other days. Thanks to the morning walks and the fasting, at least I am not putting any on; or at least I don’t think I am.  The only way to know would be to get on the scales but the scales and I do not get on and I haven’t weighed myself for a number of years.

That morning I had a meeting with my PR agency Ketchum to get to know the new team leader and to go through all the “to dos” on my list.  I organize my work by lists of what’s pending and keep updating them.  The lists never get shorter but I love it when I can cross things off.  Life is a constant obstacle race isn’t it?

On Tuesday I had lunch with the directors of Ketchum, Tony and Teresa.  Tony is English and Teresa is Spanish, so they are an Anglo Spanish couple like Eladio and I.  They are also foodies and took me to Triciclo, a great little restaurant in the heart of old Madrid in “Huertas”.

It was on Tuesday that we got good news from Suzy.  Remember the news about her being registered with the HCPC in the UK from last week’s post?  Well finally on Tuesday the last two hurdles before becoming a registered UK dietitian were accomplished.  The HCPC required a verification email from both her Universities to confirm she had taken her degrees there.  The CEU University sent their email on the Friday before and the UCM (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) sent theirs on Tuesday.  Suzy then rang the HCPC to make sure they had received them. The good news was that they had and they told her it would take just 4 or 5 working days before she received her coveted number.  This number will allow her to work as a registered dietitian who are very well paid in the UK; even better than nurses.  We are so happy for her.  I shall be going out to see her next Thursday and we shall celebrate together.  It was on Tuesday that Suzy sent us a photo of herself in a summer top made by a friend she had met when she worked temporarily at Decathlon.  It’s lovely to see her smiling in the photo.
Happy Suzy in her new top
On Wednesday I had a goodbye lunch with Carlos who was my team leader at Ketchum and was leaving the company. He will dedicate his time to two of his dreams, writing and cinema and is even involved in a project to make a film.  I had prepared a surprise lunch for him with the team from Ketchum and QuintaEsencia (our events agency).  He thought lunch would be just with me.  But no, I wanted to give him a proper send off and to thank him for 7 years of good work and fun together.  He was a very reliable team leader and was always there when I needed him. I’ll miss you Carlos. QuintaEsencia made a photo album for the occasion for him to remember his times with Yoigo over the years.  If you saw the album you would think that we spent the whole time partying.  Well of course we partied but I can tell you there was an awful lot of work behind each and every event; work that people don’t see.  They just imagine PR is a question of glamour and parties.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of the lunch.  It was at El Paraguas, a lovely restaurant in town which I highly recommend.  The food is from Asturias in the north of Spain and is superb.
The goodbye lunch at El Paraguas
I was back late in the afternoon and after I had dealt with some emails, I had a visit.  Alicia, my goddaughter came to have a bathe.  She has just graduated as a nurse and comes quite a lot these days as her boyfriend Chema leaves nearby.  Here is a photo of her in the pool trying to get Elsa to join her in the water which is mission impossible.  I think Elsa must be the only Labrador in the world who is not attracted to water.  I wonder why.  In the photo Pippa is looking on – even more scared of the water than Elsa.
Alicia in the pool with Elsa and Pippa looking on
That night I had one of the most pleasurable of tasks as a PR professional.  I had to go and taste the food on the menu for a big employee and partner summer party I am organizing for next week.  It’s going to be a cocktail party and I have to make sure there is enough food for everyone and that it flows as it should; not an easy job. The party will take place at The Roof, perhaps Madrid’s loveliest rooftop.  It is located in the Plaza de Santa Ana in the heart of Madrid.  I love the place and it has a connection already with Yoigo as it was here that I did the commercial launch in 2006.
The Roof at night
I could find very little to fault with the spread I had to taste and in the end only changed two little items.  This is what I tasted and I found it difficult to eat one of everything.  Later I was told by the staff that in the cocktail party they will serve 4 units of every item so there are no fears of there not being enough food
The cold entrées
The hot canapes
Thankfully on Thursday I didn’t have any meetings so was able to work quietly from home.  It was on Thursday that I finally had some time to plan my visit to England to see Suzy.  I will be going out next Thursday until the following Monday and will have three full days with Suzy as she will only be working on the Thursday.  Suzy suggested we visit Stonehenge and Bath.  In turn I suggested a visit to the Houses of Parliament which I have only ever seen from the outside and to Kew Gardens.  In the end we will be hiring a car and visiting Bath on Friday.  I have only been there once and I was a student at the time so it was many years ago. But I have a lasting memory of what a beautiful city it is.  I have booked lunch at the Roman Baths Pump Room Restaurant where the menu looks scrumptious.  I look forward to afternoon tea there whilst Suzy will be going for the vegan items of course. 
The Roman Baths in Bath Somerset which we will visit next week
As to the visit of the Houses of Parliament, I booked a tour for Saturday morning by ringing their offices. Ideally I wanted a guided tour including afternoon tea but they were fully booked so an audio guide tour will have to suffice. Whilst talking to the office I asked about visiting Big Ben.  I was astonished to hear that you have to be a UK citizen which I thought was very racist and have no idea why that condition exists.  Well I thought Suzy and I are UK citizens and both have British passports, so I asked to book a ticket. I was even more astonished to hear that to do so we would need to be sponsored first by our MP!!!  I told the girl that I didn’t have one as I lived in Spain and she suggested that we do so by being sponsored by Suzy’s MP.  She asked for her post code and told me that Suzy’s MP is a lady called Harriet Harman.  I gave it a try and wrote an email to her office.  Shortly I received a reply to say that all tours were fully booked until November.  Big Ben will have to wait until another time.  But isn’t this extraordinary?  I’m sure many people don’t know how difficult it is to visit the most famous clock tower in the world.

We shall be visiting the Houses of Parliament but Big Ben is out I'm afraid
Part of my work on Thursday was preparing a press release on the prize my boss would be given that night in Valencia.  He was named “engineer of the year” by the Valencian College of Telecommunications Engineers.  This was quite an honour and deserved communicating although it didn’t get as much regional coverage as I had hoped.  The reason was that the local Valencian government was being appointed that day after the recent elections and the local news was all about that.

Friday was supposed to be a quiet day.  I had time to go the hairdresser and get my roots and nails done.  It was whilst I was there that I heard that ISIS had done it again. On the 1st anniversary of their existence and during the holy month of Ramadan, lone wolf attacks were carried out in Somalia, Kuwait, Tunisia and France.  In Tunisia a gunman killed 37 tourists, most of them British, on a Spanish owned hotel beach in Sousse. 
Deadly ISIS attack on a beach in Sousse in Tunisia
Meanwhile in France there was an attack on a gas factory near Lyon.  The gunman killed his boss and then beheaded him leaving an ISIS flag at his side.  I’m afraid that that is their terrible trade mark.

The reactions around the world were of horror.  At the same time most countries increased their terrorist warning alerts. In Spain it was increased from 3 to 4, 5 being the highest when the Army takes over.  Olivia reported on the increase in the alert from one of Spain’s biggest train stations, Chamartin in Madrid.  Here she is interviewing the police at the train station on how Spain was reacting to possible attacks in this country.
Olivia reporting for TeleMadrid on the increased terrorist alert in Spain after the attacks this week
That night Eladio and I went out to dinner to La Txitxarrería where I enjoyed what I consider is the best steak in the area.  It was during dinner that I heard that the USA had legalized gay marriage.  It was a big thing for the US and for gay rights around the world.  Even the White House was floodlit in rainbow colours as you can see in this picture.
The White House floodlit with rainbow colours to celebrate the legalisation of gay marriages in the USA
I always think the US is years ahead of Europe in many things.  But not in this case.  It was 10 years ago, for example, that Spain legalized gay marriages. 

Yesterday Saturday was the hottest day of the year so far.  The temperature reached 38c and in some parts of Spain it went as high as 40c.  The only place to be yesterday was by our pool. 
The only place to be in this heat wave is by our pool
We were in and out of the water most of the day.  Not the dogs though.  Here is lovely photo of Olivia in the pool cooing at little Pippa, our spoiled little chocolate coloured mini dachshund who will be 7 months old on 3rd July.
Oli in the water yesterday with Pippa lying down outside the pool
Alicia came again yesterday afternoon whilst her medical student boyfriend Chema was swotting for his exams.  Juli, the girls’ friend, came too to spend the day and in the afternoon the four of us played cards by the pool. We played “sevens” a highly addictive card game that Sandra and Jeffer taught me last year when they stayed at our flat in Santa Pola.
Playing "sevens" with Juli, Ali and Oli yesterday
For dinner I rustled up something quick and easy to make; a Swedish open prawn sandwich which is fast becoming one of our favourite dinner menus.  Last night we had to sleep with the air conditioning on for most of the night.

Today promises to be even hotter than yesterday and again most of it will be spent by the pool, the only place to be when it so hot.

Next week is going to busy but I have Thursday to look forward to when I fly out to London.  But of course you will be reading all about that in next week’s post. You might have to wait for it a day or too later than usual as I won’t be back till the following Monday.

So I will say goodbye until next time.  Wishing you all the best, cheers and bye for now,


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pippa at a dog show, a visitor from Sweden, serenaded by Tuna singers, dinner at Dstage, the most common names in Spain, a red letter day for Suzy, a family gathering to celebrate Alicia’s graduation, Oli reporting for TV on robberies at high street cash points, summer solstice and other stories.

Sunday 21st June 2015
A great photo of me taken by my niece Paula
Hi everyone,

Today 21st June is the official beginning of summer,  my favourite season  In fact today is the summer solstice, but more about that later.

Last Sunday the girls were still in Barcelona where they enjoyed time together with their friend Laura from the scouts.  They met when they were 6 and 7 and have been fast friends ever since.  Laura will be giving birth to her first baby next month.  Time really has flown.  Here is a photo of my two lovely girls together in the Catalan capital.
A selfie of Suzy and Oli last Sunday in Barcelona
That morning, Eladio and I did the weekly food shopping at our little gourmet supermarket in El Bosque or part of it as the big ones, such as Mercadona, where we buy our basics, are closed on Sundays. There was a dog show going on in the square next to the supermarket, organized by our local vet.  I was in my element seeing so many beautiful dogs of all sorts of breeds.  Once we had brought the shopping home I persuaded Eladio to come with me and take little Pippa along.  I wanted to show her off of course but I also thought it was a grand moment for her to socialize as she tends to bark at people and dogs she doesn’t know.  Unfortunately it was too late to register her.  I think she wasn’t very happy at being taken there as her tail was between her paws the whole time but I enjoyed every minute of the event.  I am not at all objective so you will understand that I thought she was the most beautiful puppy in the show.
With Pippa at the dog show last Sunday
Monday was not a good day.  The Carpenters’ song, “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down” was in my thoughts as it poured with rain that day.  I fasted, had meetings at 11 and at 12 in the office then had to go to the urologist for the 3rd session of my unpleasant treatment.  Thankfully this time it was less painful.

Tuesday was a full day.  I spent most of the morning after our walk preparing presentations and briefings for an illustrious Swedish visitor who was coming to Madrid that afternoon.  Peter, the group head of communications for Yoigo’s mother company, would be visiting the office next day to get to know the company.  But first I was to take him on an informal walking tour of Madrid and then out to dinner.  Our guide was to be none other than Diego Antoñanzas who heads up his own company called “Madrid and You” which offers personalized guided tours of the city.  We could not have been in better hands as we walked from Gran Via up Alcalá to the Puerta del Sol, then on to the Plaza Mayor.  In the Puerta del Sol we took the obligatory photo of the kilometre zero plaque, the spot where all roads are measured from in Spain as it is considered the exact centre of the country.
Peter and Diego at Kilometre 0 in the Puerta del Sol
From there we visited El Mercado de San Miguel and then walked to the Royal Palace, past the Almudena “cathedral” to the Plaza de Oriente Square built in the time of King Joseph 1st, who was Napoleon Bonoparte’s brother.

On our way there we came down the steps from the Plaza Mayor at the Arco de los Cuchilleros (arch of knife makers).  Walking down with us was a group of Mexican Tuna singers (University singers of Spanish tradition).  The Tuna singers used to make money and still do by serenading women but more likely tourists these days.  As I walked down with them I asked them to sing for me and they did.  It was a purely magical moment.  I loved every minute of it. 
Being serenaded by Mexican Tuna singers in Madrid this week
After a drink at the Café de Oriente bar where we discussed the economic situation of Spain, it was time to take a taxi to the other side of town if we were to be on time for dinner at Dstage where I had booked a table for two.  It is difficult to describe Dstage, apart from to say that it is one of the best haute cuisine restaurants I have ever been to.  Peter agreed too and was very impressed.  It was my second visit but I enjoyed it as much as the first.  This modern storytelling creative food restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere is the success story of Diego Guerrero, the chef who came from the 2 michelin star restaurant Club Allard.  Dstage has only been in existence for 11 months yet already has its first star.  If you want to book a table you need to do so 4 months in advance.  The story of Dstage has reached many parts of the world through foodie tourists who have told its tale and posted photos of the wonderful culinary creations; each one a piece of art.  It even reached The New York Times and I am sure that this article has something to do with its ever increasing popularity.  In the haute cuisine category, it is surely Madrid’s number one.  I look forward to seeing it next year in the top 10 or so of The Restaurant.  It certainly deserves to be there.
Food at Dstage is simply extraordinary
The only thing that needs improving at Dstage is the spoken English of its employees. They all speak it or more probably have learned off by heart how to describe the dishes.  The problem is that is nearly impossible to understand what they are saying. I am seriously thinking of offering them private lessons in pronunciation.  Maybe I will get a free meal in exchange.  Well that would be a good barter wouldn’t it?

The dinner lasted 3 hours so I didn’t get home till nearly 1 in the morning.  I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep as I had to be up at 6.45 the next day in order to get to the office by 09.30 for the management team meeting with Peter.  It took ages to fall asleep and then the alarm went off and Norah was found in the kitchen. It wasn’t until the next day that we realized we had left the study door open.

The drive to work was horrific.  Apart from the traffic, my beautiful BMW car started playing tricks with me.  I was in the fast lane on the M40 and each time I had to brake because of traffic, the car wouldn’t pick up speed.  I had to put my warning lights on and felt terrified.  I rang a colleague at work, Angel, who knows about cars and he advised me to stop the engine and start it again.  I did that and voila everything was ok.  I realized later that I must have set the limited cruise speed on and because of the slow traffic the car must have thought it had to go at 20km an hour.  Thank goodness I arrived alright at the office just on time for the important meeting and morning with our Swedish visitor. I had imagined myself having to stop the car and call the RACE but thank goodness that didn’t happen.

Everything was ready for Peter’s visit, i.e. the meeting room looked lovely with a bunch of Swedish sweets complete with Swedish and Spanish flags on the table.
A bunch of sweets with the Spanish and Swedish flags for our visitor from Sweden
We were to give Peter a presentation of the company.  Then I had to give an update on how I do communication in Spain.  Peter coming from very neutral Sweden, when it comes to media, was appalled to hear that often media coverage in Spain is related to the amount of advertising you put in the media.  I do not play that game and never will but often suffer the consequences.

The rest of the morning was taken up with a meeting with marketing and sales and a tour of the office.  I think our distinguished visitor went home with a very good impression of Yoigo.  That of course was my objective.

I was free just before two and drove home to have lunch with my Father.  It was his favourite, “spag bol”. Eladio had gone out for lunch with his ex-colleagues and friends Roberto and Juanjo. Afterwards caught up with my lost sleep with a mammoth siesta of nearly 3 hours and woke up feeling 100% better.  I then got up to speed with my work. 

You will remember recently that an ex Russian pupil of my Father, Jon, from Bradford Grammar School had written to my Father.  Since replying to him my Father was keen to know whether he had received my letter.  It was difficult to explain that I had sent an email and that people don’t reply to them always or at least not immediately.  So I decided to send Jon a Facebook message to ask and he immediately replied. There and then I printed out the messages to my Father.  I was amused that he was witnessing the modern way of communicating which with social media like Facebook is instant of course. Here is a photo of my Father reading the Facebook message.
My father reading his Facebook message from his ex pupil of Russian Jon.
Later Jon wrote a lovely long reply by email which I know my Father read with great interest, especially because Jon’s wife is Russian, just as my Father’s wife was Russian.

On Thursday I fasted as I did on Monday.  It was a day I spent at home working quietly, something I haven’t done for a while as I have been out and about so much.  That day I went to the dentist.  I also booked a flight to go and stay with Suzy for a long weekend in July.  Gabor will be away and there will be room for me in their flat.  I can’t wait.

I often find articles from The Local website amusing.  The Local is an English language news portal which has a site in most countries. Of course I read the one that is in Spain.  I must say their journalists come up with some very good articles.  The one that caught my attention that day was about the most common immigrant names in Spain. According to the article there are just under 5 million foreigners living in Spain – that’s nearly 10% of the population.  Of these 19% are Romanian, 16% percent are Moroccan and 6% are British. Some 276.000 Brits live in Spain. Many more visit of course.  So I was not surprised to hear that the most common names are Mohammed and Fatima.  As to the Brits well it won’t surprise you to know that they are John, David, Susana and Margaret. This information piqued my interest to know what the most common names for Spaniards are.  Again I wasn’t surprised to see that for men they are Antonio, José and Manuel and for women María Carmen, María and Carmen.  There you go; a nice bit of trivia for you. The photo below is a map of the most popular men’s names by provinces in Spain. 
The most common men's names in Spain according to the provinces they live in
That night I had a blazing headache whilst watching our latest favourite TV series, Vis a Vis (a Spanish prison series).  I was about to switch my mobile phone off when I saw I had multiple whatsapp messages.  They were from our daughter Suzy who lives in London.  She was urging us to phone her immediately. Worriedly I rang her but was delighted to hear it was because of good news. Suzy had received a letter that day from the HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council).  To be able to work as a dietitian in the UK she needs to be registered with this institution.  She started the process more than a year ago and it has been a bureaucratic nightmare, more typical of a third world country than of the UK.  She had been turned down three times with requests for even more detailed information, certificates, references, etc.  We were waiting for the answer to her last submission of documents which was about 4 months ago.  That day at home in London there was a letter waiting for her from them which was good news.  Here is the most important paragraph.
The most important paragraph in Suzy's "red letter"
She’s nearly there.  All she needs now is for her two Universities, San Pablo Ceu and the Madrid Complutense, to send the HCPC an email to confirm that Suzy studied and finished her degrees in nutrition and dietetics and food science at these Universities.  From what I know the CEU did so on Friday and the Complutense should do so on Monday. So very soon Suzy will be a qualified and registered Dietitian in the UK and will be able to apply for jobs for what is a very well paid profession in England.  It is even better paid than the nursing profession.  We are so pleased for Suzy. We can truly say that for her and for us it was a Red Letter day.  She earned it from determination and courage and never giving up.  There were times when the negative replies with complicated instructions could have put her off.  In fact I think they were designed to do so.  But no, we made it. Suzy your future is bright.
Suzy will soon be registered with the HCPC in the UK
Friday was a happy day, taking in Suzy’s news, ringing her Universities and helping her with this last bit of bureaucracy.  It was to be a happy day also as we were going to celebrate our goddaughter Alicia’s graduation in nursing studies.  Her parents had invited the family to lunch at El Cerillo in Hoyo de Manzanares, a 30 minute drive from here.  Here is a photo of Alicia, pretty and happy with a great future ahead of her too.
Sweet Alicia on her graduation day
For the record, there were 17 of us I think, Alicia’s grandparents, her parents, her sister Laura, her boyfriend Chema, Paula and her boyfriend Pedro, Roberto and his two adorable daughters Diana and Lidia, Dolores and José Antonio, Eladio and I.  Here is the group photo.
Group photo after Alicia's graduation lunch
The photo illustrating this blog post is of me. It was taken by Paula and I love it.  I cropped it. The original photo is of me and my sweet 2 year old grand-niece which you can see below.
With my delightful grand-niece 
Olivia couldn’t be with us as she was working and we missed her.  That day she did a report on the robbery at high street cash points. Here is a photo of her doing the report which was posted by the Spanish Police on their twitter page.
Oli reporting on robberies at high street cash points
We were back very late from the lunch and spent the rest of the day, or rather the evening, reading by the pool.

Yesterday Saturday was a quiet day.  In the morning I did the weekly food shopping with Eladio. It never ceases to amaze me how much food we have to buy for our household.  I suppose it shouldn’t as we are a lot of people and animals too: my Father, Olivia, our home help Salud, myself and our three dogs, Elsa, Norah and Pippa as well as our cat Phoebe. Come Friday and the cupboards are bare; well at least of perishable food.

We spent the afternoon by the pool reading and swimming.  Well I swam, Eladio hardly ever does.  I took a photo of one particular relaxing moment when Eladio is sitting at one of the tables.  Norah is in the background and I wonder if you can spot Pippa
Eladio relaxing by the pool yesterday afternoon. Spot Pippa
In the evening we went out for dinner.  I had booked a table for Eladio, Oli and myself at La Vaca Argentina.  Here is a photo of Eladio and Oli just before we left.
Eladio and Oli as we were leaving to go out to dinner last night
We wished Suzy could have been with us.  However we drank a toast to her when they served us the wine, as a pre celebration of her registry with the HCPC. I look forward to the moment when all four of us can celebrate that together.

And today is Sunday, another quiet and warm day.  I am writing from the pool whilst Oli is swimming.  Pippa is nearby as always.  When I have finished writing this post I shall start making lunch.  Today I’m making chicken korma curry and rice; a very popular dish in this house.

Today is 21st June, the summer solstice, supposedly the longest day of the year, or rather the day with the longest hours of sun.  It is called this because it is the moment the earth is nearest to the sun.  You can read about it here as I did just a while ago.  It is celebrated around the world. In England crowds gather at Stonehenge, a magical place to see the summer solstice, the last rays of the sun on that day.  In the Nordic countries it is a very big festival and many of my friends from my Nokia days and from TeliaSonera were all posting Glad Midsommar on their Facebook pages.  I do wish we celebrated here more. 
Summer solstice at Stonehenge
So my friends, I have come to the end of this week’s tale.  As you can see it has been busy and has had some very high points; especially Suzy’s news.

Wishing you all a great week ahead, cheers till next time


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Oli in Valencia, Suzy barbecuing in London, greengages in our garden, meetings and more meetings, David and Goliath, Iker Casillas Real Madrid legend to leave the club, a site inspection trip to Huelva to visit Doñana and El Rocío, the King of Spain strips his sister Cristina of Duchess of Palma title, Manuela Carmena communist ex judge new mayor of Madrid, Oli and Suzy in Barcelona and other stories.

Saturday and Sunday 13th and 14th June 2015

Walking up the steps from the beach to the Parador in Mazagón
Hi everyone,

This week I am writing my blog from the Ave high speed train which left Seville a short while ago.  It should be pulling into Madrid Atocha station at 20.15 and thus I have 2.5h on my hands, the perfect time to write this post. 

Spain has changed into another country since I first started coming here by train in the late 70’s often by inter rail.  There were no high speed trains then, although the Talgo did exist.  The stations were smelly, hot, dirty and full of flies and the shops and food on sale not at all attractive.  These were my thoughts as I waited at Seville’s smart Santa Justa station whilst waiting for this train.  In fact the shops are so nice I had a little look around and came across these dresses at a boutique called Ale Hop. 
Pretty summer dresses at a boutique at Santa Justa train station in Seville
I wonder which one you would have chosen.  I chose the pink one.  It’s supposed to be for the beach but it will be perfect for everyday use too if I wear a petticoat underneath.

But let me start from the beginning, where I left off last Sunday.  Whilst Eladio and I were returning from a wonderful long weekend in Montrondo, Oli was in Valencia with Miguel.  They had a great weekend too and most of it was spent on the beach.  On one of the nights they even had dinner on the Patacona Beach not far from the centre.  Here is a photo of them enjoying the dinner with friends of Miguel. 
Oli and Miguel living it up in Valencia last weekend
Meanwhile in London, it was a sunny day.  Suzy and her friends had a barbecue together so finally I have a photo of my older daughter to include in this blog – they are scarce.  She looks so happy in the photo with her friends, including Chati, the Spanish nurse who was her partner in crime leaving Spain for their London adventure two years ago.
Suzy enjoying the sun with her friends in London last weekend
Monday was a difficult day.  I fasted of course which in the end would give me an almighty headache that night.  I had two meetings in Madrid in the morning after which I met up with Miguel and Gloria from my events agency.  We were sight inspecting Madrid roof terraces for a big summer staff party at the end of June.  It was so hot on the top of them that I felt like fainting especially because I hadn’t had anything to eat.  Not a god idea.  I had another meeting as soon as I got home too so was not able to get a moment’s rest in the day.

Olivia and Miguel were back in the evening and we had dinner together.  We then decided to ring Suzy.  I have to admit we hadn’t spoken on the phone since she left on 24th May. It turned out to be a good thing.  Knowing both girls were going to Barcelona this next weekend that was the first thing I said to Suzy.  She replied, that I was wrong, that it was next month. That’s when the fun began.  Oli’s idea was for them to go in June and Suzy understood July.  Thankfully the next day, for an extra 100 pounds, Suzy was able to change the ticket.  It was a lesson for her I’m sure as it was for me too.  It’s easy to make a mistake and buy a ticket for a wrong date.

I woke up on Tuesday after a dreadful headache which had kept me awake most of the night.  Thankfully it went away after breakfast.  We have been observing the fruit growing on our greengage tree outside the kitchen.  The tree is getting heavier and heavier and it looked as if it some of the outer branches would break.  To remedy that Eladio has tied many of them up but even so it looks dangerously heavy.  This was the photo I took on Tuesday morning. The fruit won’t be ripe until the end of July and I suppose that the birds will eat more than half as usual. I love greengages.  When I was small we had a couple of trees in our garden in Ruskington.  In Spanish they are called “claudia reina” which really means the queen of plums which for me they are.  The French call them that too.  For the moment we will have to wait a month or so until we can eat them.  Last year the tree produced more than 30 kilos of fruit most of which we took to Montrondo to give out to Eladio’s family.
Our greengage tree heaving with fruit
Tuesday was better than Monday.  I only had one meeting that morning.  For the record, I am not a meeting fan nor a conference call person.  I far prefer to contact people via email, phone call or whatsapp but sometimes meetings cannot be avoided.  I arrange as few as possible.  Frankly experience has taught me that probably 75% of meetings and conference calls are a waste of time as most of the tasks at hand could be done by more efficient means; i.e. phone calls, email or whatsapp.

On Tuesday afternoon I fell asleep after lunch watching the midday news with Eladio.  Normally I never take a siesta but these days I seem to be waking up at 6.30 in the morning and am in need of more sleep.  That at least was my conclusion when I woke up two hours later feeling completely disoriented.

Wednesday was my busiest day of the week.  It was also my dearest friend Sandra’s birthday.  I consider her my soulmate, my surrogate sister and wish I could have been with her.  No doubt her partner Jeffer will have made sure she had a great day. Happy birthday darling.

I was very happy with the press clippings that day.  Some media had leaked the regulator (CNMC) portablity data for May.  The good news was that Yoigo had of course gained new customers.  On the flip side, all the other mobile network operators had lost customers.  Sometimes it feels like being David (Yoigo) against Goliath (Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange) but here is the picture to prove that this particular battle was won by Yoigo. It makes me very proud of our efforts.
Portability numbers for May.  Yoigo (purple) is the only operator to gain customers.  Blue (Telefonica). Red (Vodafone) and Orange lose them.

I was travelling to Seville that afternoon with Bea and Cris, the two sisters who own our events agency, QuintaEsencia, but before I was to catch the 17h train I had to fit in countless tasks.  I had an early meeting in the office for which I had to get up at 06.30.  Then I had an important meeting in Madrid with our PR agency Ketchum.  It dragged on for too long which meant that my colleague and I were one hour late for our 12.30 meeting in Yoigo.  I didn’t leave the office until 14.45 and hadn’t had any lunch.  I had to go home first to pick up my luggage then drive into Madrid to catch the train.  I was worried about the traffic but was lucky that I made it home in just under an hour.  I had to leave more or less as soon as I had arrived, managing to shove a couple of spoons of rice and fish in my mouth before leaving.  Then OMG I realized I was running out of petrol on the way to the Atocha train station.  I really thought I wouldn’t make it on time but luck was on my side and I did; albeit by the skin of my teeth.

It was on the train when I could finally calm down and relax that I read with surprise a report by TVE that Iker Casillas, the Real Madrid goalkeeper, was to leave the club of his life.  He has been under a question mark for some time now and I suppose this move is one of the results of having lost the Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League to eternal rivals Barcelona.  For me, and most of Real Madrid fans, not to mention the Spanish squad, he is a legend.  I remember meeting him when I did an event for Nokia when we launched a FIFA (yeah that organization which is riddled with corruption and scandal) game for the ghastly games phone we had called the NGage.  Iker Casillas was our star persona at the event.  He was very young and shy at the time but already the club’s goalie.  He went on to become the team captain and a very respected one at that.  I for one am extremely sorry to see him leave.
It's sad to see Iker Casillas go
Thanks to my new 4G Alcatel PC modem I caught up with lots of work on the train journey out.  We arrived in Seville where it was much cooler than we had expected.  Normally at this time of year Andalusia is a boiling pot.  We were to be staying at the Parador in Mazagón, a 1.5h drive in the province of Huelva.  It is located on a cliff looking over a stretch of unspoiled beach which is supposedly the longest of its kind in Spain – more than 30km.
An aerial view of the Parador de Mazagón
Being on top of a cliff and overlooking the sea, the temperature was much cooler than in Seville and I regretted not having brought more than a cardigan to cover my shoulders in the evenings. 
The buildings of the Parador itself are nothing special it is the grounds and location that make it so special.
Over dinner at the Parador Bea, Cris and I discussed our plans for the next two or three days.  We were on what you call a “site inspection trip” in events jargon.  Really we had come out to inspect the terrain and places for a big three day event at the beginning of October for our staff and partners.  We have decided to take them on a short pilgrimage to El Rocío (a pilgrimage as famous in Spain as “El Camino” but more intense and far shorter which brings together more than a million pilgrims on the 2nd day of Pentecost) and to visit Doñana, the Spanish nature reserve which is the biggest of its kind in Europe. 

The area of Huelva is famous for strawberry growing.  It has the biggest produce in Europe or even the world.  The strawberries are finishing now and surprisingly for me, the fruit pickers will now be picking the next crop of fruit; raspberries, bilberries and blackberries.  We heard from Paco one of our guides that most of the fruit pickers are Romanian and Moroccan and in the past Polish or from the Ukraine and that women from these countries have integrated well into the society.  There are many mixed marriages and some of these beautiful, blonde young women caused local men to divorce.  Things seem to have settled down now.
A Rumanian or Ukranian strawberry picker in Huelva
These berries, together with big black cherries are my favourite fruit but the first three are not as popular in Spain as they are in other countries.  I suspect that until recently most of them were exported.  However these berries are creeping into the Spanish diet and the fruit growers of Huelva will now be growing more.  Fish is very popular here too as in any coastal part of Spain.  For dinner on our first night we had this dish which comes from Huelva.  They call it “prawn omelets” but they looked more like fritters to me.  Call them what you may, they are delicious.
prawn and asparagus fritters - delicious
The next morning my biological clock woke me up at 06.30. Too early for breakfast I made a cup of decaf in my room – that was all there was – and decided to walk down to the beach for my morning walk.  You have to think about walking down and up the steps as they are steep and there are many of them.  Made of wood there are 150 up and 150 down of course. The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me at the top of the steps after walking all the way up. To get an idea, this is a picture of just half of the steps as seen from the beach below.
The rather daunting steps from the beach up to the Parador which I climbed many times during my stay
I just have to share a photo of the beach I walked along that morning as I did every morning until I left today.  It’s a marvel to walk along a beach with no buildings, just cliffs and that seems never ending. The sea here is the Atlantic, not far from where the Guadalquivir River flows into it.  I had expected it to be very cold but it wasn’t. 
The beach in the morning.  I had it all to myself
We had an early start that morning and left for Doñana Visitor Centre at 08.30 where our guide Jerónimo was waiting for us with one of the park’s green jeeps. The Doñana National Park is a natural reserve in Andalusia spanning the provinces of Huelva and Seville.  It spreads some 543km2 of which nearly half are a protected area.  You can only visit a small part of this area which is made up mostly of marshland and sand dunes – Las Marismas where the Guadalquivir river flows into the Atlantic Sea.
By the marshland in Doñana on Thursday
Apart from being a stopping point and breeding area for birds migrating from Africa, one of Doñana’s missions is to protect endangered species such as the Iberian Imperial Eagle – we saw one! – and the lynx.  There are some 20 to 30 of these wild cats but they are difficult to see.  The lynx is the queen of Doñana, like the lion is the king of the jungle.  Unfortunately we didn’t see one.
By our jeep in Doñana
The biodiversity at Doñana is unique in the world or so we heard.  The most exciting part for me was the beginning which starts with the dune area near Matalascañas.
A stop in the dunes. Cris and Bea forever on their phones
This area, as with the rest of Doñana, cannot be entered without a visitor’s permit and unless you are on an official visit, no cars or motorbikes can enter.  The beach can be walked on by anyone and also reached by bicycle. Some fishermen live on the beach as their huts belonged to them before Doñana became a Nature Park.  We were lucky to see them bringing in their catch of the day.

fishermen on the beach at Doñana
The catch of the day at Doñana
We were lucky on our tour to see wild boar, unusual cows, reindeers, fauns and their offspring, as well as learn about the flora, the names of birds in English and Spanish and to hear that English ornithologists got very excited when then see a red billed seagull for example.  People come from all over the world to see the extraordinary flora and fauna of Doñana.  It really is a magical place. 

The visit was interrupted on the Castilla Beach – now called Doñana beach when we were to cross the Guadalquivir river to the pretty town of Sanlucar de Barrameda which is actually in Cádiz.  It is famous for its horse racing on the beach.

With our guide Jerónimo on the beach about to cross to Sanlucar de Barrameda.
We crossed on our own on a ferry which was just for us. There are some 4 or 5 and it costs 8 euros each way which I think is a robbery for such a short ride – not much more than a minute or so.  I wonder why they don’t build a bridge.
On the boat crossing the River Guadalquivir to Sanlucar de Barrameda
Once in Sanlucar, we went on a horse and carriage ride around the town.  It turned out to be not as pretty as we thought and the drive too long.  Our driver, a young teenager, and his mother who I think were gypsies disappointed me because they did not give us a guided tour, so we spent an hour driving around a town without knowing what we were seeing on the way.  We had lunch at one of the possible locations for our event, El Bigote, one of the best in town we were told.  We took the boat again after lunch where Jerónimo was waiting for us. The tide was down and he was to drive us along the sea all the way to Matalascañas, some 30km.  It was a terrific ride.  What I didn’t like was seeing a dead whale, a dead turtle and a wounded alcatraz on the way. Thankfully Jerónimo warned one of the guards as we exited Doñana and I hope someone went out to help the bird which had got caught in a fish hook.

Once back at the hotel I was able to catch up on my work.  It was that evening that I got a phone call from a Spanish journalist, Antonio. He was going to write an article about Yoigo and wanted my comments. I could hardly believe what I was hearing when he said he had heard from reliable sources that our Mother company was in talks with Virgin to sell Yoigo. I told him I couldn’t comment and immediately alerted both my boss and the group head of communications.  The next day out came the article and I of course got lots of phone calls from journalists hoping we would confirm or deny the news. I’m a bit fed up with living with these sorts of rumours which started practically from the day the company started business in Spain, now nearly 9 years ago.

On Friday it was time to visit El Rocío, a beautiful white village located in the middle of Doñana. As I was being introduced to Manuel, Miguel and Fátima, our guides, I could hardly appreciate the beauty of the place as I was answering calls from the press about the “possible sale of Yoigo to Virgin”.  It was most frustrating. Still I managed to get a photo of the Church of the Virgin of the Rocío, an object of devotion by all “rocieros” and of course the pilgrimage itself.
The beautiful church in the village of El Rocío
Soon we were in another jeep, this time to explore the possible route we would use for our own “Rocío” pilgrimage in October.  The pilgrimage is part devotion, part good time.  The people travel on foot, on horseback, on horse driven tractors and carriages.  Every now and again they stop for a rest, to eat, drink and dance – called “rengue” in this part of Spain. Some may pray but many go along for the fun and dance.  We were in for a surprise when the jeep stopped and we saw a horse and carriage.  It was for us and we were delighted.
Our horse and carriage on the Rocío path
We were to travel on it for a while and then stop for a “rengue”. Indeed we did stop and it was all prepared for us; a guitar player and two women dancing flamenco.  There was also a table with the local wine “manzanilla” accompanied by ham and chorizo. Wow it was great and we shall do just the same for our party of people in October.

The "rengue" that awaited us after our horse and carriage drive
Our last “rengue” was at a typical Andalusian “finca” or estate.  Here I was in my element stroking all the dogs and seeing horses and bulls.  The thatched roof house in the centre was beautiful.  But most beautiful of all was meeting this adorable Labrador puppy.
I fell in love with this little chap on an estate near El Rocío
I fell in love with it immediately.  When I posted the photo on Facebook I got many comments from people thinking it was a new member of our family.  It wasn’t of course as it has an owner, the owner of the “finca”. 

Once back in the village “la aldea de El Rocío”, we inspected houses for accommodation. We had to see quite a few as we will be some 250 people.  The houses belong to the “hermandades” or brotherhoods of the different towns that do the real Rocío each year.  They are all similar, with shared rooms and it’s going to be a challenge to organize the accommodation.

Friday afternoon was mine for the taking.  I had decided to stay until today.  So I was able to relax a bit and enjoy the hotel and beach.  It was not very warm but even so I went on a long walk on the beach. 

It was yesterday afternoon that I heard that the King of Spain had stripped his sister Cristina of her Duchess of Palma title.  It was quite an astonishing move to take and was interpreted by most as a punishment for her and her husband the ex-Duke of Palma, Iñaki Urdangarín for their involvement in corruption and money laundering activities for which they are both on trial.  Cristina who turns 50 this weekend and who now lives in Geneva, shunned by society, will still be a Princess or Infanta as they are called here but she no longer forms part of the official Royal Family. Meanwhile, her Mother, the Queen Mother Doña Sofia, has gone to visit her in Geneva to celebrate her birthday.  The King’s sister must be feeling embarrassed, humiliated and above all repentant of her involvement in the events that lead to this most astonishing move by her own brother. There is not much loss of love between myself and the Spanish Royal family nor with any Royal Family really. I believe the institution is archaic for our times. 
The King with his now estranged sister Cristina 
Coincidentally that very same afternoon, there was an announcement from the Madrid Town Hall where we learned that Manuela Carmena, the political icon of anti- corruption, had reached an agreement with the PSOE socialist party to become the next mayor of Madrid.  The 71 year old new mayor who is backed by Podemos, was a labour rights activist during Franco’s times and is a leftwing former judge.  It was a historic day for politics in Madrid as this agreement put an end to 24 years of conservative rule (PP) in the capital. Her first moves are to make sure poor families get enough food to live, reduce house evictions, create employment for the youth and clean up the city.  I am interested to see how she carries out her manifesto and wish her lots of luck.
The new mayor of Madrid Manuela Carmena, set to change many things
As I was having dinner that night my “girlies”, Olivia and Suzy were on their way to Barcelona.  They were going to stay with Laura, their great friend from their girl guide days (scouts here – no division between the sexes).  They were keen to spend time with her before she gives birth to her firstborn baby next month.  The next day, Saturday morning, I got a lovely photo of the girls together in Barcelona. They had similar weather to me in Huelva – 20c, not much more – which is unusual for this time of year in Spain.  There have been terrific storms all week and even flooding in Madrid. I suppose the fault lies with global warming. Who knows?
The girls with Laura in Barcelona this weekend.
I got more photos during the day and this is probably my favourite.  Laura sent it to me and it is of “my little girlies” walking together along the streets of Barcelona hand in hand with their backs to the camera.  Isn’t it sweet? I wish I could be with them.
My little girls walking together hand in hand this weekend in Barcelona

Saturday morning was my last in Huelva. As usual I got up early and went for a walk on the wonderful and nearly deserted beach.  Here is the photo to prove it.
On my early morning walk on the beach yesterday 
I wasn’t leaving until midday.  It was during breakfast that a small PR crisis erupted.  I was sent a link to an article on a news site where Yoigo was accused of a breach in security with its voicemail service.  According to the article the breach comes from using the factory set pin code and not changing it.  That was rather a stupid explanation as the same happens with all sorts of services and it is up to the user to change the password.  The worst part of the article was a totally false explanation that because of this breach, hackers could access people’s whatsapp.  I was furious to see our name damaged in this article.  Only our company was mentioned when all operators in Spain use the same practice.  It took me all morning to sort the whole thing out, getting the correct information from our head of customer care, making a statement, etc.  Finally the owners of the portal who I know very well, edited the article to make it more general, removed our name from it and thankfully did the same with the story about hacking whatsapp. 

Instead of dealing with this PR crisis, I would have loved to enjoy my last morning at the Parador by the sea which had been my objective for staying an extra night but that was not to be.

Now it is Sunday and I am writing from home.  There is no place like home and it was great to come back last night. Pippa was the first to greet me.  She had missed me whilst I was away as had Norah.  How do I know? Well, they wouldn’t eat. Thankfully this morning, things are back to normal and both of them ate their breakfast whilst I enjoyed mine in the kitchen; orange juice, kiwi, 2 crumpets and a cup of coffee.  There is nothing like breakfast at home.

And so my friends, I have reached the end of the story of my week which as you can see has been very busy but also quite exciting.  Next week will be busy too and I look  forward to the visit of Peter who heads up group communications with our mother company, the Swedish Finnish operator TeliaSonera.  He has visited all the group’s operations and Yoigo is the last on his route.  I hope we will not be the least and that he gets a good impression from his visit.

Cheers all till next week

All the best Masha