Sunday, March 06, 2016

Last days in the snow in Montrondo, “we must stop Trump”, my Father reflects on the tragedies in his life, Leap day, this year’s Oscars go to …, Peter Rabbit gets his own 50p coin (and “he didn’t have to steal it”), Suzy in Primrose Hill, a speeding fine, a political kiss during Spain’s fraught parliament investiture, another old pupil from Bradford Grammar School reaches out to my Father, “The Secret Classrooms”, my thoughts on the BBC War and Peace series and other stories

Sunday 6th March 2016
Me in the snow last Saturday in Montrondo
Hi everyone, I hope you’ve all had a great week.

I left off last Saturday morning in Montrondo where, to my delight, it continued to snow. The village looked beautiful as you can see in the photo below
A wintery view of our village - Montrondo (in the snow last Saturday)
It snowed all morning and was windy, so we stayed inside feeling warm and cozy with our efficient central heating, thick walls and Eladio’s fire on.  I made fish and chips for lunch; so British!
Home made fish and chips for lunch in Montrondo last Saturday
We dared out in the early evening when the snow seemed to have stopped and even the sun was attempting to come out of the thick clouds.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me feeling exhilarated on that particular walk to Murias and back. We went on the old path with thick virgin snow.  It was of course difficult for Pippa, our miniature dachshund, to walk in the snow because of her short legs. The answer was for us to walk ahead and for her to follow in our footsteps once we had trodden in the deep snow.  Here is Eladio walking with little Pippa valiantly following behind.

The old path to Murias on Saturday, Pippa following in Eladio's footsteps as the snow was too deep for her
After the walk I started on the latest book of Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, Cometh the Hour which is actually the 5th book.  There will only be one more.  It was lovely to read in front of the fire with Pippa, duly washed and dried after the snowy walk, sitting beside me on her blanket.
This week's book which I read in Montrondo
After dinner we continued watching the Danish series  The Killing on Netflix.  It’s great to have all the modern comforts in our newly restored house in Montrondo.  It really is a home away from home.
The series we are watching on Netflix at the moment
Sunday was our last day in Montrondo.  I woke up to even more snow and immediately took photos to post on Facebook.  The words from the famous Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas “deep and crisp and even” came to mind when I posted them and here they are.

The snow was "crisp and deep and even" on Sunday morning in Montrondo
That morning whilst reading the news I was struck by an article written by Danielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard, for The Washington Post. It was entitled “The Moment of Truth, we must stop Trump”.  Donald Trump, the joke candidate for the Republican Party in the upcoming US elections, is no joke as popularity for him increases.  Most of the world is looking on quite stunned, including some of his republican colleagues.  This is what Danielle Allen wrote and I really could not agree more. Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump’s rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country”.  If he becomes the next President of the USA which I sincerely hope he doesn’t, only time will tell whether this political theorist at Harvard University is right or not. What I cannot understand is how he has got so far; it does not seem possible and yet it is.  I only wish he was a joke like the one in the photo below.
    Did you ever wonder what happened to
    Dennis the Menace when he got older?
We went on our last walk in the snow, this time all the way to Senra and back, nearly 8km.  This time the snow was too deep for us to venture on the old path, so we walked along the road which had been cleared earlier by a snow plough. Here I am with little Pippa who I am sure was happier to walk on the road.

On the walk to Senra with Pippa last Sunday morning
It snowed all the way but thankfully was not too windy.  It was bitterly cold though, as you can judge from the photo I took of Eladio who is all wrapped up by the Montrondo signpost on our way back.
Eladio all wrapped up and posing by the Montrondo sign on our way back from Senra last Sunday
Meanwhile in Madrid Oli who was back from Paris was talking to my Father.  He had a cold and what with the awful fall, I think he was feeling a little down. She spoke to him to perk him up but the subject of their conversation was very sad.  He told her the story of the death of his dear brother Raymond who died of polio aged only 16.  My Father was 5 years older than him and this must have been in 1940.  It was a huge tragedy for the family, including my Father.  Uncle Raymond, as he was known to me, was always remembered as a vivacious boy who loved mechanical things and apparently once took his father’s car apart and then put it all back together again and I would have loved to have known him. He died in Western Super Mare, away from the family so as not to pass on the deadly illness to his sister Gloria or my Father.  Polio was a killer in those days until thankfully a vaccination was found. Oli told me about the conversation and that she had cried as she thought my Father had too.
Pictures of my Father's beloved brother Raymond who died tragically of polio aged just 16
In order to comfort my Father Olivia said that he’d had a wonderful life.  Usually my Father is very optimistic, something he passed on to me but last Sunday he replied yes, but that he had a lot of tragedies.  He must have been feeling quite down that day and I am glad he had his granddaughter to pour out his heart to. I can tell you he has had more than his fair share of tragedies.  It started with his brother Raymond.  He went on to lose his Father (Canon John Lloyd) before he was 70 and his Mother (nee Dorothy Gertrude Scull, an accomplished pianist) in her early 70s.  But a bigger blow was to come when he lost his sister, my Aunty Gloria, and all her family (husband Derek and children Jacqueline aged 12, Michael aged 9 and little Anthony aged 7) in an air crash in Yugoslavia in 1971.  Then my Mother died, leaving him a widow, in 1999 and cruelly just 2 years later we lost George, his son and my brother, in his 40’s who died of melanoma cancer in London.  My troubled brother George was the real family tragedy. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20's. There was an after blow a few years later when George’s sweet and disturbed Serbian wife was found dead in her flat in London after a bought of pneumonia. When the police rang me, they told me they thought she had just let herself die.  So you see my dear wonderful Father has had more than his fair share of tragedies.  Thankfully he has me; we are all that is left of the family but then of course he is part of the family Eladio and I have formed together and despite his age, nearly 97, I hope he feels happy and well cared for here with us in Spain and continues to enjoy the small pleasures life brings; another mantra I have learned from him.

We left Montrondo after lunch and were home at just after 8.  It was lovely to see Oli and Grandpa again.  Dinner was nice too as we were joined by Copi, the girls’ oldest friend from their school, St. Michael’s.

On Monday it was back to fasting and two walks a day.  It was 29th February and Leap Day.  It was Julius Caesar who introduced the first leap year over 2000 years ago. His  Julian calendar had the rule that any year evenly divisible by four would be a leap year. As time passed Leap day brought with it superstitions and also traditions.  I didn’t know for example that it is customary for women to propose to men on that day.  I always feel sorry for those born on 29th February and wonder what day they celebrate their birthday (the 28th Feb or 1st March) when it is not a Leap year and whether they have a full blast when it is hahahahaha.
Leap Year and its origin
On Monday morning we woke up to the news of this year’s Academy Awards, aka The Oscars.  Best picture went to Spotlight, the film about a group of journalists from The Boston Globe who investigate allegations against the priest John Geoghan accused of abusing young boys; an unfortunate and repetitive theme in the Catholic Church.  I wanted to see it but Eladio wasn’t keen.  He thinks the subject is old hat but I don’t; I think it’s despicable and probably still goes on.  I have often asked him if when he was a young boy at the Catholic Seminary if he or his fellow pupils had ever heard of experienced abuse.  Thankfully it was unheard of at his Seminary.  I’m glad to hear that.
Spotlight this year's best picture at the Oscars
The real spotlight though went to Leonardo DiCaprio as best actor in The Revenant. It was his first Oscar after 6 attempts. But the biggest story coming out of the Oscars this year was his reuniting with Kate Winslet on stage.  The audience and the internet went mad. I loved some of the British headlines telling the story, such as “Jack and Rose might not have had the happy ending they deserved in “Titanic” but they sure did at the Oscars last night” or even better, this one from The BBC: “The Titanic may have sunk but not their affection”.  As I totally loved them and the film, I was delighted too to see them reunited at Hollywood’s most glamourous event.
Lovely to see "Jack" and "Rose" reunited at this year's Oscars
There was a small piece of news on Monday that caught my attention too and I knew when I read it I had to include it here this week.  You probably know by now that I love bits of news like this. The Royal Mint has produced a 50 pence coin (in colour!) with Peter Rabbit to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrice Potter his creator.  I’m sure you’re wondering why that interested me.  Well I remember reading Beatrice Potter books as a child and I in turn read them to my daughters.  Olivia still has The Tales of Peter Rabbit which Amanda, my friend, gave to her when she was little. I think both Oli and Suzy will never forget that Peter Rabbit, together with his friends Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail, robbed vegetables from Mr. McGregor’s garden!  I loved how The Guardian aptly used that fact in a headline, only the British press can produce, “Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit gets his own 50p coin and he didn’t have to steal it”.  I shall be on the watch for when they go on sale and must get one of the new coins. 
What a lovely idea to put Peter Rabbit on a 50p piece.
Funnily enough that day, Suzy, my eldest daughter who lives in London and has now moved to Camden, sent me a photo from Primrose Hill.
Suzy on Primrose Hill
She couldn’t have known that I have been there. Well of course I have because it is where my dear friend Amanda used to live.  It was where she lived in London when she first got married and I stayed with her there on many an occasion.  It was a beautiful area. Suzy says she wants to take me there when I go to London this month.  I would very much want Amanda to join us but unfortunately she can’t. 

Tuesday came and it was 1st March.  Hurray spring is on its way.  It was a sunny day and we took my Father to the hospital to have his dressing changed. Thankfully from then on the district nurse would be coming home to do that. Once they had changed his bandage – by the way his wound is healing nicely – we treated him to coffee and churros at the hospital cafeteria and they weren’t that bad. I think it was a bit of an outing for him.

We had bad luck on the way back.  Eladio was caught speeding coming off the M40.  The limit was 80kmh and the “guardia civil” who stopped us said he was driving at 113kmh.  There and then he got a fine of 150 euros but worse were the two points he lost from his driving licence.  I took a discreet photo of the moment and thankfully I wasn’t caught by the policeman, otherwise I would have had a fine too hahaha.  It came as a bit of a shock actually but I think it was a very good lesson for the future for my husband who relies too much on his anti-radar device which did not detect this particular radar; a physical one.
Getting the speeding fine was a bit of a blow
Thankfully I had a bit of good news later to counteract the bad news of the speeding fine.  My Finnish friend Anne Marjut wrote to ask if she could visit us in June.  The dates are perfect and we much look forward to seeing her again.  My Father remembers her well and looks forward to seeing her too.

On Wednesday Oli was ill with an infection and I accompanied her to the local health centre.  Again it was a lovely sunny day.  It was a big day in Spanish politics.  After the hung parliament from the December elections, the Spanish parliamentary investiture debates began. 
The Spanish election results in December have resulted in a hung parliament
The socialist leader Pedro Sánchez was proposing a coalition with the new right wing party, Ciudadanos.  But it was a political kiss that stole the show. In the middle of the fraught coalition talks Pablo Iglesias, the pony tailed leader of the extreme left-wing movement Podemos, congratulated a fellow member of parliament, Xavier Domenech, with a kiss on the lips. Subsequently "Pablo Iglesias" and several related phrases and hashtags hit Twitter's worldwide trending charts and the “beso” was likened to the one on the Berlin Wall with Brezhnev and Honecker.  I still don’t understand why they kissed on the lips as it’s so un-Spanish.
The "political" kiss in parliament this week
Despite the kiss, that day Pedro Sanchez’s proposal was voted against as it would be too on Friday.  Most people’s bet is that there will be an election again in June.  I can’t see any other way out although I wonder what will happen if the people vote the same again as they did in December and we get another hung parliament.

It was on Thursday this week that yet another old pupil of my Father’s from Bradford Grammar School reached out to him via my blog. 
Bradford Grammar School where my Father taught for many years is still one of the best schools in the country
My Father taught Russian, German and French there for many years.  I always knew he was a good teacher, judging by his results and the number of boys he taught Russian to who later went on to study the language at Oxford, but that he had made such an impression on them for them, not only to remember him, but to reach out to him after some 40 years really shows he must have been a remarkable teacher.  Put yourself in their shoes. Is there a teacher you would like to get in touch with after 40 years?  Probably not.   There was only one from my school, St. Joseph’s College, Miss Fair and even I didn’t try to find her; although I did meet her at the Centenary celebrations when unfortunately she had the beginnings of Alzheimer. My Father on the contrary has a remarkable memory and certainly remembered this boy, who of course is now a man.  Let me reproduce the message he posted on my blog on Thursday.  His name is David Whitlam and this is what he wrote:
"Masha, I got your blog from Michael Forte, a recently reacquired BGS friend. Your dad taught me Russian in 1976-78 and he sent me to Tony Stokes at Univ Oxford. I subsequently lived in St Petersburg. Your dad was the greatest influence on my entire academic life and I'd be grateful if you could tell him a huge привет from Whitlam, whom he referred to as 'the phenomenon', which resulted in much teasing, I can tell you!! I hope he's feeling better after his fall. Saludos from SW4, Clapham Common ! "
I know that David’s message perked my Father up enormously that day and it made me very proud of him. I in turn posted it on facebook and another ex- pupil, Johnathan Edward Starkey wrote this:

David excelled at everything at BGS as far as I remember - cross country running, modern languages, and head of school too. It is not a surprise to me, as you know, that many old boys reach out and are absolutely sincere when they say "Your dad was the greatest influence on my entire academic life ".

And yet another ex-pupil of his, Simon Hewitt, an art critic who lives in Geneva wrote to me this week asking if my Father had read the book called “The Secret Classrooms,an untold story of the Cold War” by Harold Shuckman and Geoffrey Elliott, both “kursanti” (ex-pupils) of these secret classes. 
My parents were teachers in these secret Russian courses at Cambridge in the 50's

Well of course we had and both my parents are mentioned in the book.  My Father even went to the event at The Tate Gallery in London in 2002 when the book was presented.

My Father (son of an English clergyman born in Tamworth on 1st May 1919) and Russian Mother (née Princess Elena Von Lieven born in the Russian Embassy in Rome on June 7th 1920) met and taught at the Joint Services School for Linguists (JSSL) in Cambridge dubbed the spy classes by the Russians and of course they were  for spies.  They started in 1952 and lasted until 1959 when we left Cambridge where I was born, to go and live in Lincolnshire where my Father became a teacher of Russian at the prestigious RAF academy at Cranwell.  The classes were secret and a major cold war initiative.  These were perhaps the happiest years of teaching for my Father and many a tale was told at tea at  home about the eccentric teachers and clever pupils.  One of the teachers was Anthony Burse, Churchill’s interpreter when he met Stalin! The Tony Stokes David Whitlam refers to was a pupil of Professor Dame Elizabeth Hill and was also an instructor on the courses. Latterly he married Marina and I remember her as Marina Stokes a course instructor on the Norwich Russian courses in the 70's when I would babysit for her daughter.

I am happy to reproduce the page about my parents in this book here:

The extract from the Book The Secret Classrooms about my parents on the JSSL course in Cambridge in the 50's

The Cambridge classrooms were organized by Dame Elizabeth Hill, Professor of Russian at the University and a very colourful person.  My Father was her right hand man. She was my brother’s god mother and I suspect very instrumental in the marriage of my parents.  My parents kept in touch over the years and they went to her 90th birthday party in Cambridge, my Father duly sitting at her right in the photo of so many of her ex pupils. She was so eccentric she decided to get married at the age of 84 even though we all thought she was the eternal spinster. Amazingly, my Father met her by accident on her honeymoon in Spain.  He had gone to the train station in Madrid to buy bus tickets to Alicante and there she was bussing it around Spain at 84 on her honeymoon.  You might be interested to know that not long afterwards she divorced him!
My parents in 1955 in Cambridge with Liza Hill.  I think the man on her left was the man she later married
I have to admit I have been mulling over these stories in most of my walks this week when I have so much time to reflect and have spent time talking to my Father about his pupils and of course the Russian courses at Cambridge at lunchtime too.  I also learned finally how he learned Russian and how my Mother came to join the courses at Cambridge but that I am afraid will have to wait for another time, or the book I am planning to write, as I am winding on.

I thought about all this too when I went to the hairdresser in the evening. Unfortunately my usual hairdresser Merche wasn’t there but a new girl, Elena, did a pretty good job.  Eladio later remarked my hairstyle was similar to Esperanza Aguirre’s (a Spanish high profile woman right wing politician who speaks her mind) which made me laugh.
I went to the hairdresser on Thursday evening
On Friday spring was really in the air.  It was not only sunny but the blossom was coming out on our miniature plum trees which always makes me happy.
Blossom in our garden this week - a true sign  spring is coming
It was on Friday afternoon that I finished binge watching the new BBC series of War and Peace. 
Pierre, Natasha and Andrei in the BBC series War and Peace which I binge watched this week
So what did I think of it? Well many things and overall I loved it.  I once tried to read it many years ago and couldn’t get through the battle pages I’m ashamed to admit.  As I watched I kept wondering what my Russian born Mother would have thought.  I remember how much she criticized Dr. Zhivago. And all the time I was remembering her telling me the story of her Mother, my babushka (grandmother) Sophie (Sonya) Stachovich, a Princess in her own right, having played tennis with Leo Tolstoy when she was a teenager. Imagine possibly the greatest Russian author was a friend of my Mother’s family and played tennis with my Grandmother?  My Mother’s family were also very close to the Yusupov family (the son Felix killed Rasputin) so I watched very closely at the scenes filmed at the Yusupov palace. I was also mesmerised by the Tzar’s ball at the Catherine Palace I have visited in St. Petersburg. It took me a while to get accustomed to all the characters – there are so many of them.  The main ones of course are Count Pyotr (Pierre) Bezukhov, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and the beautiful Countess Natalia (Natasha) Rostov.  Yes I loved it but was dumbfounded to read the critics afterwards where I learned that The BBC had completely changed the ending.  The BBC version has a wonderful happy ending, not so the real ending.  How could that be?  Just to please the audience?  I also wonder what the Russians think of the BBC version of this masterpiece. I mean it’s a bit like Russian TV doing a series of one of Jane Austen’s books. Some of the series seemed just a little English to me but then of course the actors were English, except for Pierre. He by the way was fantastic. What I really loved too were the music, the costumes and the scenery, especially St. Petersburg in the snow and everyone skating on the river Niva; even wheel chairs with skates. 
St Catherine's Palace in St. Petersburg, perhaps the most glittering location in the series
I told Eladio all about it when we went out to dinner on Friday night to La Vaca Argentina.  I think he would enjoy it too.  Unlike me, he read all of it as a teenager and when I told him the bit about the battle of Borodino and how the Russians refused to fight over Moscow using their scorched earth policy to drive Napoleon away, unable to get provisions, Eladio knew the Russian General in command was none other than the astute Kutuzov.  I do have a clever husband don’t I?

Yesterday was Saturday. Olivia had gone off to Valencia for the weekend and the house seemed very quiet.  This Saturday Zena, our ex Ukranian home help, was starting work with us at the weekends, to look after my Father whilst Salud has her time off.  After his fall we want him to be looked after properly and around the clock. She arrived at 3 pm and set to work immediately.  I think they will get on and I know I can rely on Zena who I like and trust.  As I mentioned to my Father she can cook good Russian fare too and I look forward to her making us some borsch or pelmeni.

And today is Sunday.  It is cold and sunny again.  We will be going to have lunch with our friends Benito and Loli today but of course I will be telling you all about that in next week’s post.  Meanwhile my friends, I shall leave you to get on with my Sunday.

All the best until next week


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