Saturday, January 02, 2016

What’s with the weather? Spanish April Fools’ Day, Dinner at Julio’s, farewell Suzy, goodbye 2015 hello 2016, New Year's Eve and snow in Montrondo, friends for lunch and other things.

Sunday 3rd January 2016
Happy New Year to you all from my family and I
Hello again from Montrondo

It is actually the last day of the year and I have decided to start writing my last post of the year now as I probably won’t have much time on Sunday.

But let me start from last Sunday. The floods continued in the North of England, there were fires in California but also in the north of Spain and there were floods in Texas too.  Then amazingly I read they were using artificial snow in Finland to ski.  So what’s with the weather? Is this all thanks to global warming?  Here in Spain with temperatures in the north above 20c, there were more than 150 or so wild fires.  In the end it was the rain that put an end to them but the damage was done.  Apparently 99% of wild fires are caused by arson.  What pleasure can people get out of setting fire to national parks and areas of “extraordinary value”?

In Yorkshire, the people there put up with the floods stoically and with much humour I would add. The Yorkshire people would not give up either their pints or their cups of tea as they dealt with the water, come what may, as I read in this very funny article.  The best picture for me was this one below:
Yorkshire sense of humour flourished with the floods
The weather was good in Madrid however.  Monday saw Oli back at work and it was Suzy’s last full day at home.  I accompanied her in the morning.  We went shopping and both of us bought items from Zara.  I bought a black velvet jacket that would be perfect to wear that night at Julio’s annual Christmas dinner.

Monday was 28th December which is the equivalent of April Fools’ Day.  In Yoigo we had prepared our annual joke to be sent out as a press release.  My PR agency had the great idea of inventing a story for the press, that after my success on TV in the Undercover Boss programme I was to take part in the celebrity edition of Big Brother. Let me tell you I hate that programme and would never appear on it. However the objective was to tell a joke that may well be believed and so it was by at least 3 media.  It caused a lot of free positive publicity on Twitter too which was another objective.  My phone didn’t stop sending me notifications to Suzy’s distaste as she tells me I am forever on my phone.  Perhaps she is right.
The Yoigo joke on the Spanish equivalent of April Fools' day this week had me as the protagonist
But it was no joke when we arrived home from our shopping to find 3 parcels awaiting me; belated Christmas presents. I got a wonderful box of wine and an astonishing box of 6 bottles of French champagne by Bollinger.  The other parcel contained two slabs of coconut turron from Miguel from my events agency whose family run a pastry shop in Asturias.  I just wondered what I had done to deserve such lovely presents. Well, I suppose I must have done something good to quote Julie Andrews in The Sound of MusicJ.

Whilst Suzy was out partying with Olivia on her last night in Spain, Eladio and I went off with our friend Fátima to Julio’s place in Madrid for the annual Christmas dinner at his flat in the centre of the city. It’s a tradition that started in the early 2000s when the 4 of us worked together at Nokia and a dinner we always look forward to.  Julio and Fátima prepare the food and we all bring presents to give to each other.  I also take crackers along to add to the fun.  Here we are this year drinking a glass of champagne just before we sat down to dinner.
The annual Christmas dinner at Julio's this week
On Tuesday I spent as much time as I could with Suzy before she had to leave in the afternoon.  We went for a walk with the girls and the dogs just before Oli had to go off to work.  It was a sad goodbye for both sisters. Suzy and I then went to the hairdressers to get our hair cut and blow dried.  It cost just 38 euros for both of us which Suzy said was remarkably cheap compared to UK prices. It probably was.  We then had a quick lunch after which she packed and at 4 Eladio and I drove her to the airport.  Suzy doesn’t like flying at all and always has to rely on a bit of morale support from the person sitting next to her.  She was flying with Norwegian, an airline she prefers to all the other low cost ones. I have yet to try it out.  One of its main benefits is that it offers free wifi during the flight.

Suzy didn’t get home in London until well past our bedtime.  Whilst she was flying we had dinner with Oli and then watched a few more episodes of Prison Break from Season 3 which is nowhere near as good as Season 1 as I think the critics agree. 

On Wednesday morning, Eladio, Pippa and I set off for Montrondo at 10.30 and arrived in Rueda at 12 just on time for a mid-morning “aperitivo”; a plate of ham and a plate of lomo accompanied by fresh bread sprinkled with olive oil and a delicious glass of local white wine.  Here is the photo of Eladio enjoying the moment.
Eladio in Rueda on Wednesday on our way to Montrondo
Just as we were approaching León on our way to Montrondo we got a call of distress from Eladio’s brother Toño and our sister-in-law Dolores.  They were in León with their offspring and partners and one of their two cars had broken down.  Thus we had to change our plans and go to León where we would be driving half of the party back after they had finished their lunch at a restaurant called Sorrento which specializes in local food (cocido maragato).  Obviously neither Eladio nor I were very hungry and reluctant to leave Pippa alone in the car for 2 hours we skipped on the restaurant and went to cadge lunch at one of Eladio’s sisters, Pili’s house. There we were met by her daughter Paula, her son Mario who was in bed with flu and with my Mother-in-law.  We didn’t leave León until past 4 and only got to Montrondo when it was already dark.  It rained non-stop until this morning.  We were happy to find a warm house, thanks to the remotely controlled heating system we have and we were soon settled in.  One of my first jobs was to set up a little Christmas corner which you can see below.
My Christmas corner in the new house in Montrondo
Dinner was a light affair, chicken noodle soup and a plate or artichokes after which we watched 2 more episodes of Prison Break of which we are now getting rather tired.

This morning, the last day of the year, I was awake at 5.30, then 6.30 and finally got up at 7.15.  I had plenty of time to reflect early this morning on what 2015 had been like for us and what it has been like for the world. 

On a personal note there was a bit of good and bad.  In January I broke my leg which had me house bound for more than a month. In February Pippa, the light of my life, joined our family and she is like my appendage, a part of me and I adore her as we all do. I went to Finland on crutches in March.  In March too Oli and Miguel visited Cuba.  March also saw me on one crutch at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. In April Suzy was here for her birthday.  In 2015 my Father turned 96 in May.  It was also the year Mrs. Leonard, Amanda’s mother, left us.  On the bright side Suzy finally got her coveted HCPC number which enables her to work as a registered dietitian in the UK.  In July I went to visit Suzy in London and we had some wonderful quality mother and daughter time together. The worst episode of the year by far was Suzy’s ovarian cancer scare in August which thank God turned out to be benign.  September saw the airing of the programme Undercover Boss I appeared in, my debut on prime time TV and perhaps the most challenging project I have ever undertaken in my professional career. That same month I organized a 3 day party in Andalusia’s El Rocio village near Doñana for over 200 people which proved quite a challenge.  Then in October this year our house in Montrondo was finally finished and we moved in and it has brought us so much joy. The end of 2015 couldn’t have been better; a happy family Christmas all together, including 3 days in Montrondo with the girls and Miguel.
The arrival of Pippa was one of the highlights of 2015
The finishing of the rebuilding of our house in Montrondo was the highlight of 2015
This is how Facebook summed my year up.  They got it nearly right.
This is how Facebook summed up my year

Instagram had a different collage of photos to sum up my year called #2015bestnine.  Here Pippa featured in nearly every photo which tells you just how important she is to me.  Poor Eladio is in a small pic in the corner and the girls are not there at all. Instagram got that completely wrong.  However the collage is nice so let me share it with you:)

2015 will be remembered by most of us for the terrible ISIS beheadings and two terrible jihadist attacks in Paris and in other parts of the world.  It will be remembered for the Greek bailout but possibly more so for the refugee crisis.  Over 1 million people, more than 50% from Syria, have upped and left their countries for peace in Europe in the most precarious conditions.  There is still no solution for them and all of us have in mind the photo of the dead 3 year old Syrian boy, Aylan, on a beach in Turkey. That for me is the image of the year and the pivotal moment in the refugee crisis. It was also the year of the General Elections in Spain where a government has still not been formed and the year of the terrible earthquake in Nepal.  The year has ended with freak weather causing floods, storms and forest fires in many parts of the world.
This photo of Aylan the 3 year old Syrian toddler who died on a beach in Turkey is the image of  the year for me, the image that best represents the refugee crisis.
I thought about all this before Eladio was up and I had made our breakfast.  Afterwards my thoughts returned to our peaceful time here in Montrondo. Thus I got on with making a lamb stew for lunch – life goes on – and then we went for a walk to Murias and back with Pippa. It’s lovely to have our family neighbours here too; José Antonio and Dolores, their son Miguel and his Cuban girlfriend Claudia and their son Juan, his partner Cristina and their 1 year old toddler Gael. Today we had lunch together and tonight we shall be celebrating New Year’s Eve together. It is the second time in all our married life that we are not having dinner with the rest of Eladio’s family in León. 

I reflected to Dolores as we went on another walk in the afternoon to Murias that spending the last day of the year in Montrondo was a good choice.  It’s where we are happy and it’s the most peaceful place in the world.
Montrondo on the last day of the year
We were to have dinner at their place, as late as possible so as not to have to wait too long for midnight to eat our grapes.  Eating one grape on each chime at midnight is a Spanish tradition which is supposed to bring you luck.  I’m not sure it does, but like everyone I go ahead with the tradition even though I don’t really like stuffing my face with 12 grapes and the pips hahaha.

For my part I made bacon rolls, fried oxtail croquettes I had brought frozen from Madrid and a salmon and prawn salad.  I also prepared a plate of chocolates and turron.  Turrón is like nougat and there are two main types, the really hard one and the really soft one.  I’m not keen on either really and stick to the chocolate like a good Brit. I also took along crackers as for me they are an essential part of the party.

At 9.30 we crossed the 50 metres or so to Toño and Dolores’ house loaded with the food, wine, crackers, etc.  Being in Montrondo I hadn’t bothered to dress up and had even thought of changing into my pyjamas to feel more comfortable.  We arrived to find them all dressed up. Both Toño and Juan were wearing suits and ties!  They told me they had made the effort for me! I was very glad I hadn't turned up in my pyjamas haha.
New Year's Eve dinner where we got the dress code wrong.
Before we began to dig into the delicious the food, including Dolores’ octopus and fine ham, we took a photo using Miguel and Claudia’s selfie stick.  Here is the result.
New Year's Eve dinner in Montrondo
It was a delicious meal and lots of fun too.  I drank rather too much of the wine we had brought and Toño’s too.  Oh well it was New Year’s Eve after all. We then had to wait till midnight to eat the 12 grapes.  To do so we followed the instructions on TVE, eating one on each chime.  Pippa had my 12th grape bless her.

And today is Friday 1st January 2016.  I tried to ring the girls last night but didn't get through.  I don't know how Suzy had planned her evening but I knew Oli would be with her faithful "manada" friends Copi and Anita.  Later Copi posted a photo collage of the three of them which I was happy to see.
Oli with Copi and Anita celebrating New Year's Eve in Madrid 
The first day of the year brought rain which little did we know would later turn into snow; a gift for New Year's Day in Montrondo.  I spent most of the morning preparing the lunch for all of us. Dolores provided a fabulous piece of meat to make roast beef and I was to make it the English way.  This entails of course roasting the beef with potatoes, making Yorkshire pudding, vegetables and gravy.

We had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for our New Year's Day family lunch in Montrondo
Whilst I was cooking Dolores reminded me that the New Year's concert from Vienna was on. I was dashed to have missed nearly half of it but happy to listen to the music whilst I cooked.  I knew that at home in Madrid my Father, who never misses it, would be watching it all the way through.

I cooked whilst the New Year's Day Concert from Vienna was on the TV
It was while the concert was on that it began to snow.  I started this post talking about the weather then lo and behold we got snow here.  I had comments from friends on Facebook from Finland, Germany and the UK who were amazed there was snow here in the north of Spain but no snow in their countries.  So I was right when I wrote "What's with the weather". To begin with it looked like sleet but slowly it turned to real snow and the village was soon covered in white to my delight.  It was a  real surprise and a bonus New Year's Day gift. You see I just love snow and always have. 
Snow in Montrondo on New Year's Day, what a lovely surprise
It was to be Claudia's first experience ever with snow as she lives in Cuba where she told me it has never ever snowed.  I just had to capture her on camera with a big smile on her face.  Unfortunately just after lunch she had to leave with Miguel to go to León to see the town and Miguel's cousins. They will be leaving for Havana on 5th January. I do hope they will be back soon. It was lovely to meet Claudia.
Claudia in the snow.
The obvious thing to do in the afternoon after Eladio's siesta and my ironing session was to go for a walk in the snow.  We left it a bit late and it was already getting a bit dark but the village looked like a Christmas picture postcard; just so beautiful.

The village looked like a Christmas picture postcard on New Year's Day
Eladio and Pippa came too.
Eladio, Pippa and Nuba getting ready for a walk in the snow
And of course Nuba who follows anyone going on any walk at any time.  She has boundless energy. Toño and Dolores also came along and of course we just had to take a selfie in the snow haha.
A selfie on our walk in the snow with Dolores and Toño
It was cold and there was very light rain.  We bumped into Manolita on our way to Murias. We asked her whether she thought it would continue snowing during the night.  She took one look at the sky and said no. I've no idea what she saw; but I do wish it had been a sky that promised more snow. We came back to a warm house and Eladio put the fire on. Thankfully in the new house he's happy to put it on often, unlike at home where we only have the fire going on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And today is Saturday and the snow is still here.  It was not only Claudia who was surprised.  It was also Pippa who I think is not quite sure how to take it.  I took her out in the morning to do her business and she touched the snow with great trepidation.  It was difficult to catch her on camera but I managed it.
Pippa and the snow.
We are expecting guests for lunch.  Our friends Pedro Delgado (the ex cyclist of exceptional sporting fame in Spain) and his wife Ludy, their three boys and her Mother will be trying out my "cocido madrileño" followed by apple crumble.  Ludy is from nearby Villablino and was brought up in the area but they have never visited us in Montrondo.  So this will be a first.  This is what the table looked like.  Today it will be at almost maximum capacity for the first time since we moved in.
The table laid for lunch today.
Our friends arrived at 2.30 on the dot.  That's important to point out because Pedro and Ludy have a tendency to arrive really late hahaha.  It was great to see their boys Pedro and twins Pablo and Alvaro whom we hadn't seen for years. They are now 15 and 12 respectively and so well behaved. I hadn't calculated well for the amount of cocido and had made double what we could eat.  In any case I think they liked it; especially the chickpeas.  Here we are after lunch sitting around our table during what in Spain is called "la sobremesa", the time spent chatting and sitting at the table after a meal.  It has no translation in English that I can think of and can go on for hours.
Lunch with our friends yesterday during "la sobremesa"
Later we took them around the village.  There is not much to see here so we walked up and down the main street, Calle Campo, until we got to the end of the road where the mountains start.  It was far too muddy to walk up so instead we took them to Ulpiano and Serafina's abode to buy fresh eggs. That was an experience.  We got 2 and a half dozen eggs between us. Teresa, Ludy's mother, would be using some of them to make the traditional Kings' Day roscón cake.  It was a cold and damp afternoon and our friends are not great walkers and did not have the right footwear, so there was no walk to Murias yesterday.  We got to the end of the village where we took the obligatory and traditional photo by the Montrondo signpost which you can see below.
With our guests by the village signpost yesterday
Soon it was time for tea.  Funnily enough my friends are tea drinkers which is rather unusual for Spaniards, except that they don't take milk in their tea. We had a grand time chatting by the fire until it got late and was time for them to go.  Pedro and Ludy and their family come quite often to see Ludy's mother who lives in Villablino but we have only ever coincided once.  Now that we come here more often, we look forward to entertaining them again in our new house.  As I commented to Pedro when they left, it's not as if we have many people we can invite here for tea, lunch or dinner, unless we bring them with us from Madrid hahaha.

It is now Sunday and I am writing early in the morning from my study in the new house with dear Pippa asleep on her red blanket on the sofa.  Today will be our last day here for this time and we shall be going back to Madrid tomorrow on time for celebrating Reyes (Kings' Day) with Olivia and my Father.

So let me love you and leave you and once again wish you all a Happy New Year.  Let 2016 be a good one for all of us.

Cheers till next week my friends and readers

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