Sunday, March 20, 2016

More Russian cooking, the girls in Lanzarote, chatting to my Father’s ex Bradford Grammar School pupils, our temporary new office, “Je suis Ankara”, never fly on #Norwegian airlines, Mother and daughter time in London, a trip down memory lane to Cambridge and other stories.

Sunday 20th March 2016
The highlight of my trip to England - here with Suzy in Cambridge by the River Cam just behind King's College
Hello everyone this first day of spring. I am writing from Suzy’s house in Camden this Sunday morning and have lots to tell you. So let me start.

Last Sunday Zena, our Ukranian weekend carer, made borsch for us. My father and I were delighted as it is a dish we both love and always brings back memories of my Russian born Mother who used to make it a lot.  Borsch is made with beetroot, carrots, cabbage, potatoes and generally with meat of some sort too.  We had to invent the Smetana (sour cream) that goes with it by using Greek yoghurt and cream but it was still lovely.

Zena's borsch last Sunday
Meanwhile the girls continued their holiday break in Lanzarote with their friends from “La Manada”.  Suzy doesn’t often post photos of herself on Facebook but this one she did. The caption has to be “happiness personified” don’t you think?
Suzy, super happy in Lanzarote
As the girls are not often together because Suzy lives in London I was happy to see the following photo of the two of them together.  Nice eh?
The two sisters reunited in Lanzarote, Suzy and Oli
That morning whilst Zena was making borsch, I was chatting on Facebook and via mail simultaneously with some of my Father’s old pupils from Bradford Grammar School who have recently reached out to him via my blog which never ceases to amaze me.  They were his pupils more than 40 years ago and their tales paint a different man to the Father I knew and know.  At home he was often overshadowed by my Mother’s strong personality but in class he must have come into his own. For example Simon H writes this about him and which I hope he doesn’t mind me reproducing here:
“Our Russian teacher was Mr C.C. Lloyd known, presumably because it began with a C, as Clarence. He had never previously taught me, though I had occasionally passed him in the corridor. With his deep-set eyes, and Bobby Charlton-coiffed strands of grey hair, he looked frowningly austere, quasi-sepulchral.
Our class was homely. There were only eight or nine of us. Up close he was different. His eyes were a pale, piercing blue, and he liked to laugh. During lessons we laughed a great deal. Sometimes, I regret to say, we laughed about Clarence, and his crumpled suit, and his chalk-covered gown, and his ceaselessly errant chalk (which sometimes, though surprisingly rarely, we had hidden). 
But more often we laughed with him about the quirks of Soviet life. This’ll put a crack in the proud Soviet boast about inflation’ he chuckled one morning, thumbing through a three-week-old copy of Pravda. Taxi fares are going up!’
Transport was one of his great interests. You can read between the lines in Soviet newspapers’ he informed us conspiratorially. ‘All kinds of titbits about rude bus-conductors!’
Clarence struggled to keep pace with his mind, which raced around at the speed of light.
I’ll get my big super etymological dictionary RIGHT NOW’ he declared portentously. Where’s it gone? Oh, here it is. This real gem of the dictionary is produced by the Academy of Science. Yes: 21 volumes! Ah yes, now, er, let’s see, right… what am I looking up? I’ve forgotten.’
His logic was delightful. It’s masculine,’ he assured us. Unless you’re a girl. Then it’s different.’
The Ice Maiden’ he told us encouragingly, is a Russian heroine, only she melts in Spring.’
Clarence appeared to run a thriving business in the import of Soviet calendars and, rather like a master rewarding a dog with a juicy bone, would dish out pieces of tear-off calendar to diligent pupils.
Here’s a bit of calendar for you!’ he would say excitedly, as if he were clutching a gold ingot. How to make yourself a parachute. No, I’ll keep it myself. Have this one instead… something about hares jumping.’
Bits of calendar and old magazines, mainly Ogonëk but sometimes Izvestia and occasionally Krokodil, were our visual aids.
We’ll just have to soldier on’ he would exclaim motivationally. We must hold out, stick it out, and finish the book. That’s the great thing!’
This was his catch phrase.
‘Fibberty-gibbet is my type of word!’ he assured us proudly. ‘It’s got panache, that’s the great thing!’
Clarence had panache all right, and charisma, and a brain as big as a bullock.
A palpably good man, with the naïvety and wisdom of a holy fool”.

I can hardly imagine my Father struggling to keep pace with his mind, which raced around at the speed of light as he wasn’t like that at home.  I was also amazed by David W’s stories of my Father teaching him Swedish ‘O’ level in just one term or giving him Norwegian lessons at lunchtime.  He would have done that out of the kindness of his heart and to spur on a brilliant pupil because neither Swedish nor Norwegian were taught at Bradford Grammar School and he was the French, German and Russian language teacher.  Some of the pupils I chatted to last Sunday told me that not only did he have an enormous influence on their careers but that he was one of the best teachers at the school.  My Father was delighted to hear from me that Simon H who is a critic of Russian art living in Geneva will be coming to see him in the spring to interview him for a book he is writing.  That will certainly be something for Daddy to look forward to. These conversations made me see my Father in a different light and made me extremely proud of him as you can imagine.

Sorry if I’m boring you with these tales. Now let me get back to Russian cooking.  After making borsch on Sunday, Zena (Zinaida) made another dish for us; this time “golubtsy” which is basically stuffed cabbage and another favourite Russian dish of ours that my Mother used to make.  I do know how to make it but not as well as Zena and it’s also quite laborious to make.  We were to have it for lunch on Monday and then again on Wednesday, once more with artificial Smetana.  This is what it looks like.

Zena's delicious golubtsy
Monday was a busy day.  I was up early for a meeting in the office then no sooner had I got back home I was called to go back for another meeting.  My work day didn’t finish until 9.30pm.  Unusually Eladio and I went out to dinner when I got home and we enjoyed a quiet meal at Ginos.

Tuesday brought with it a big upheaval at home.  The carpenters were coming to replace the floor and skirting boards on practically all of the ground floor after the recent leakage.  This meant we had to move out of our office.  Thus we set up a temporary one in the glass gallery or annex off our bedroom, a room we never use which is a pity as it has lots of light and great views of the back garden. 
Working in our temporary new office
I loved it and mentioned to Eladio that I wouldn’t mind making it our permanent office.  He agreed but then again what are we to do with the ground floor office.  So, no, when all is finished we shall move downstairs again.  Moving it upstairs would make my Father more isolated which is another reason we shan’t make it permanent. But meanwhile we enjoyed the new surroundings, especially the view of the prunus (red leaved ornamental plum tree) tree in blossom.

Whilst all this was happening at home the girls were enjoying their last day in Lanzarote.  This volcanic Canary Island is famous for surfing and some of the group had lessons, including my daring daughter Suzy. I loved this photo of her with the surfboard.  She was later to tell me she fell off it every time hahaha.
Suzy going surfing for the first time in Lanzarote
And here is the last picture they sent of the group of them before they left.  Well actually Suzy had to stay on until Wednesday as there was no flight to London on Tuesday.  She must have felt a little forlorn when they all left.
The girls' last day in Lanzarote - a good time was had by all.
Tuesday was a lovely day for me as I had a lunch date with my ex Nokia girl colleagues.  We were five that day; Juana, Fátima, Jill, María Jesús and myself and went to La Vaca Argentina.  Zenaida, Ana and Marta were all on business trips and couldn’t make it.  It’s always fun to reconnect and it’s thanks to Juana booking the date in our diaries every 3 months or so.  We do so enjoy catching up on each other’s lives and of course talking shop; gossiping about the industry and other ex-colleagues. Thanks Juana, you are just soooo organized. Here is a photo of the 5 of us at lunch last Tuesday. 
Lunch with my ex Nokia colleagues on Tuesday
My afternoon was very glamorous.  I went to have my nails done and then as I spied my favourite hairdresser, Merche, I decided to have my hair done too both of which would make me look smarter for my trip the next day to London.  When Merche had finished, another hairdresser, Elena, remarked my hair looked like Marilyn Monroe.  What a compliment I thought.  Here I am with my hair just done.
My look alike Marilyn Monroe hairdo hahaha.
That night as Eladio went to the airport to pick up Oli I was horrified to see the news from Brussels for the hunt for terrorists linked to the Paris attacks in November.  Police raided an apartment, a terrorist was shot, two were on the loose and an area of the city was practically under siege with schools in lock down. Later in the week the most looked for terrorist, the one who survived the attacks, Abdesalam was caught

Salah Abdesalam the repentant suicide bomber who was caught this week in Brussels
He has now confessed that at the last minute he backed out of blowing himself up! Oh why oh why do these young people become so radicalized and why oh why does the world have to suffer from this horrifying new form of terrorism? I didn’t even mention it but last Sunday there was a fatal suicide bombing in Ankara too which killed three dozen people. This time it was at the hands of Kurdish rebels. 

The aftermath of the Ankara bombings last Sunday
It’s funny how we were all very affected by the Paris attacks yet no one was saying Je suis Ankara this week.  Does that mean lives are more valuable in Paris than in Ankara or that we are becoming immune to this new form of terrorism? I hope not, because we all know now that it could happen anywhere in the world at any time.  Frightening!

That night I woke up with a migraine at 4 in the morning and took a paracetamol. At 5 It was getting worse and I took another one.  At 6 a.m. I threw up because of the migraine and the overdose.  It was an awful night.  Thankfully by about 9 I was getting better although the headache would not leave me until the next day. I do hate these episodes.  They are often triggered by a piece of chocolate or glass of wine before I go to bed, yet on Tuesday night I hadn’t had either so don’t really know what caused it.  Thankfully the episodes are few and far between but Tuesday night’s was especially bad. 

Wednesday was the day of my trip to London to spend 4 days with Suzy before she started her new job the following Monday.  After packing I spent most of the day getting as much work out of the way as possible so as to leave everything neatly tied up and be able to go away in peace.

Eladio took me to the airport and we got there just before 5 for my 18.10 flight to Gatwick with Norwegian.  It was to be my first trip with the budget airline and I had heard it was good; the great advantage being able to use wifi on board. But it was not to be a successful trip.  No sooner had I stepped into the airport than I got an sms from them to say the flight was delayed until 20.40.  Oh dear, I thought I will have to wait for 2.5 hours.  As the time neared my fellow passengers and I began to fear the worst as we heard that the incoming plane hadn’t left Birmingham.  We were getting zero information, so I contacted the airline on twitter and ended up knowing more than anyone about the flight at the airport and being the messenger of the news to my fellow passengers and even the ground staff.  I then found the pilot who informed me the flight was cancelled and went on to tell me 3 of their aircraft were grounded for technical repairs in Europe.  3 airplanes!  I wondered at the quality and safety of this budget airline and got a bit scared.  The frustrating part was that it became too late to get a seat on another outbound flight to London but of course Norwegian had my luggage so I couldn’t although I would later find out they were fully booked.  Another sms arrived to confirm the cancellation and included a number to call in Norway! Their customer service at Madrid airport was inexistent and there was not one representative present.   When I called I was offered another flight the next day at 18.10, wasting a whole night and day of my short break to see Suzy.  That was when I got into action and rushed out of departures to retrieve my luggage and try to get on another plane.  I was followed by a motley group of fellow cross passengers who were later to become my friends. I retrieved my luggage but there were no seats on any of the last flights that night.  So I quickly booked one on Iberia the next morning which was leaving at 08.50 for an extortionate amount of money, more than double what I had already paid for my flight there and back.  Norwegian at least offered accommodation, dinner and breakfast at a hotel by the airport which I opted to accept rather than getting Eladio to drive all the way to pick me up and making him rise at the crack of dawn the next day. Thus I found myself sleeping at the Marriott Auditorium at Barajas that night which felt very strange as one doesn’t often stay at a hotel in one’s home town.  To be honest I had expected a “crappy” place but it was great quality. When I got there I decided to make the best of the situation and in the end enjoyed a pleasant commiserating dinner with my new friends, Sam, Jane, Emma and Hanna from the UK and John and his Mother who are Colombian.  Here we are together at dinner on Wednesday night.  It was lovely to meet them and quite a fun dinner but I would have far preferred to be in London with Suzy as I’m sure you will understand.  I shall be claiming compensation from Norwegian and if it proves difficult, as I have been told it will, I shall kick up a huge fuss on their social media sites.  P.S. I shall never fly Norwegian again and advise you not to either because they have proved they do not know how to look after stranded passengers, don’t seem to care much either and have faulty planes and a very limited fleet of aircraft.

An unexpected dinner on Wednesday night - at Madrid airport!
I was up early the next morning and I am happy to tell you the Iberia flight took off on time and everything went smoothly.  Eladio meanwhile left for Montrondo with his beloved brother José Antonio.  He took Pippa as José Antonio took their mongrel Nuba and I know they are having a great time together.  Dolores and I will be joining them next Wednesday for Easter. 
Whilst I've been in London this week Eladio went to his beloved Montrondo
Oli, once back from Lanzarote, returned to work and I was happy to see one of her TV reports that day.  It was about a beautiful castle in Manzanares in the country, not very far from Madrid.  You can see it here. It’s funny but even after all these years, I still get a kick out of seeing her on TV. I suppose that’s the magic of television.

But back to London. I got to Victoria at around 11.45 and there was my darling daughter Suzy to pick me up.  We hugged for what seemed like an awful long time as we hadn’t seen each other since Christmas.  She was looking gorgeous. We went straight to her home in Camden on the tube.  Her new house which she shares with Anita from “La Manada” and two delightful Argentinian friends and sisters, Julieta and Vicky who both work for Amazon at their UK HQ, is really nice and a huge improvement from her previous accommodation in Whitechapel, Canada Water and Bermondsey.  Here we are in a selfie outside her front door.

Outside Suzy's house on the first day, about to hit Oxford Street!
As soon as I had settled in, we were out again and on our way to Oxford Street but first we stopped for a quick lunch at Whole Foods. Our first stop was at Uniqlo which I call the “Japanese Zara” on Oxford Street.  Here I bought a white ultra-light down parka jacket and Suzy got several cardigans.  Here I am happy with my purchase by the jackets.
Shopping at Uniqlo on the first day
We also had luck at Urban Outfitters.  I was delighted there when I found a typical yellow fisherman type raincoat which will be perfect for Montrondo.
Very happy with my new fisherman's raincoat from Urban Outfitters
We took the 29 bus back to Camden where we got off and entered Sainsbury’s to do some food shopping for breakfasts and for a nice dinner at the house that night.  We bought so much the bags were too heavy to carry home.  Then when the bus came it was too full to get on, so I hailed a cab and to Suzy’s amazement we brought the shopping home in style.

Coming home in a cab with all our shopping
Friday was dedicated to a trip down memory lane to Cambridge.  This was the town where my parents met and fell in love; on the Joint Services Language courses organized by the Professor of Russian at the University, Dame Elizabeth Hill who I have often written about here in my blog.  My Father graduated at Selwyn College in 1950 having studied German and Scandinavian languages.  He would go on to learn Russian under Liza Hill before becoming her right hand man on these secret Cold War classrooms.  It was on these courses my parents met and fell in love.  They got married in 1952 I think and both my brother and I were born at the house they bought at 291 Milton Road.  We left Cambridge when I was about 2 in either 1959 or 1960 so I have no recollections of our life in that beautiful University City, only the tales my Mother used to tell me of her cycling in the city with both of us on her bike and how she would do the shopping at market square.  We did go back to visit of course and I think the photo below of the four of us was taken in the garden at our old house.
With my parents and brother George outside our old house in Cambridge - circa 1961
We got off the bus  just after 10.30 and it was drizzling and cold. I was wearing a short jacket and leggings so I needed to go to M+S (notice the word “needed”) to buy some warmer trousers.  I ended up buying a pair of jeans and a striped hoody. Suzy got some lovely stuff to wear for her new job.  From M+S we made our way to Market Square which conjured up images of what my Mother’s life here must have been like.  We walked onto King’s Parade and bought tickets to visit the Chapel and grounds of King’s College, perhaps the most famous college at the University. 
Suzy on King's Parade in Cambridge
The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Suzy and I on the bridge over the River Cam beyond the grounds of King’s College by The Backs.  We loved our visit and I remarked to Suzy that I wondered whether the young people studying there realize just how privileged they are. 
King's College Cambridge
After the visit we walked along the streets admiring the colleges like St. Johns and even ventured into Gonville Caius College which was beautiful.  What little I know about the collegiate system and the colleges at “Oxbridge” I passed onto Suzy.  She loved the “quads” (quadrangle lawns) as I do too.

From Caius we made our way to The Punter pub where we had booked a table for lunch.  I had found it on Trip Advisor and it met my expectations.  Here I took a photo of my daughter who seems to look more beautiful every day as she is turning into a woman.
Suzy at The Punter pub where we had lunch in Cambridge
I have to confess I had fish and chips made with fresh cod for lunch which was out of this world.  Suzy had a vegan dish!

From The Punter we decided to walk to the house where I was born on 291 Milton Road.  It was a long walk.  In fact we walked so much that day I was pleased to see that according to my fitbit we had done over 19km in one day.
My fitbit on Friday the day we went to Cambridge, we walked nearly 20km in one day!
When we got to the house I had mixed feelings.  Of course it was not a luxurious one, just a normal looking house on a main road outside Cambridge but it was the house where I was born as babies were born at home in the 50’s; so rather a nostalgic moment and a real trip down memory lane to my origins.   
Outside the house where I was born on 291 Milton Road in Cambridge
I stood outside looking in and Suzy took the pictures like the one above.  I debated whether to knock on the door and finally decided to do so as I knew I would regret it later if I didn’t.  The owner who opened the door was not at all friendly and doubted my story and no way was he going to ask us to come in.  I was a little disappointed and the moment was dampened, but there you are, not everyone is like me because I can assure you that if someone knocked on my door and said they had been born in my house xxx number of years ago, they would get a warm welcome.  But it was not to be.  Never mind.

We walked back via Jesus Green to the City Centre and there was not much to do until our bus was leaving at 18.50.  We sat down in a café to escape from the cold and I took the opportunity to catch up on some burning issues at work. Thank god for mobile phones when you are on the move.  The bus leaving was late and we weren’t home till 9.30 and we were exhausted.  I staggered into bed after a meagre dinner and slept until 7.30 the next day.

Yesterday, Saturday morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and didn’t leave the house until 10.30.  We caught the 29 bus, using our oyster cards and got off near Tottenham Court Road where Suzy took me to Planet Organic where she has been working for 9 months but has left for a job as a sales representative with the up and coming supplement company Bare Biology whose brand Lion Heart is doing very well.  Hopefully Suzy will be at least as happy with them as she has been with Planet Organic. I met many of her colleagues and Suzy turned our time there into a blast greeting everyone and introducing them all to me.  We did lots of shopping there too as the products on sale are fabulous.  I shall miss the free sample products Suzy used to give usL
Suzy at Planet Organic on Saturday morning
From there we walked to Oxford Street which was of course very crowded it being a Saturday morning.  To make it even more crowded there was a demonstration on in favour of welcoming refugees and against racism.  As I fully agree on the subject I picked up a placard and Suzy took this funny photo of me by Oxford Circus.  I wouldn’t have minded joining the demonstration but preferred some more quality Mother and daughter time in the city.
Joining the demonstration in Oxford Street (for the photo only altho I completely agree with the protest)
I wanted to go to Geox to get some blue mix suede sneakers I had seen. Little did I know I would be practicing my Portuguese there with a lovely sales assistant called Sandra from Oporto.  It was novel talking to her in the language I learned at University but which has gone rather rusty. Yesterday it came back. My mother was right when she said learning a language is like learning to ride a bicycle.  You may get rusty but you never forget it.  I felt quite proud of myself.  The shop didn’t have my number so had to order the shoes from another store. We would be back after lunch to pick them up.

From Geox we made our way to the new flagship store of Uniqlo which was opening that day on Oxford Street.  I wanted to get another ultra-light down parka, the hooded water defender model which wasn’t available at their other store. It was here I think I lost my lovely blue fur collar.  A huge party was going on for the opening day. I love their ultra-light down parkas so I hope the store soon comes to Spain.  We met a lovely girl outside, one of the promoters giving out balloons. She was of a half Japanese half Philippine Mother and Spanish Father and couldn’t have been more beautiful or exotic.  Don’t you agree?
The Uniqlo opening promotion of their new flagship store on Oxford Street
Lunch that day was Indian cuisine; curry my favourite in England along with fish and chips or a Sunday roast.  Suzy had found a place called Gopal’s of Soho which turned out to be pretty good. Later an Indian friend of Oli’s, Sandeep, commented he had eaten there too and liked it.  So we obviously made the right choice.

Suzy at Gopal's of Soho, a great little curry house

Unfortunately when we returned to Geox the shoes had not arrived so we had to wait for a while.  We sat outside on an empty bench and watched the world go by.  A young man came up to Suzy and just told her how beautiful he thought she was.  I couldn’t agree more haha. It was a funny moment which made us laugh. 
A collage of Suzy waiting for me on Oxford Street outside Geox yesterday afternoon
Finally the shoes arrived and ti was time to go home if we were to have a rest before hitting the city again.  Suzy was to go to a farewell drinks party with her colleagues from Planet Organic and I was meeting our friends, Keith and Lorraine for dinner in Covent Garden at 7pm.   We left a bit late so I was not on time for the dinner date  at Palm Court Brasserie on King Street.  What made me late was trying to find Covent Garden when I got off the 69 bus on Tottenham Court Road.  London was so busy with theatre and party goers I found the atmosphere a bit too much for me.  Thankfully a nice black man helped me find my way and soon I was with our friends.  They made a great choice with the restaurant which satisfied my craving for more fish and chips.
With our friends Keith and Lorraine who treated me to dinner last night at The Palm Court Brasserie in Covent Garden.
Thankfully on the way back my friends walked me to Leicester Square where I could catch a tube straight to Camden Street station on the Northern Line.  When I got out I couldn’t believe the number of revelers on the street and decided to catch a cab back to Suzy’s house as I knew I wouldn’t find my way at that time of night.  A 33 year old Bangladeshi drove me home and as always when I meet immigrants, I asked him about his life and what his country was like.  I am beginning to resemble my Mother who would talk to anyone on the street eager to get to know fellow human beings.  So far on this trip I have met and spoken to people from all around the world including Bangladesh, Pakistan, Albania, Portugal, Colombia, The Argentine, USA and probably more.  I love talking to people from other countries but then again I grew up in a multi- cultured household.

I was home by 11 and soon in bed reading my book; “The sons of fortune” by Jeffrey Archer.  And today is Sunday, my last full day with Suzy.  We plan to visit Camden Market and walk to Primrose Hill and I’m not yet sure how the rest of the day will pan out.

Now I will leave you as Suzy has just got up and I don’t want to waste my time with her writing my blog. 

You will hear again from me next Sunday, Easter Day and find out all about the end of my trip to London, my journey home and then our stay in Montrondo.

Cheers till then/Masha

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