Sunday, August 30, 2015

A cow in the garden, home from Montrondo, R.I.P. Geoffrey Brindley, a girly week, a new toy for Pippa, TV journalists shot dead during a live report in Virginia, this week’s new books, dinner with the cousins, a migrant tragedy in Austria, missing Eladio, and other tales.

Sunday 30th August 2015
A selfie with the girls and the dogs on our walk this week
Hello again

I am writing from home this morning from the table on the terrace by the pool watching the girls in the water with Elsa and Pippa.  It’s great to be with both girlies although I am missing Eladio but more about that later.

I left off last Sunday in Montrondo where it rained all day.  Whilst I wrote my blog there, Eladio and his beloved brother José Antonio spent their time trying to install the beds in our miniscule bedrooms as well as other fixtures around the house.  Both of them are good with their hands and they got congratulations from all of us when they got the TV working - no mean feat in Montrondo where the signal is weak – with no need for the  the antenna man whose service the next day was cancelled when they finished the job successfully.

On Monday morning I woke up to rain again.  This is what beautiful Montrondo looked like on the walk that morning.
Montrondo in the rain on Monday morning this week
I went with Adela, José Antonio, Dolores but left Pippa behind as it was cold and raining.  I made note to buy her a dog raincoat for successive trips to our village.
Adela, Dolores and Toño on the wet Monday morning walk in Montrondo
Just as I was having my last breakfast in Montrondo that morning after our walk I was surprised to spy a cow in our garden.  Pippa was ambling around and didn’t even notice it!  I suppose it’s a normal thing to happen in the village but to me it looked like a Milka advert and I just had to take a photo to share with you.  I love the countryside and it’s not every morning you find a cow in your garden is it?
The cow in our garden
Suzy and I had decided to leave for better weather in Madrid and to be here for her post-operation doctor appointment on Wednesday. Eladio had to stay behind as the carpenters, electrician and other contractors were coming to put the final touches on the house.  He would be getting a lift home with José Antonio and Dolores the following week.

We left just after 11 and stopped at Senra to buy bread to take home; a special request from Olivia.
Suzy buying bread for Olivia at the old fashioned bakery in Senra as we left Montrondo
We also had to stop at a chemist shop in Riello to buy car sick tablets for little Pippa who seemed uncomfortable the whole way.  I bought children’s tablets and gave her half a tablet which I coaxed her to eat with a bit of cheese from Suzy’s sandwich.  It helped although she remained awake the whole journey.  Next time I shall give her the tablet an hour before we leave.

We stopped at Rueda for lunch where I indulged in a half platter of ham with a glass of delicious verdejo Rueda wine.  We ate outside so that Pippa could be with us and I fed her tiny bits of ham and bread which she polished down in a jiffy.  She is generally not a good eater; or rather she is not fond of her dry dog food and is a very slow eater.  Later in the week I went to a pet shop in Majadahonda to find pet food she might like better and came away with Royal Canin especially for dachshunds.  She loves it!  They didn’t stock rain coats for dogs unfortunately as it’s still the summer here.
Lunch in Rueda, outside this time
As we were driving home I spied photos of Suzy’s friends from “la manada” who had gone to Thailand unfortunately without her.  Rocío, Anita, Elena, Chati and Carolina are missing her and they send her messages every day.  I feel so sorry for Suzy missing the trip and losing all the money for the ticket and hotels but she is taking it very well.  Her attitude is laudable.
4 of Suzy's friends in Thailand, from left to right: Carolina, Ana, Elena and Rocio (pink shorts)
We were home at about 4.30 in the afternoon and Oli was here waiting for us, as were my Father, Salud, our home-help and our dogs Elsa and Norah.  Leaving Eladio in Montrondo was strange for me but on the bright side I had a real girly week ahead to look forward to.  As I said to them; whilst the cat’s away the mice will play.  Eladio is the one who runs the safety of this house and he always checks the doors and windows before going to bed and when we have all taken to our bedrooms he puts the alarm on.  I realized just as I was going to bed that perhaps we had to do this job and asked Suzy to check the doors and windows and to make sure Phoebe our cat was outside (otherwise the alarm goes off at night).  She remarked that whilst Eladio was away I was the captain.  I laughingly agreed and went off to do the job as I have done every night during his absence.

Monday was a quiet day spent catching up with my work whilst accompanied by Suzy who was applying for jobs online.  That day Geoffrey Brindley died in hospital on Monday, 11 days after suffering a stroke at home in Baildon. He was the Bradford Jesus man I wrote about last week had.  He was aged 88 and the whole of Bradford is in mourning for his death.  RIP the robe and sandal Jesus man I will never forget.  I hope you get the sendoff you deserve in Bradford and I wish I could be there.  Thanks for all those times you waved to me and smiled at me as you walked along Manningham Lane.
The Bradford Jesus Man.  R.I.P.
On Tuesday, I accompanied Suzy to the dentist, determined to spend as much time as possible with her whilst she is recovering from the operation.  She went to a new clinic run by two boys (men I suppose is the right word now) she went to school with who are now experienced dentists: Alex and Santiago.  I think her first kiss was to Alex but only she would know.  It was amazing to see him after all these years.  He is so tall and of course a grown man.  Before setting up the clinic with his brother he studied and worked in New York where he met his wife a girl from Taiwan.  He refused to charge Suzy for his services!  Afterwards we went to have a cup of coffee at a place called Atuel in Majadahonda and here I indulged in a superb fresh fruit covered pastry which you can see in the photo below.  Thankfully Suzy shared it with me otherwise I would not have had any appetite for lunch that day.
Coffee and cake with Suzy at Atuel in Majadahonda this week
We did some food shopping that day too as our cupboards were pretty bare and then went home for lunch with my Father.  Suzy had some of the sushi she bought at Carrefour.  I am glad to see her heeding the doctors’ advice to skip her vegan diet and get stronger by eating animal protein.  She was very weak a month ago with low red blood cells and iron which are a consequence of the vegan diet. 

It was that morning that we went to the pet shop, Petuluku, too where I bought the pet food for Pippa.  I also bought her a new toy.  She loved it as you can see in the photo below.  However I later regretted it as it was full of nylon threads which she got out with her teeth and ended up being strewn all over the carpets and floors.
Pippa and the new toy
On Wednesday I went with Suzy to the hospital for her appointment.  Once again thanks to Juan, Rocío’s father, who has been a brick opening all the doors for us and treating us like his family.  We were so glad to hear that in the biopsy there was nothing malignant.  They were a bit worried about the inflammation and are still looking for the cause.  Suzy was also warned about her red blood count which is very low (3 million vs a normal 5m) and which could have affected her immune system.  The doctor told her to stick to a proper diet, including animal protein – until at least December when he will be seeing her again. 

I went home to catch up on lots of work; mostly to do with my current big project, the Yoigo summer party for 250 people in El Rocío in South West Spain in September.  In the afternoon Suzy and I did a girly thing and went to have a pedicure and manicure respectively.  Meanwhile in Montrondo, Eladio was supervising the installation of the wooden staircase which he had insisted was to be made of chestnut, quite an expensive wood.  I would have been happy enough with pinewood but not so Eladio.  Here is the photo he sent me.  
The staircase was put in the house in Montrondo this week
Now all that remains to be done is to put in the interior doors and install the kitchen which hopefully should happen towards the middle of September. 

The three dogs are very happy that all three “girls” are at home, i.e, Suzy, Oli and I.  I observed them that day playing together with one of their blankets and the new toy, a plastic orange grenade.  Later I posted a photo of Pippa who had won it over for herself.  She is a bit bossy and a friend of mine said on Facebook that she was beginning to feel sorry for Norah and Elsa.  She is right, I must pay more attention to them and a little less to Pippa, at least in front of them.
The three dogs playing together
It was on Wednesday when the world went into shock after seeing live footage of two American TV journalists in Virginia being shot dead whilst doing a live TV report. A disgruntled former employee, Flanagan, who had felt he had been a victim of racism, shot 17 rounds from a glock pistol at reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward during a live interview.  They died immediately.  Flanagan ran off to his car, uploaded the video of the killing which he had filmed himself on to You Tube and subsequently took his own life. The woman being interviewed was the only survivor of the shooting.  Once again the argument for and against the possession of weapons in the US is being questioned the world around.  It’s a pretty mad world isn’t it?  My daughter Olivia who is a TV reporter was especially shocked as you can imagine.
The live TV interview in Virginia this week when the TV reporter and cameraman were shot and killed
That night Suzy and I had dinner at a new fish restaurant in Majadahonda called Panorama.  Oli who came home late was too tired to join us.  We loved the décor but the service was rather slow and I was not that keen with the items on the menu.  However other people must have been as the place was packed.

On Thursday whilst I had breakfast my preordered kindle edition of Ingrid Seward’s new book, The Queen’s Speech, arrived.  I love reading royal biographies probably because I was brought up in England when the Royal Family was so popular – not so much these days. I am no longer a royalist but am still fascinated with books about the behind the doors stories of the Queen and her family.
One of this week's new books
That morning too, after recommendations from my friend Sandra, I bought another kindle book, The Girl on the Train, a very different genre indeed but one I like too.  It is apparently one of this year’s bestsellers and is being compared to Gone Girl. It is a psychological thriller by the British author Paula Hawkins and I am looking forward to reading it.  Being a British thriller and not an American one I expect a lot more from it and look forward to reading it after The Queen’s Speech.
The other book I bought for my kindle this week
That morning I was busy working on the last minute details of the programme and invitation, as well as the registration website for the Yoigo summer party in El Rocío.  The worst part, the guest list, always falls to me and it’s a job I hate.  But finally the list was ready and I sent the invitation and programme with the link to the website that morning.  I heaved a sigh of relief as soon as I had finished.

When I had finished I set upon making potato salad for lunch and to take to the dinner with the girls’ cousins that night. The recipe comes from my grandfather and was passed on to me.  He was Russian and potato salad in Spanish is called Russian salad funnily enough.  If you are interested it is made of chopped up boiled potatoes, carrots, peas, spring onion, boiled eggs and tuna fish.  The mayonnaise is also home made and the final result is always delicious.  I didn’t decorate it this time but it does look better if it is.
The potato salad I made this week from my Grandfather's recipe.
It went down very well at the dinner with the cousins that night.  The girls’ cousins who live in Madrid, Sara, Juan, his partner Cris and their baby Gael, Paula, her  boyfriend Pedro who are to be married next year and Alicia, my goddaughter were meeting together to see Suzy and celebrate the success of her operation.  We were also celebrating the future birth of another baby in the family. Needless to say I invited myself along and was the only “Aunt” there.  We had dinner at José Antonio and Dolores’ house in the block of flats in Madrid where we used to live many years ago.  Whenever I go there it is a like a trip down memory lane.  The girls probably won’t remember much as we moved out when they were 3 and 4.  It was a lovely reunion dinner and a chance for the cousins to see each other which doesn’t happen too often, especially as this year both Suzy and Oli missed the annual family gathering in Montrondo.  Here is a photo of all of us taken by Ali and for which I have permission from them to publish in my blog post this week hahaha.
Dinner with the cousins on Thursday night in Madrid
Whilst we were having a lovely time at the flat a dreadful tragedy was unfolding in Austria when a lorry was found with 71 dead migrants inside who had suffocated inside the unventilated and cramped vehicle.  Rather than migrants these poor people who are mostly from Syria or Afghanistan should be seen as refugees fleeing warzones or conflict of some sort rather than illegal immigrants.   They don't want to leave their countries but circumstances force them.  They somehow get to Greece and from there human traffickers bring them illegally in appalling conditions to Western Europe where their main destination is either Germany or the UK – we have seen similar scenes in Calais and of course the island of Lampedusa in Italy or Melilla in Spanish Africa.  The rich world shuts their frontiers to them or sends them back but they keep coming and risk their lives to do so.  What the rich world often forgets is that their countries were often made up of immigrants (take the US as the big example) who now turn their backs on these people.  I always relate to the plight of refugees as my Mother’s whole family fled Russia during the Russian revolution and became refugees themselves.  When the Second World War finished my own Mother could not return to her host country Bulgaria which had become communist, thus never seeing her Father again.  She took a train to London and arrived as a refugee despite her aristocratic background.  She was penniless and in order to become a legal resident had to work cleaning people’s houses or cleaning in hospitals for 2 years before she was able to take a job with the BBC as a radio commentator for the BBC World Service for its Bulgarian programme.  Her brothers and sisters were scattered around the world living and starting a life in Canada, New York, Paris and Munich.  The difference is that then the frontiers were open to them and they didn’t have to get to these places illegally like the poor refugees who died last week in a cramped lorry in Austria.
The lorry where the 7 1 dead refugees were found in Austria this week
On Friday both girls joined me on my walk in the morning and we took all three dogs. It was Suzy’s first walk since her operation and I could see she has recovered very well.  I suppose her age is in her favour.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is a selfie of us and the dogs.

I had a conference call that morning and a lot of issues of guests for our summer party to deal with.  In the afternoon Suzy and I went to do the proper weekly food shopping and she was amazed at the amount I buy and spend.  The explanation is that there are five of us living here permanently plus 3 dogs and a cat.  We get through a lot of fruit and I think I must be the green grocer’s best customer or so he tells me. We bought a bit more than usual as the girls were having guests for dinner that night.  Nacho who had worked for Suzy in London and Juli who is a sort of surrogate son or brother were both coming.  We had a lovely meal which included my now very popular open Swedish prawn sandwich, humus and meat and tuna pies.  We had such a great time we all forgot to take photos.

I was having a truly girly week enjoying the girls’ company but by Saturday I was missing Eladio.  He is never away from home.  If anyone is away it is me and the feeling is a bit strange.  I asked him for a photo outside the new house in Montrondo for this week’s post and here it is. He is very happy there working with his brother José Antonio but now he is ready to come home which won’t be until next Tuesday I am afraid.
Eladio outside our house in Montrondo yesterday
On Saturday morning I went for a walk with Olivia.  She took this great shot of me with the three dogs together just before we left.
With all 3 dogs about to go on our walk with Olivia yesterday
Suzy preferred to stay behind with Juli who doesn’t like walks and of all the things they could have chosen to do they decided upon table tennis.  They were still playing when we got back. Here is a photo of the two of them.
Suzy with Juli yesterday playing table tennis.
After a lovely lunch together, I spent the afternoon reading by the pool.  Suzy had another guest, this time a girl called Monica who had lived with her at their awful digs in Whitechapel.  I was waiting for my great friend Fátima to come too but she was late as always.  We were going out to dinner on our own.  We chose De María, an Argentinian restaurant in Majadahonda.  We were there until way past midnight.  It was great catching up with my oldest Spanish friend who worked with me both at Motorola and Nokia where she still works.  She is also my neighbour but we don’t see much of each other as we are both so busy.  Her daughter has just left to spend a year in the US, so I do hope she will have more time on her hands for more girly dinners or time together. 

When I got home I suddenly remembered that last night there would be a super moon.  It’s the first of three happening this year. Unfortunately it was a bit cloudy last night and I didn’t get a good shot on my camera.
Yesterday's super moon somewhere in the world
And today is Sunday and I am back to the beginning of this post which I started this morning by the pool with the girls.  I left off writing till they went and I am now sitting under the covered terrace whilst a thunderstorm is in the making.  Today the temperature reached 36ºc, so I hope the rain brings the temperatures down over the next few days.

Today is 30th August, the end of the Spanish August holiday as most people here take their holiday this month.  It will be back to work for most people tomorrow.  I am already back to work but taking it in my stride and working peacefully from home.  I am going to be very busy for the next three weeks working on our big summer party. Wish me luck that all goes well.  It usually does but all events have their hitches.

So I will leave you now, publish this, print off a copy for my father and then read a bit until it is time for diner, alone this time. 

I wish you all a good week ahead,

Cheers till next time


Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Bradford Jesus man, orchids from Thailand, the waiting is over and it’s good news, 32 years of marriage, to Montrondo with Suzy, the furniture came, buying bread in Senra and other stories.

Sunday 23rd August 2015

Suzy at the hospital on Tuesday after the operation surrounded by friends and family
Hi everyone,

Here I am writing again from Montrondo.  It’s a rainy Sunday and whilst everyone is having a siesta it’s the perfect time to write my blog.  It has been a very up and down week as you will find out if you continue reading.

On Monday, my fasting day, there was an item of news that caught my attention.  It was about a man from Bradford in Yorkshire where I grew up called Geoffrey Brindley now aged 88.  He apparently had a stroke after a fall and was in intensive care.  When I saw the photos of him I recognized the man immediately.  I always knew him as the “Bradford Jesus” man who used to walk the streets dressed in a habit and sandals, come rain or shine and used to wave and smile at all and sundry.
The Bradford Jesus Man
I used to think he was a bit of a madman but this week I read that in the 60’s he got a message from God.  He went to live in a cave and meditated for 12 days after which he began walking the streets and has never stopped until he had the fall.  I pray for his recovery.  He was and is a symbol of the city that no Bradfordian could ever forget.
On Monday, a beautiful plant arrived for Suzy.  They were orchids from Thailand that dearest Jackie, John, Rafi and Tal had sent to my oldest daughter the day before her operation.  Jackie knew Suzy had to give up her much looked forward to trip to Thailand with her friends Rocío, Ana, Elena, Chati and Ana because of the operation. So they sent her “something from Thailand” to make up a bit for the lost trip.  What a beautiful thought behind the present!
The orchids from Thailand
That very same day, ironically, there were 2 bombs that exploded in the Thai capital, one of them near a temple much visited by tourists in the centre.  It killed at least 20 people and was directed at tourists.  It was easy to guess the perpetrator. Isis of course.  It felt funny that it had been Suzy’s destination and that now she wasn’t going.  Many people have cancelled their trips there but not the “manada” who will be there by now.  I wish them a safe trip and a wonderful time, albeit without my darling daughter.

Suzy arrived late that night.  We didn’t get to bed until past midnight and had to be up really early the next day to be at the hospital by 7 a.m.  The waiting was nearly over but not quite.  The worst was to come, the last few hours before the operation was over.  I told you Suzy had been diagnosed with endometriosis, a 4cm cyst in her left ovary and a smaller cyst in the right.  What I didn’t tell you here in this blog was that there was also a tumour on the left cyst and that the cancer markers were very high.  So, yes, she and all of us have been worried sick since we got the news at the end of July.  Originally the operation would have taken place after her trip to Thailand but because of the tumour markers, it was put forward to 18th August.  Those 3 weeks seemed eternal.  Suzy went back to London to work to work and keep her mind occupied with other things.  We went to Montrondo and to Santa Pola but there was always a cloud hanging over us as you can imagine. 

We were in the best of hands at the hospital.  Juan, Rocio’s father, is the head anesthetist and he would be in the operation which would be directed by the chief “Manolo”, the gynecologist,a doctor we trusted from the very start because of his experience and bed side manner.  He was a darling.  Soon Suzy was taken away from us and we had to endure nearly 3 hours of waiting without knowing the outcome; scared stiff of course. The operation was to be a laparoscopy, it would last 2 hours and Suzy would be given a general anesthetic which she would be having for the first time. I spent the time on my phone exchanging whatsapp messages with my friends and family and praying. 

When the operation was over, both doctors came out to tell us the outcome and it was good and I nearly cried with joy.  In fact at that moment I felt I was a believer and wanted to thank God and my darling Mother (RIP) to whom I had prayed constantly.  They told us the Pathologist had said the tumour did not look at all malignant (we will have the full results in the middle of September). Thus, Suzy did not have cancer, oh joy of joys.  They had removed the whole of the left ovary as it was completely invaded by the cyst as well as the left fallopian tube.  The right ovary was in perfect shape, not so the right fallopian tube which was damaged.  The damage did not come from endometriosis as the gynochologist had feared but from some past and unknown inflammation and also from adhesions which had stuck her ovaries to her intestines.  The doctor also removed them during the operation. This means that Suzy will be able to be a Mother although she will need help when the time comes.  Thanks to Juan we were able to see her straight after we got the news.  She was very groggy but awake and able to understand when I told her she didn’t have cancer.  She cried and I did too, but they were tears of joy.
Suzy with her father just after the operation
We spent the rest of the day by her bedside where we joined by Olivia and Miguel.  Later some of some of her friends came and we made quite a noise.  Suzy was chirpy and felt no pain as she was being fed pain killers.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Suzy in hospital surrounded by her friends. We spent the rest of the day with her until we were literally asked to leave. Suzy was not in pain and we gave her dinner before leaving the hospital.  I must admit I was exhausted and so was Eladio.  There was not much to eat at home as I hadn’t done the food shopping for some time (my mind was on Suzy and not on domestic tasks) so we decided to join Oli and Miguel at a lovely place in Majadahonda called El Retoque, a place I highly recommend.

The pain only came the next day and most of it was from wind in her upper body because of the gas injected during the laparoscopy.  As soon as we had finished breakfast on Wednesday morning, Eladio and I headed for the hospital keen to see Suzy and Manuel who would be giving us instructions about her recovery. She took her first steps at midday after which she was discharged and we took her home.

Suzy came home in much pain. She found it difficult to walk and could not bend down.  We put her straight to bed.  Thankfully by lunchtime she was able to make it downstairs and we had a family meal.  My Father was delighted to see her again and to get the good news. 

That afternoon I did the food shopping helped by Miguel and Olivia.  Meanwhile the fruit and flower basket I had ordered for Suzy as a get well present from the family came.  I had ordered it from “Las Naranjas de la China” and this is what it looked like.
The fruit and flower basket from Naranjas de la China
With it came a tin of Crabtree and Evelyn white chocolate and raspberry biscuits.  I have to admit I actually bought 10 more as they are hard to come by!  I brought 3 to Montrondo; one for Dolores, one for Adela and one for Marta.
My favourite biscuits - thanks Naranjas de la China
That evening Juli, the girls’ great friend, came for dinner and Suzy with the pain receding enjoyed a lovely family gathering.  You can’t imagine how good I felt. As Suzy is off her vegan diet and eating fish and eggs (she has been told to follow a strict protein and iron diet to recover faster), I prepared a lovely Swedish dinner; a platter of salmon and prawns on toast which I think is called skagen.
The family dinner with Swedish food the night after Suzy's operation.  I was so happy
On Thursday Suzy felt a lot better although she still had some pain and felt a bit weak.  It was that morning a famous Spanish woman comedian called Lina Morgan died.  I was never a fan of hers but she was something of a national icon.  Olivia reported live that afternoon from the comedian’s house for her TV programme.  Miguel was on site and sent me this photo of Olivia reporting.
Olivia reporting live on the death of Lina Morgan this week
I skipped work that day to spend all the time I could with Suzy.  Some of her friends from “la manada” came to see her including Rocío, Elena, Teresa and the latter’s boyfriend whose name I cannot remember.  I have to say we had a lovely time and I was pleased to see Suzy enjoying their company. That night we had another family dinner.  This time, instead of Juli, we had the pleasure of Elena’s company. But sorry no photos as I forgot to take any.

Friday 21st was our 32nd wedding anniversary. Fancy being happily married for so many years? Well, that is our case. Although I was completely in love the day we married I could not have known then what a happy marriage we would have.  As I said on facebook that morning, Eladio is my friend, my lover, my companion, my doctor, my teacher, my plumber, my gardener, my electrician and the best husband and father in the world.  I got many remarks to the comment; the best one coming from Vicente who said “the plumber thing is very important” hahaha.
Our wedding day 32 years ago - 21st August 1983
We would be celebrating later that day with a special anniversary lunch at the Parador in Benavente on our way to Montrondo with Suzy.  Suzy would be going with us to the village for a recovery holiday instead of to Thailand with her best friends.  Dear Suzy has been such a brick about it all and I haven’t heard one complaint from her, either about the operation or about missing the trip.  I love her positive attitude. 

Whilst Eladio and I were preparing for the trip, Suzy’s friend Pili from their school days came to have breakfast with her.  I caught both lovely girls on camera and want to share this photo with you.
Pili and Suzy having a very healthy breakfast on Friday
We left at about 11.30 with little Pippa and a very full car.  Apart from our luggage and food we were taking all sorts of things for the new house.  The purpose of the trip for Eladio and I was not actually a normal long weekend there. We were going because on Saturday morning the lorries with all the furniture we had ordered from Ikea were coming from Madrid.  It was rather annoying that the furniture was to be installed inside an unfinished house. The builders have had lots of problems with the carpenters and other suppliers probably because it is August, the holiday month in Spain. The truth is there has been literally no progress on the house since we last came which is infuriating. 

In any case we set off in a very good mood and the three of us looked forward to lunch at the Parador in Benavente.  As usual, both Eladio and I enjoyed the dish of chickpeas we always order there and which are from a village called Fuentesauco, famous for these pulses.
Chickpeas served at the Parador in Benavente
As we left I asked Suzy to take this year’s anniversary picture and here it is.  The difference from other years as that this time little Pippa is in the picture too! – We are no longer 2 but 3 hahaha.
This year's anniversary photo
We got to Montrondo in the middle of the afternoon and arrived to beautiful sunshine.  Waiting for us there were Toño, Dolores and my mother-in-law Ernestina as well as Adela and Primo.  Also waiting for us and for Suzy was Marta, Adela’s daughter and Suzy’s beloved cousin.  Marta and Suzy are very close but don’t see each other very often and both of them were looking forward to catching up.  Of course all the family was dying to see Suzy after the operation and to give her a hug and let their emotions flow.  A few tears of joy were shed that day.
Lovely Marta
The first thing we did after arriving and greeting the family was to show Suzy the “new house”.  She loved it but said she had thought it would be “more finished”.  Well, we did too.  Later we all meandered to Adela’s house to have coffee or tea there which is where we always go.  You see there is no bar, restaurant or shop in the village.
Tea and coffee at Adela's house just after we arrived on Friday
Later I went on the evening walk to Murias and back with some of the family. Suzy has not been up to walks unfortunately. Then it was home for dinner at Toño and Dolores’s where we always stay.  Afterwards Suzy and Marta went down to Murias to the nearest bar, La Palloza.  Here is a photo of them enjoying the evening with other friends from Montrondo including J.M, Suzy’s childhood friend from the village.
Suzy and Marta with their friends in Murias on Friday night
It rained overnight but was dry on Saturday morning when I woke up at 07.20.  I had a coffee with Pippa by our house where we now have internet.  At 8 am I was on the daily morning walk to Murias and back with Toño and Dolores. We had breakfast with Eladio, Suzy and the “abuela” when we got back and very shortly afterwards the carpenters arrived.  We could hardly believe they were there after having laid half the floor 3 weeks or so ago and not coming back since.  They promised me all the floors and the staircase would be finished by next Tuesday.  As soon as they arrived, lo and behold, the 2 Ikea lorries from Madrid arrived followed by our builders. I have never seen so much activity at the house and Eladio was as busy as a bee and happy as little boy with new shoes the whole day.  I was happy of course, but didn’t like seeing the furniture being installed in an unfinished house.  I will love it when it is all finished but do not get much joy from the process, particularly as it has taken so long (nearly 1.5 years now).
Furniture arriving on Saturday morning
I left Eladio to it and went to have coffee at Adela’s place again.  Marta took this great photo of the ladies’ coffee morning.  Beyond their house you can see the potatoes my English friend Keith helped to plant when he and Lorraine were here earlier in the year.
Coffee at Adela's
That day I made English style fish and chips for everyone which is sort of funny here in Montrondo.  However every single piece of fish and all the chips were polished off by all.  The same happened to the gigantic Eton Mess I made.  Here is the family about to devour the fish and chips around the table at Toño and Dolores’ house.
I made fish and chips for everyone on Saturday
Whilst everyone slept off the food Suzy and I sunbathed outside.  Later we went to Adela’s place again, this time to have tea.  That evening in nearby Murias de Paredes Adela’s neighbor and our friend Manolita was starring in a comedy play called “Rabbits”.  When I got there the place was so full there were no seats left.  When Suzy arrived all we could do was take a photo of the play starring our friend and leave as we could hardly see over people’s heads.  I heard later it was a great success.  Manolita was a star and is a super actress. As I was leaving I was approached by a polite middle aged man called Leopoldo who told me he read my blog.  He wanted me to write more about Murias de Paredes and not so much about Montrondo.  I was very flattered he read my blog but I don’t know much about Murias although I walk there every day.  In the past though I do know that for Eladio’s family going to Murias was like going to the big town and they would get dressed up to go.  Today there are probably no more than 40 people living in Murias. There are about 15 in Montrondo.  Thanks Leopoldo for approaching me and thanks for reading my blog. 
Manolita in the play yesterday in Murias
Whilst the play was going on Suzy, Nuba, Pippa and I went to La Palloza for a cup of coffee.  We got talking to an 8 year old boy called Manu who would have loved to stroke little Pippa.  I’m afraid Pippa doesn’t take kindly to strangers, which is very embarrassing for me.  She has an instinctive protective spirit and barks at anyone she doesn’t know.  Here is a photo of Suzy bringing the coffees to our table whilst we waited for the play to finish.
Suzy bringing the coffee at La Palloza yesterday in Murias
This morning rain threatened on our walk.  Today I went with Toño, Dolores and Adela as well as all 3 dogs.  Here is a photo of the 3 women by the Montrondo sign on our way back.
With Dolores and Adela on our walk this morning
I made fabada (bean stew) for lunch and whilst it was bubbling on Dolores’ hob, Suzy and I went again to Adela’s house for a cup of coffee.  We also went to say goodbye to Marta who was leaving for Ponferrada where she lives.  We could have gone to mass today like the rest of the village but preferred to go to Senra, the next village after Murias, to buy bread.

It’s quite an experience buying bread in Senra where the bakery seems to have existed for more than a century.  This was where Eladio and José Antonio had to walk to buy bread for all the family to last a few days.  Their load was very heavy and Eladio, being the oldest and the strongest always carried a heavier load than José Antonio who was younger and not a good eater.  So every time I go to buy bread at Senra, apart from enjoying the romance of an old fashioned bakery, the image of the two young brothers comes to mind.  On the spur of the moment I asked Dolores to take a photo of me outside the bakery with the 2 loaves of bread and here I am.  It’s a great picture. Thanks Dolores. I should add too that the bread from Senra is the best in the area.
Buying bread in Senra this morning
For lunch we were 8 around the table at Toño and Dolores’ house.  Apart from my fabada, Adela had made a lovely rice and ribs dish which we polished off.  It started raining again just around lunch time and has not stopped since.  Just as I was half way through writing this post, Pili (Eladio’s youngest sister) and her husband Andrés, arrived to pick up Trebol their dalmation dog which had been pining for Pili since she left last Thursday.  They had been away in Málaga visiting their daughter Paula’s future in-laws. 
Pili and Paula in Málaga this week
They couldn’t stop for long as Pili starts work again tomorrow but there was time for tea and coffee before they went.  There was also time to show them the progress on our house with all the new furniture. 

Tomorrow Suzy and I will be leaving for Madrid.  Eladio’s staying behind as there are many tasks for him to do around the house. He also has to see the TV man, the electrician and hopefully the builders will show their faces again.  They may even come from Ikea this week to install the kitchen.

We need to get home to be with Oli who is pretty alone and also for our home help Salud to take her two days off. Also Suzy has an appointment at the hospital on Wednesday morning. But of course I will be telling you all about next week next Sunday or maybe Monday as on Sunday week Suzy will be returning to London and I want to spend as much remaining time as I can with her and with Oli of course.  I can foresee a lot of quality girly time this week coming.

Meanwhile I wish you all a great week.  Happy holidays for some and sorry if any of you are still at work or returning to work.

Cheers till next time

A very happy and relieved Masha

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Leaving Montrondo, home again, off to Santa Pola, Spain no country for dogs, the crime of Cuenca, history in the making in Havana, shopping with Jackie at a British supermarket, back to Madrid and a lovely welcome from Norah and Elsa, Carolina Marin did it again and other stories.

Sunday 16th August 2015

On the lighthouse walk with Pippa in Gran Alacant
Hi everyone,

It’s Sunday again and blog day.  Last week I wrote from Montrondo.  After publishing my blog post, Eladio, Toño, Dolores and I went to Senra to get bread for lunch and also to have a cup of coffee at the only bar there called Cumbres de Omaña run by a very grumpy owner. 
Eladio with Pippa and his next brother down Toño in Senra last Sunday
Meanwhile Pili stayed behind to take her Mother to mass.  Mass in Montrondo is the only “entertainment” and is the occasion for locals to go out, dress up and chit chat after church.  Here is a photo of Pili standing on her balcony all ready to take her Mother out.
Pili ready to go to mass last Sunday in Montrondo
It was to be Pippa’s last few hours in Montrondo too.  She had a great time as the village is certainly a great place for dogs compared to most public places in Spain – more about that later.  One of her favourite spots is Toño and Dolores’s wooden rail sleeper steps that lead up to her house and I caught her on camera looking as sweet as she is in real life.
Pippa loves Montrondo
We left after a short siesta and were home by 9.30pm where Olivia was waiting for us as were the other dogs, Norah and Elsa.  The best thing about coming home is always being able to sleep in your own bed and ours is the best in the world, for us, at least. 

On Monday morning on my walk I realized how the temperatures had dropped compared to the previous week; but never as low as they can get in Montrondo of course.  Here I am on that first walk after coming home, complete with my earphones to listen to music via Spotify.
About to go on my walk last Monday morning
I had a lot of work to do that day.  We were to announce a tiny increase in the setup fee in our lower end tariffs, from 18.5 cents to 20 cents, more in line with the market but we got a lot of stick from consumers on Facebook and Twitter which was to be suspected.  We dealt with it as best we could but it wasn’t an easy task.  Yoigo brought cheap mobile phone prices to an expensive market in 2006 and has been lowering them ever since and a one and a half cent increase is only in line with the market and makes the tariffs more viable for us.  Water, petrol and electricity bills go up; so I think it’s fair that after nearly 9 years an increase of 1.5 cents is understandable and that companies have to make money and do not exist to offer free phones and free data and voice tariffs; something people tend to forget.

That evening I read more of the Grant County book series by Karin Slaughter as I tried to keep my mind off Suzy’s pending operation.  The waiting is the worst part.

On Tuesday I read with astonishment that 2 people were stabbed to death in an Ikea store in its home market Sweden.  It’s very rare to hear stories like this one from such a peaceful country.  It would have made great material for a new book by Stieg Larsson if he had lived.  I’m sure.

That morning whilst I was reading the news on my iPad having breakfast, I learned that Google is to be called Alphabet or rather that the holding company will be called Alphabet; Google just being a part of it.  As a communications person I’m not sure that makes much sense as the Google brand is so strong I`m pretty certain it will carry on being called that by everyone.

But the most interesting news, for me at least that morning, was when I learned that Atul Kochhar, the only Indian chef with a Michelin star, is to open a “colonial style” restaurant called Benarés (same name as the famous Ganges town aka Varanasi) in Madrid in September. Now I am looking forward to that.  I love Indian food and am keen to see how this endeavor goes down with Spaniards who do not like hot and spicy food.  Will he tone it down to meet their palates I wonder?
Atul Kochhar the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star.  He will be opening a restaurant called Benares in Madrid soon
We left for Santa Pola, a 420km drive, and arrived at our flat in Gran Alacant (an urbanization some 4k from Santa Pola on the Alicante road) just after 2. After a quick clean up and unpacking I made a makeshift lunch of steak and salad washed down by gazpacho.  It was very hot and humid, more than usual even for August so I kept taking a shower the effects of which didn’t last more than about 10 minutes.  

Apart from unpacking and cleaning and having lunch, one of my first tasks was to set up my office.  The dining room table doubles as my work space at the flat as you can see from this photo.
My working space at the flat is part of the dining room table
After lunch and a siesta we sat on our cool terrace which thankfully doesn’t get the sun in the afternoon.  Here is Eladio with Pippa on the terrace where we read and drank tea until it was time to go to the beach.
Eladio with Pippa on our terrace in Gran Alacant 
We always avoid going to the beach in the middle of the day because of the heat, the crowds and the impossibility to park, so that day we went down at 7.30 pm. 
Our beach  .  you can see the apartments where we live on the cliff at the end of the photo
On the signs with rules about the beach it was clear dogs were not allowed.  When we were last there in March we never spied the sign and saw lots of dogs on the beach. So I told Eladio it was probably a rule that most people broke.  Unwillingly he agreed to take Pippa down to the beach but from then on was worried about what people would say.  Most people thought she was gorgeous and didn’t seem to worry. However she did appear to be the only dog there.  We took her for a walk on her leash and not on the beach shore where people were which made it very difficult for us to walk.  Eladio, seeming more British than I, decided we should give up on the walk and go home as he didn’t like breaking the rule about no dogs on the beach.  So, no beach for poor Pippa and it got worse.  There were signs too in the gardens of our complex forbidding dogs.  That rule I passed on.
Spain is no country for dogs in public places
We tried taking her to the communal swimming pool which didn’t seem to feature forbidding dogs in its list of rules.  But as soon as we walked in, an unpleasant man who was an obvious dog hater told us we shouldn’t have brought her in.  When we protested saying there was no rule in the list about dogs, he answered it was common sense not to take them there.  Eladio obeyed and I stayed behind feeling furious with the country I love, Spain which I now know is “no country for dogs”.  Many people have dogs in Spain but animals in general here are not revered and have never been so.  Especially animals in the villages where they often roam free and are not fed on a regular basis.  The English, on the other hand, adore animals be they dogs, cats, horses or donkeys and their tribulations form part of daily news articles – not so here I can tell you and no self-respecting fireman would be seen dead climbing up a tree either to rescue a cat. I just wish it was the same here but it isn’t and dogs can only enjoy their homes and the countryside until that perhaps will also become forbidden for them.  I sincerely hope not.  As one man commented to me on the beach, Pippa looked a lot cleaner than many people there and I totally agree.

That night we went to dinner to a new restaurant in Gran Alacant, Marandi, recommended to me by Miguel, Oli’s boyfriend.  According to The Fork it is the most popular in the area. It was full of Nordic and French customers.  I didn’t see any Spaniards except the staff.  The meal was good. I had fish and chips (surprised?) but the best part was the dessert which was apple crumble.  The fish and chips were ok but nowhere near the quality of Derby's Chippy which unfortunately we didn't get to go to this time.
The restaurant we went to on our first night at Gran Alacant
That night we slept with the fan on as it was so hot and humid.  The next morning I was up at 7 and after a quick cup of coffee I took Pippa with me for a long walk to the lighthouse on the cliff at the Cape of Santa Pola.  We would do this every morning of our stay.  Sunrise was at 7.30 approx and the views from the cliff are amazing.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Pippa and I at the lighthouse cliff which now boasts a new and rather ugly pathway and balcony to take in the views of the nearby inhabited island of Tabarca.  I didn’t like it and neither did Pippa.
Sunrise by the lighthouse on one of my morning walks.
We spent most of the day in the flat and went down to the beach again in the evening, this time without Pippa who had to stay alone in the flat poor sweetie. That night we were expecting to see lots of shooting stars in the skies thanks to the Perseid Meteor shower which was much advertised on TV.  Unfortunately it was too cloudy and I never got to see them.  They were supposed to peak on the 11th, 12th and 13th August.

But the main news in Spain both last week and this week has been a crime in Cuenca, a quiet inland provincial capital in between Madrid and Alicante.  Two young girls, Laura del Hoyo aged 24 and her Ukranian friend Marina Okarynska went missing the week before and their bodies were found on Wednesday night covered in quicklime by a passerby.  The autopsy proved their death had been violent and the cause strangulation.  At the same time Laura’s ex-boyfriend Sergio Morate disappeared too and is the prime suspect of the crime.  Previously he had been in prison for kidnapping and torturing an ex-girlfriend.  Laura had gone to his flat to pick up her things and was accompanied by Marina.  Sergio was found the next day in Romania when he switched on his mobile phone. 
Laura and Marina RIP
Crimes like this are uncommon in Spain and the news has shocked the country.  Even the suspect’s family has disowned him. Whatever could have been his motive? There is a famous film in Spain which is actually called El Crimen de Cuenca (the crime of Cuenca) and in many articles this week the story has been called the crime of Cuenca.  It’s a bit ironic as Cuenca is a sleepy little town where not much happens.

Olivia covered the story and the next day was sent to Cuenca to the funeral parlour along with most of the Spanish press.  Coincidentally her boyfriend who is a cameraman for Spanish TVE in the Valencia region was also there.  That was the happy story of the day.
Olivia with Miguel and one of his colleagues in Cuenca where they coincided on Thursday
On Thursday after my walk and breakfast Eladio and I decided to go the beach in the morning too before it got too hot or the crowds appeared.  It turned out to be a great decision as the water at that time in the morning is much cooler and the walk along the beach more pleasant without so many people.  Here is a photo of Eladio setting up our parasol and chairs.
Eladio setting up our space on the beach one morning
We then came home to let little Pippa out.  We took her to the new market which is comes on Thursdays and is now located diagonally across from where we live.  This is just some of the lovely fruit we bought.
Fruit bought from the local market
Then we had a boring task to do; go to Alicante to the estate agent for our block of flats to get a new clicker for the car park as ours had stopped working.  Once back in Gran Alacant, we did a bit of shopping at a new supermarket called Urbine which stocks some very good food as well as a lot of British produce.  There are so many Brits in Gran Alacant which is why many of the local supermarkets stock UK products.  That makes me very happy.  I stocked up on Sharwoods curry sauces and crumpets at Quicksave across the way from our flat.

Meanwhile in London Suzy was seeing an EENT (ear eyes nose and throat) specialist as she had an ear plug stuck up her ear since the beginning of July and which the local GP couldn’t remove.  It had bothered her for more than a month, plus of course she couldn’t hear with that ear. At the same time the consultant examined her throat to see the polyp there.  It will be removed in September.  They also discovered her blood pressure was very low; not a good thing for her operation next week. I suspect it is because of the vegan diet and she needs lots of iron and protein to be fit for the laparoscopy and recovery.

Poor Suzy, she has lots of health issues at the moment.  On the bright side she has lots of hope for her professional future after an interview with a job agency which specializes in health care professionals.  One of the things he told her is that London is saturated for jobs and that it would be easier to find one outside London.  He also said that if she worked for a hospital as a locum dietitian she would be entitled to hospital accommodation at a very reasonable price.  I have been telling both her and lots of other young Spaniards seeking their fortune in London, that they really should try their luck elsewhere.  I recently read and commented here that in Yorkshire for example in just one year there had been more jobs created there than in the whole of France. 

That night Eladio and I went out to dinner to Batiste, the best in town in Santa Pola.  We wanted to have an “arroz a banda” (rice dish similar to a paella but in my opinion much nicer) before we left.  This is what it looked like.
The arroz a banda we had at Batiste.
We would have far preferred to go to our favourite restaurant of all in the area, Maria Picola but for some unknown reason it has closed.  I do hope it's not closed permanently.

Friday was much like Thursday.  I was up at 06.45 and the visibility on our walk that morning was super.  We could see the island of Tabarca very clearly, well I could. I’m not sure about Pippa haha. I was rather surprised to find a completely naked man in his 40’s or 50’s doing exercise up on the cliff by the lighthouse.  He even said good morning to which I replied but looking the other way.  Later I saw him walking off with his shorts on thank goodness. I suspect he didn’t expect to find anyone else so early on the walk.  Well he did didn’t he?
Friday was much like Thursday for us but for my nephew Miguel who lives in Havana and for Cuba, the United States and the International community it was a historic day.  Miguel lived history that day when he witnessed the hoisting of the US flag at the newly opened US Embassy in the Cuban capital. It had been closed for 54 years. The ceremony was presided over by John Kerry, the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years.  Apart from the significance of the opening of the Embassy which is part of the thaw in relations, what I found most newsworthy about the occasion was that the US flag which was raised last Friday was presented by the same US marines who brought it down in 1961.  That is one hell of a story.

Photos posted by Miguel (in green) outside the US Embassy when the flag was hoisted - an historic moment he will never forget

Saturday was our last day.  I was up even earlier than usual at 06.30 and went on my last walk to the lighthouse with Pippa.
The lighhouse we walked to every morning (Pippa and I)
By 9 in the morning Eladio and I were on the beach for the last time until we go back.  Here is a selfie of the two of us just after our last bathe.

A selfie with Eladio just after our last bathe on Saturday morning
We went for a quick walk along the uncrowded beach until it was time to return.
On the walk on the beach on Saturday morning
On my return from the beach I always went to the pool for a quick dip before having a shower in the flat.  Well on Saturday morning it was completely empty.  I have no idea why.  It’s a lovely pool mostly because of the location, surrounded by a Mediterranean garden and overlooking the bay of Alicante. 
The pool belonging to our block of flats
I couldn’t dally as we had a date with our friends Jackie and John at Guardamar that morning before we left for Madrid.  We met at the port there which is very pretty and had a coffee and a good hour’s chat to catch up on our lives.  I wish it had been longer.  Here are my friends with Eladio by the port yesterday.  I’m very sorry Jackie that we were half an hour late.
John, Eladio and Jackie at the port of Guardamar.
The main mission that morning was to see our friends but Jacky had also offered to take me to the cash and carry in Torrevieja.  However, Saturday was 15th August, a holiday in Spain to celebrate the Assumption so it was closed.  Instead they took us to Iceland in nearby Marina.  It was the biggest British supermarket I have ever seen in Spain and reminded me of Lidl.  Eladio wasn’t very interested of course as he cannot understand my need or craving for certain British products.  I always tell him that if it was the other way round and he lived in England he would want to visit Spanish food shops for sure to which he reluctantly agreed.  Here I stocked up on lots of things for my Father, Olivia and myself, mostly crumpets again in my case. The place was so British even the cashier was from the Isles. Actually he was Scottish and from Glasgow and I could hardly understand a word he said as his glaswegian accent was so thick. Before saying our goodbyes Jackie and I posed outside the shop with our trolleys.  Thanks Eladio for this great photo and thanks Jackie and John for taking us to the Iceland store.
Shopping with Jackie at a big British food store called Iceland in La Marina between Guardamar and Santa Pola

We were soon home as Marina and Guardamar are very near Santa Pola.  As usual, Pippa freaked out when we opened the door, so delighted was she to see us.  As I made lunch, Eladio cleaned the flat and afterwards I did the bathroom and the packing. 

We left our little holiday place at 4.15 and were home by just after 8pm.  On our way home Olivia sent me a photo of her with her ex school friends Begoña, Elena and Sonia.  They were all in the same class and I have known them since they were about 3.  It was Sonia’s 30th birthday last week and they met up to celebrate.  Happy birthday sweet Sonia and welcome to the 30’s to quote Olivia.
From left to right: Sonia, Olivia, Elena and Begoña
Finally the heatwave is over and we came home to a pleasant 28c. It was lovely to be home, to see my Father and Oli and of course the dogs.  They gave us a great welcome as they always do. I’m sure both Elsa our lab and Norah our beagle know that Pippa gets to go away with us and they must be a little jealous.  I always post photos of Pippa on Facebook and feeling guilty I recently posted some lovely ones of Elsa. At Jackie's request yesterday I posted one of Norah too.  The only way to get her to pose, by the way, is holding out a morsel of food haha.  The best photo though is of the three of them queueing up for food from Eladio. 
We got a lovely welcome from the dogs when we got home yesterday.
In the picture Eladio with Norah our beagle left, Pippa in the middle and Elsa our lab on the right.
We slept beautifully last night in our own bed; that is the three of us – Pippa too after a bath haha.  And surprise, surprise I woke up late for me this morning at 8 a.m.  It was this morning whilst I started writing this post that I heard that Carolina Marín the Spanish European and World champion of badminton had done it again.  Today she beat the Indian girl Saina Nehwal to retain the title in the final of the World Badminton Championship in Jakarta and is thus the first European player to win the world championship on two consecutive occasions.  All I can say is well done Carolina.  I love to see Spaniards excel at sport as I think it is the best kind of ambassadorship a country can have for a good image. 
Well done Carolina Marin, badminton world champion for the second year in a row!
That is a very nice story to end this week’s post.  I shall leave you now that I have told you this week’s tales and get on with our family lunch.

Next week will be the week Suzy is operated on, so please all keep your fingers crossed it goes well. We shall not leave her side throughout nor will Juan our Doctor friend who has promised he will make sure she is treated like a queen.  Isn’t that reassuring?

So folks, lots of good vibes until next time

PS here is the full collection of photos of our stay in Gran Alacant this week