Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter in Montrondo, home again, snap elections announced in the UK, the girls have new jobs, spring flowers and other stories.

Sunday 23rd April 2017.

At peace in Montrondo 
Hi again everyone,

How is your day so far? It's St. George's Day today and also today the French voters will be going to the polls for what looks like being a very tense general election, amidst very high security.

Last Sunday for us was not at all tense. It was Easter Day and I had quite a lazy morning, something I needed in order to deal with my now improving but not quite gone, Bell's Palsy. Its sudden oncoming really rang a bell (excuse the pun) for me to slow down.  I slowed down in Montrondo but it has not been so easy to do so once home. 

I spent the  morning clearing up just a bit, washing the sheets, making the lunch for the two of us and spending  quality time with my sister-in-law Adela.  Her son Roberto, his wife, Ana and their delightful little girls had come to spend the day. We were lucky with the weather all through our Easter break in our beloved village. That morning, Dolores accompanied me on what would be my first walk of the day; to Murias and back. As ever we were joined by our dogs, Nuba and Pippa. Pippa is very much at home in the area, knowing every nook and cranny. Here she is posing for a photo. Well, I like to think that.
Pippa in Montrondo
I ate more Easter egg for lunch on Sunday as I did on Saturday after lunch and dinner. I really thought I would have put on weight. However once home, I returned to my maintenance diet and when I weighed myself on Wednesday I was down to 55.2kg. I quickly dealt with the loss by eating much more on Thursday and on Friday morning weighed 56.3. Tomorrow I shall return to the maintenance diet hahahaha. I must say the chocolate eggs, Lindt and Terry's chocolate orange, were delicious and melted in my mouth. I hadn't tasted chocolate for a long long time. 

Thanks to the chocolate and a small glass of wine, I slept a long and needed siesta. Then Eladio joined me for what would be our last walk in Montrondo before leaving the next day. We went on our "new walk", through the woods above the stream that leads to Murias. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me and Pippa on that walk. I also caught Eladio on camera, joined by Nuba and with Pippa rushing ahead towards me. It's lovely isn't it. It's funny to see her ears flapping in the wind as she runs on her small four paws hahaha.
Pippa running towards me with Eladio and Nuba coming up behind her on our walk on Sunday afternoon in Montrondo.
Early on Monday morning I woke up to see a new Airbnb booking on the app on my phone. This time it was for a Dutch family coming for 4 nights in July. I am thoroughly enjoying managing my rental business and have become quite addicted to the app, answering people as soon as the requests come through. While we were in Montrondo, we had 3 Russian Airbnb guests and more to come this weekend. 

Sadly we had to leave Montrondo after breakfast. We had decided to leave on Monday to avoid the traffic on Easter Day. It was sad to leave and I don't know when we will next be back but I hope it's soon.
With a heavy heart we said goodbye to beautiful Montrondo on Monday morning
We stopped in León on our way home to visit my brother-in-law in hospital. Soon we were on the road again. We stopped for lunch and were home by 5. Eladio went off to his afternoon classes. I went off to Ikea to buy lots of bedding and "stuff" for the rooms I rent on Airbnb. You see, I have to invest in my business hahaha. Whilst there I dropped into the food store and got lots of the things we like such as salmon, prawns, biscuits and jams for my Father as well as their lovely pear cider. Oli was home that night and guess what we had for dinner? Well of course, Ikea prawn and salmon salad. The nice thing was having it alfresco, as the weather was lovely.  I also love the fact that at this time of year it gets dark at 9.30 p.m. 

On Tuesday it was back to my maintenance diet. I had to go to the Labour Exchange again that morning, this time to submit documents to prove I was self employed. I have to go back again as they also need to see another document which hasn't arrived yet. Oh, how I hate this bureaucracy. On the way home, I stopped off at Zara Home and Carrefour for a few more things for my "hotel business" which is what Eladio calls it hahaha. 

It was on Tuesday that Theresa May called a surprise "snap" General Election on 8th June. That really was a surprise as she had previously said she wouldn't. But it's obvious she is looking for extra support for her Brexit plans to go through and is having difficulty. 
Theresa May announces the "snap" General Election this week
Explaining the decision, Mrs May said: "The country is coming together but Westminster is not." In my opinion, neither is coming together. 

On Wednesday I really got down to work on new and old projects. This week I mainly concentrated on the PR plan for my Valencian customer, The Berklee School of Music there which belongs to the most famous school in the world for contemporary music and performing arts of the same name, in Boston, USA. They are holding TEDx talks on 29th April with a host of influential speakers and it is my job to get them some international coverage. It's no mean task as the participation in TEDx talks is, to quote the ex CNN correspondent in Madrid, "one big yawn". I know it is and told the organisers so, but am soldiering on. 

The cupboards had become bare during our absence and on Wednesday I had to go and do the food shopping of the week. That meant there was lots for dinner. I made a lovely tuna fish salad which we would enjoy with Oli that night, but this time not alfresco as the days have become a little cooler. Here is my culinary creation. 
A staple dinner salad which we all like in this house; tuna fish salad. 
If Wednesday was a busy day work wise, Thursday was even busier. I spent all day, scouring the web for international contacts for the Valencian press release from different sectors, music, education, telecoms, general, etc. I was so busy I had to skip one of my walks which was a bit of a sacrifice. 

It was while we were having dinner and watching the news on my iPad Plus (thank you Yoigo for your past generosity) that we learned of another terrorist attack in Paris, just a few days before the elections. We watched nearly real time.  Terrorists shot Gendarmes in the Champs Elysee, the very heart of France.  One was killed and others injured. It was not a good omen for the elections and yet another stab in the back to Paris, the most beautiful city in the world.

On Friday, the Queen turned 91. When I say "the Queen" you have to know I refer to the Queen of England, Elizabeth II.  I'm a bit of royalist at heart. 

The Queen turned 91 yesterday. 
She celebrated her birthday doing what she likes best, watching horses race. Here she is at Newbury yesterday. One of her horses was in the race but didn't give her a birthday present as it came 5th. Even so she looks very happy.

Whilst the Queen was enjoying the horse race, I was working hard, this time on a free PR project for my American friend and ex Nokia colleague, Jill. She has set up a school for a new kind of sport for women called Wanna Wanz. It's all about walking and dancing and seems a great idea. I wrote a press release for her for an upcoming event in May in the lovely Retiro park in Madrid. It's a fun project but when I started I had no idea what I was doing as it was not a familiar subject. I am far more familiar with telco PR. 

On Friday I met my telco customer, Miquel who heads up Genaker which makes critical commuinications (professional mobile radio to you). We met at Atocha train station that afternoon to discuss the activities for their participation in a Fair taking place in Hong Kong in May. Whoopee I shall be going there with them and I can't wait. 

It was when I left Miquel and his colleague David, who would be catching the AVE (high speed train) back to Barcelona that I got news from Suzy. She called to say she had accepted a job as a Band 6 dietitian with the NHS at their hospital in Ipswich.Wow she will be living and working in Ipswich, the county town of Suffolk and supposedly the oldest town in England. She will start on 3rd May, the day Oli and I will be returning from our visit to her.

But Oli has news too. She also is changing jobs. When we were in Montrondo she accepted the job as reporter for Telemadrid's star programme, "Madrileños por el Mundo". It's a programme that goes out to see and shoot the stories of people from Madrid who live in cities around the world. It means she will be travelling somewhere one week every month. 

I'm so happy and proud for my darling daughters and wish them the best of luck in their new jobs, a step up for both of them in their careers. 

I came home to get everything ready for the first set of Airbnb guests this weekend. Two French students of Moroccan origin were coming to stay for the night. They were to take an entrance exam at the nearby Universidad Europea de Madrid, where Oli studied. It was to study medicine. They were lovely girls and we hardly saw them. In fact neither Eladio nor Oli did. 

On Friday night we went out to dinner to Ginos, the 3 of us. It was my weekly break in my diet and I enjoyed a plate of pasta as I always do there, followed by pistachio ice cream. 

On Saturday morning I drove the French Moroccan girls to the University as their entrance exam was at 8.15 and they had to rush. I came home to get everything ready for our next Airbnb guests, a family of 8 from Valladolid coming for a wedding. The group included the grandmother, a dog and a small boy!!!  Every time guests come, I pick fresh flowers to put in their rooms. I also put a plate of fruit to make everything look welcoming. 

Well yesterday morning I had lots of flowers to choose from as Spring has made many of them blossom in our garden. I chose the beautiful yellow roses which are probably my favourite.  They say yellow roses mean jealousy but they also mean welcome, gladness and a new beginning. I prefer to think of them as part of my new beginning and of course the beginning of spring and summer.
Our beautiful yellow roses
I also chose a beautiful spring blossom from a bush which flowers at this time of year. I couldn't remember the name though. Eladio says it's called "celindo" but that is in Spanish. I found out later that in English the name is "mock orange" or "English dogwood". The botanical name is actually Philadelphus Coronarius. Coincidentally yesterday was "Earth Day" and it seemed fitting to pick flowers from our Mediterranean garden.
Our beautiful mock orange blossom
The rooms looked lovely with the flowers. You can see 2 of them here. The Green room and Suzy's "pink room". 

Two of our Airbnb rooms ready yesterday for new guests
 If you ever want to stay with us, here is the advert.

We also got the swimming pool terrace in ship shape, although the pool itself won't be open until May. Here is Eladio with Pippa trying out the new sofa we added recently.
Eladio with Pippa yeterday on the swimming pool terrace

When everything was ready, I started making yesterday's lunch, lasagna, another family favourite. My guests arrived just as I was finishing .After settling into their rooms, they all got ready for the wedding and soon left. We wouldn't see them again until late last night. 

I worked all afternoon, sending out the press release on the TED talks, this time to media in Puerto Rico as the main speaker is from there, the musician and producer called Eduardo Cabra from Calle 13 and aka as El Visitante. I had to tailor each email and press release to fit the type of media I was writing to. Later I would send it to international media for music, higher education and telecoms. So far I have not seen any interest whatsoever which is a bit frustrating. What I have achieved however is the interest of TVE in some of the speakers. 

And today is Sunday, St George's Day and also the day of the French Elections. People will be voting amid high security and I really hope nothing untoward happens. I wonder who will win. 
The 4 main candidates in the French General Elections today

The four main candidates are the conservative François Fillon, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-left's Jean-Luc Mélenchon. I haven't followed the campaign much but do hope that Marine Le Pen will not win for the sake of democracy.  We will not know the outcome soon as the elections in France go through to second rounds so it may be some time until an out and out winner is proclaimed.

Today the family from Vallodolid will be leaving and I am expecting another Aribnb guest, from France, by the way. I wonder whether she will have had time to vote before coming. Her name is Astrid and she is a 30 year old professional golf player. She is here to play in a tournament and will stay for 4 nights. I look forward to meeting her.

So my friends, I have come to the end of the tales of this week. All that remains is to say, have a great day and week and cheers till next time.

All the best

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Bloody Palm Sunday in Egypt, Spanish golf victory, Korean Airbnb guests, hosting Kathy and Phil, to Montrondo for Easter, US bombs ISIS in Afghanistan and other tales of the week.

Sunday 15th April 2017
Enjoying our Easter holiday with the family in Montrondo.
Hi everyone,

I am writing from peaceful Montrondo; the place to get away from all the violence we have seen this week around the world and the place for me to relax after so much activity since I lost my job with Yoigo. 

Palm Sunday turned out to be a bloody Sunday. It started off quietly for us at home with Eladio mowing the lawn. It was quiet for Suzy too in London. They had great weather and that day  she relaxed with her friends, Vicky, Chati and Anita in Victoria Park basking in the sun.

Oli, meanwhile, had arrived the night before in the beautiful fishing village of Cudillero in Asturias in the north of Spain. They would be staying at the lovely Casona de la Paca a place we have stayed at now twice.

 Miguel outside La Casona de la Paca upon their arrival last Sunday
Oli showing off their room at the lovely hotel in pretty Cudillero
Sunday was spoiled and turned into a bloody Palm Sunday when two blasts targeting Coptic churches in Egypt killed at least 44 people.
Bloody Palm Sunday in Egypt
The day ended sadly when we heard that Spain's first woman Minister of Defence, Carmen Chacon was found dead in her home in Barcelona that night. She had a heart problem and used to say that everyday was a gift. Carmen, aged only 46, leaves a little boy behind. She once nearly became the leader of the Socialist party and was well loved and respected by all political parties in Spain. When she was first appointed Minister of Defence she was heavily pregnant. The image of her inspecting troops in Afghanistan is one that turned into something of  a symbol in Spain. I, for one, will never forget it or her. 
Carmen Chacó, Spain's 1st woman Minister of Defence, inspecting the troops in Afghanistan when she was heavily pregnant.
My 6 Korean guests arrived late that night. They came in a huge van which they parked inside. They would occupy our 3 spare bedrooms. As soon as they had settled in they wanted to cook their dinner so I left them to it. Thank goodness the next day I found the kitchen in a good state as I was a bit worried there would be funny smells and unwashed dishes.  No, they behaved perfectly. So far all of my guests have been very well behaved. So far, too, we have received 6 sets of guests since February and I now have 7 bookings until July. No doubt, there will be more in the meantime. It's quite a lucrative business and also quite fun to meet new people. As I am writing this, we have 3 Russians at home,  St. Petersburg! 

On Monday I woke up to the news that Spain's Sergio García had won his first Masters at Augusta in the US. He would be the 3rd Spaniard to win it, joining the prestigious ranks of his predecessors, Severiano Ballesteros and Chema Olazabal who both got to wear the coveted green jacket that comes with winning Augusta.

The 3 Spanish golfers who will go down in golfing history

He beat Britain's Justin Rose and if I had watched the end of the competition I'm sure my heart would have been divided. Sergio García is a great player, now aged 35, who has always played very well but somehow never managed to win a Masters Tournament. Well last Sunday he did and he did so on what would have been his hero, Seve Ballastero's 60th birthday. No doubt "Seve" would have been very proud of him as most of Spain was last week. 

Our Korean guests who just loved our house and garden left early. They were travelling around Spain and would be visiting Madrid that day. Here they are just before they left. 
With my Korean Airbnb guests on Monday morning. 
It was a beautiful day and Eladio and I decided to bring out the swimming pool terrace furniture. We rearranged it too to gain more seating space and even brought down a wicker sofa from the glass "gallery" in our room which we never really use. 
There is more sitting space now on the terrace by the pool.
Lucy helped us. She is turning into a gem of a home help and I really like her. The feeling is mutual and we now go together on my afternoon walk when my Father is reading in his room. And here she is enjoying the sun and the countryside.
Lucy on our afternoon walk last Monday. 
Of note on Monday, Olivia's latest programme was broadcast. It was called "For the love and God" and you can see it here. It was to coincide with the Easter week and the subjects of her programme were modern day priests and nuns. I loved it.
Oli with one of the nuns who featured in her programme.
Tuesday was a good day. That day I received my first payment from my first customers. Hopefully it will be the first of many. It may well be as I am being inundated with requests for PR plans. I now have a new customer, this time from Valencia and a potential one from Poland of all places which you will read about later.  Yes, life is very very busy at the moment. 

Tuesday was my dear sister-in-law Dolores' 70th birthday.  Long may you live my dearest sister-in-law.  As you will know, it was thanks to her that I met Eladio.  I first met her as a conversation teacher at her school in Madrid in 1979 when she took me under her wing. Little did I know that one day we would become family!!!!

Oli and Miguel were enjoying their stay in Asturias and I was following their holiday, vicariously, from the photos they sent. That day they visited  Castropol where we once went on holiday with the girls when they were toddlers, and the very famous "Cathedral Beach" (playa de las catedrales) which is actually in neighbouring Galicia. They were lucky with the weather too. Oh  I do love Asturias and they do too.

Oli in Castropol this week
The famous "playa de  las catedrales" in Galicia.
On Tuesday we were having guests. Our dear friends from Yorkshire, Phil and Kathy on tour through France and Spain would be coming to spend the night. I went to school (St. Joseph's College Bradford) with Kathy so we go a long way back. It was a long time since we had seen each other too and it was great to have them. 

They were here just before lunch and we sat on the newly arranged terrace before the meal, enjoying the weather.
It was lovely to host our friends Kathy and Phil this week
After lunch I had a conference call with my new Valencian customers and Eladio went off to his lessons. The 3 of us enjoyed a cup of tea together before going for a walk in the afternoon sun. 

Soon Eladio was back and I was able to show my friends our new Mini which I know Kathy loved as she, like me, is a Mini fan. And here I am showing the car off while the courtesy Mini branded lights reflect on the floor of the garage hahaha.
My new Mini with its branded courtesy lights hahaha.
We had an enjoyable dinner together outside that night and for the occasion Lucy had made us some meat pies. I think they are common to both Argentina and Paraguay. They were really tasty. We look forward to trying more Paraguayan cuisine if that's what you can call it. And here are the 2 men enjoying each other's company before we sat down to dinner.
Elado with Phil on Tuesday night
The day did not end well on the international front. That night 3 bombs exploded near the Dortmund Borussia football team bus, just before they were due to play Monaco in the Champions League Quarter Finals. This is what the bus looked like after the blasts.
The Dortmund Borussia bus which was attacked by bombs on Tuesday 
It was another act of terrorism and a shock to the football world. Is nothing free of this new type of terrorism? Thankfully there were no fatalities and only one player injured. It was the Spanish defender, Marc Bartra. The match was postponed and the local fans rose to the occasion by offering free accommodation to the rival fans.

This would be in sharp contrast to the behaviour of the English fans of the Leicester football club who were in Spain for their team's Quarter Final match against Atlético de Madrid. The worst type of hooliganism took place during their stay in the Spanish capital. They behaved abominably, letting off smoke bombs and throwing bottles and literally destroying the beautiful 17th century Plaza Mayor whilst chanting "Gibraltar is ours". 
Leicester hooligans on the rampage this week in Madrid. I am ashamed of them. 
They are the worst ambassadors the UK could have and I am ashamed of them. They even taunted beggars by throwing coins at them. In the English press there has been more news about the reaction of the Spanish police and not much said about the destruction they caused or their abominable behaviour or ranting on about Gibraltar. I was happy to hear later they lost to Atlético. They well deserved to. 

Wednesday was hectic, very hectic really and by the end of the day I would realise I have to relax more and get more sleep as I am completely stressed and exhausted although I didn't know it. I had an appointment with "Hacienda" (The Treasury) to get my digital certificate as a self employed person. I then had to rush back to get ready to go to Montrondo. Eladio also rushed off, but earlier, to his last class before Easter which started at 8 am. I was home on time to pack the food and stuff for Montrondo and to say goodbye to Kathy Phil who would be heading to Nerja near Málaga via Don Quixote land. In the end we didn't leave until 12.15. I left Lucy behind to look after my Father and the 3 Russian Airbnb guests who would be arriving the next day. That was a bit of a risk as she has been with us for such a short time.

I drove and whilst I had my foot on the accelerator I realised something was wrong with my face. My right eye had been twitching since Monday and I had noticed the day before that I was spilling water as I tried to drink a cup of tea with my friends. Wednesday got worse when I even found difficulty talking! My mouth felt lopsided and numb and my eyelids were drooping - they still are and my face looks awful. But I carried on, not very worried, and soon we would stop at Rueda at the lovely Palacio de Bornos for a platter of ham for lunch.
Eladio at Rueda on Wednesday
Before driving to Montrondo, we were to stop at León to visit my brother-in-law who is in hospital.  Oli and Miguel, who would be driving from Asturias were to join us in León and we were to meet at the hospital. We were there by 4pm but Oli hadn't arrived and  my sister-in-law was at home resting. So we decided to go to her house. It was there that I mentioned the problems I was encountering in my face. There and then, she insisted I go to the doctor. Both of Eladio's sisters were a bit alarmed. I was too when the doctor thought I had had a minor stroke. She sent us to A+E at the same hospital my brother-in-law is at. It was rather ironic that I had come to see him at hospital and ended up having to go myself. Oli and Miguel were soon there. After seeing 2 doctors I was diagnosed with what is called "Bell's palsy", or facial paralysis. I was prescribed steroids and artificial tear drops and was told to be careful with my eye which I realised at the hospital wouldn't shut properly. I would have to wear a patch on it at night. I was told there is no apparent cause for Bell's palsy but have since heard it can be caused by a virus, stress or a lack of sleep. It's quite obvious it was the latter. 

We left after visiting my brother-in-law.   It was nearly 9 by the time we left and we didn't get to Montrondo until past 10pm. Dear Dolores had made dinner for us all and it was pleasure to sit down at their table and enjoy a family meal; not to mention that we were all starving. 

On Maunday Thursday I was awake at 5ish but forced myself to stay in bed until 6.15. I woke up to read an email from Poland from an ex Nokia colleague who wanted to hire me as their PR consultant for a special mobile phone app that allows medical students to share cases. They want me to do the PR internationally. I took one look and the first thing I saw was an operation on Siamese twins! As usual I said yes, not knowing at all how to tackle the subject but somehow I will. Next week I shall be very busy starting on the Valencia music school PR plan, doing a PR plan for another ex Nokia colleague and friend on a walk and dance school in Madrid as well as working on the PR plan for my Catalan clients' participation in a communications fair in Hong Kong. Just the thought of all that brings back the stress I mentioned earlier. A friend of mine who is also a freelance consultant advised me not to accept all requests but at the moment "beggars can't be choosers". 

But I was determined to enjoy my Easter break here in Montrondo and try to disconnect. I did so by going to nearby Villablino with Miguel, Oli and Dolores that morning to do the food shopping at Gadis, a great supermarket I wish we had in Madrid. And here I am filling the trolley with Miguel.
Shopping in Villablino on Thursday
Afterwards we went to have a coffee with Teresa, Pedro Delgado's mother-in-law who lives in Villablino and who we know very well. We were joined later by lots of her family; mostly cousins who treated us to the coffee and drinks. It was a fun moment and here we are all together.
With Teresa and her cousins in Villablino on Thursday
We returned to Montrondo to find more of the family had arrived; Eladio's youngest brother, Isidro, his wife Yoli, their daughters Laura and Alicia, as well as my Mother-in-law. After lunch I tried to take a nap but was interrupted constantly by Lucy ringing for me to talk to the 3 Russian Airbnb guests who had arrived from St. Petersburg. I wish I had been able to meet them. Lucy was afraid they were from the Russian mafia but later I was comforted to hear from my Russian neighbour Katya, that they were normal people, designers of some sort. Suzy rang too. She is in the throes of getting a new job with the NHS. One was to work in Great Yarmouth and the other in Ipswich but neither has materialised yet. Good luck Suzy!

Later we went on a walk, just the women, Miguel and the dogs, Dolores and I took them on our newly discovered path above Murias and along the river, through the woods. The photo illustrating this week's post is of us on the walk enjoying the afternoon sun and being together.

That night, Oli, Miguel and I made the the dinner; vegetable soup, home made croquettes and ham. Oli and Miguel also made their favourite cake, carrot cake. And here we are in the throes of cooking together.
Cooking in Montrondo with Oli and Miguel
It was while we were cooking that we heard that Donald Trump had given the order for the US to drop what would later be called "the mother of all bombs" on ISIS caves and tunnels where they store weapons, in Afghanistan. 

"The Mother of all bombs"
The strike followed last week's death of a US soldier fighting ISIS in Nangarhar. The Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB) weighing 9.800 kilos was built in 2003 but had never been used in combat before. It is the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by the US. Apart from destroying ISIS arsenal of weapons, it killed over 90 ISIS militants and who knows how many innocent people. Donald Trump called it "another successful job". He is turning into quite a Presidential warmonger. ISIS is one thing but North Korea is another and now Trump is taunting Kim Jung-Un who is enjoying the limelight and says his country is ready for a nuclear war. That is frightening. 

The next day was Good Friday. This year, unable to find any hot cross buns, I brought scones and crumpets instead. I ate them with gusto, despite their including palm oil of which there is much fuss at the moment. Hopefully I worked some of it off after our long walk up the mountains that morning. It was another sunny day and we enjoyed the views and new signs of spring on our way up. Here is Eladio climbing up the very familiar path.
Eladio coming up the mountain path
Our destination was "El Abedular", the birch tree forest where there are views of the snow capped Tambarón mountain which we climbed last summer. Here we took the traditional photos, first one of us and then one of Oli and Miguel. I had to wear sun glasses as my eye looked awful with my drooping eye lid. I am so worried it will stay like that and if it does, I shall have no other option than to operate it.
On our walk in the mountains on Good Friday

Oli and Miguel with the Tambarón mountain in the background.
On Good Friday we had a family lunch and all ate outside. Everyone chipped in. From our house we contributed with salads and fruit and Miguel made a delicious risotto. Dolores made roast chickens and Yoli barbecued steak. So you see we did not observe any sort of Good Friday fasting and ate meat, rather than fish hahaha. It was lovely to have lunch all together although many members of the family were missing and they were in my mind.
Family lunch on Good Friday

In the evening Isidro and his family left, leaving my mother-in-law with us. Oli, Miguel and I went on another walk a bit later and I was pleased to see that my fitbit later registered I had walked more than 20.000 steps that day.  

On Saturday there would be more walking and in the morning, Oli, Miguel, Pippa and Dolores' dog, Nuba, walked to Senra and back; about 8km. But we had a little reward on arrival in Senra when we sat in the sun having a coffee. 

Once home I hung up the washing on the new lines Eladio had installed last summer and Oli caught me on the camera. You have to admit it is a beautiful place to hang out the washing. 

Lunch was fish and chips, naughty but nice. What was really naughty was the eating of delicious milk chocolate Easter eggs afterwards. I had ordered 2 online (Cadburys and Lindt). As Oli would be leaving that day we opened them on Saturday instead of Sunday. I binged on chocolate, something I hadn't eaten for months. Later I slept a long siesta and woke up feeling drugged hahha. I came down to find members of the family pottering around in the front "garden" and spent some quality time with them.  That was me because Eladio was working as you can see in the photo here with his brother Toño.

Adela, Marta, Oli and the "abuela" watched them also enjoying family time, together outside our house on our lovely wooden bench.

Soon Oli and Miguel were to leave as they wanted to avoid any heavy traffic on Sunday. With time on our hands, I went for another walk, this time to Murias and back with Adela and Dolores.

For dinner I carried on digging into the Easter egg and also drank a glass of delicious Marqués de Riscal Rioja wine. Thankfully, for once, I didn't get a headache and in fact slept relatively well last night. This morning, Easter Day I was awake at 5.30 but made myself stay in bed until nearly 7 am, quite a victory for me hahaha.

Being Easter Day I carried on eating the scones and crumpets and gave no thought to the scales. There will be time to go back to my diet once I am home hahaha.

It's another lovely day, our last in Montrondo and I intend to make the most of it. Of course you will hear all about it in next week's post.

So Happy Easter to you all. And to my Russian friends and family, Xristos Vaskresi as Russian Christmas, unusually, coincides this year with non Orthodox Easter. I shall be polishing off the rest of the Easter egg with no guilty feelings, well just a few hahaha.

Cheers all until next time everyone,


Saturday, April 08, 2017

War talk about Gibraltar, I joined the Mini club, Oli making a programme on “Urban Tribes”, a week of terror, dinner with Fátima and other stories.

Sunday 9th April, 2017

Dressed for the occasion, off to another audition.
Good morning everyone.

It's not been a good week in many ways.  There have been terrible attacks in Syria, in St. Petersburg and in Stockholm, of all places and on a personal side there has been bad news.

Sunday was a good day.  I forgot to mention last week that as from 1st April I am now self employed.  It was a big decision to make, foregoing my "dole" but the only way to pursue my new career as a fledgling communications consultant and also the only way to be able to invoice my customers. On Saturday I sent my first invoice and on Monday my second.  I haven't been paid yet but, when I am I shall probably celebrate. I wonder how it's going to go.  This is a new life for me and very uncertain too. 

I spent Sunday morning sorting out all the bedding after our home help Salud left and what a mess it was in.  I needed to organise the sheets and duvet covers for our 7 en suite bedrooms and more importantly to make sure I had enough of everything for the 3 rooms I rent out on Airbnb. 

We had mini hamburgers for lunch followed by a naughty but nice raspberry and cream cake which both Oli and I were so tempted by at Carrefour when we went shopping on Saturday afternoon. 

I spent the afternoon, preparing documents for an application for a very interesting job as Director of Communication and Marketing for a public audiovisual company. This required, among so many other documents and information, a 5 page essay or document - called "memoria" here - on on the content, organisation and functions of the job.  Eladio and Oli proofread it and we were all happy with its content. I don't think I will get the job because of my age and also because one of the requisites is to be from the audiovisual sector which I am not.  But I had to give it a try. 

Dinner with Eladio and Oli was makeshift but wonderful. I made a Swedish dish called "skagen" which is basically prawns in mayonnaise on toast or brown bread decorated with slices of hard boiled egg. It's a dish I love and so do Oli and Eladio.
Sunday night's "skagen" which we had for dinner.
I don't know what Suzy in London had for dinner that night but I imagine she was out for a meal as she had guests last weekend. Her flatmate Chati's sister and Suzy's best friend, Elena and their Mother were staying. I didn't hear much but was thankful for photos posted on Facebook by Elena.  It looked like they had great weather for once. 
Suzy had guests in London last weekend
Monday started for me with another audition, this time to take part in an advertisement for Antena 3 TV.  It was fun and I enjoyed the experience but never heard back. I have now been to 4 or 5 auditions and although I have been told I look good on camera, so far I don't seem to have "passed" any of them.  Well I shall continue just for the fun of it and who knows, maybe one day I will be chosen hahaha.

The fun didn't last long when I heard about the bullish attitude of the UK concerning Gibraltar. The former leader of the Conservative party, Lord Howard, had said on Sunday that Theresa May would defend Gibraltar in the same way as Margaret Thatcher defended the Falklands in the 1982 war.  It's amazing, that so soon after triggering Article 50 to leave the EU, there are tensions between members. The tension came because the EU had stated that any negotiations of Brexit regarding Gibraltar would need the approval of Spain. The tension continued during the week and I just hated some of the news coming out of the "gutter presss", like this front page of the ghastly rag, The Sun.  It just sums up the worst of Britain.  
How the British gutter press reacted to the Gibraltar issue this week
The EU was set up originally to keep the peace in Europe after the Second World War and now with Brexit there is talk of war; the worst possible outcome of the most stupid decision the British voters have ever taken. Thankfully Theresa May laughed off the idea and said, quoting Churchill, that her position was not "war war" but "jaw jaw".  I personally consider it an anachronism that a piece of Spain still belongs to the UK even though it was ceded in the 18th century in the Treaty of Utrecht. Can you imagine a piece of land in Cornwall belonging to France? Spain too should think about giving up the parts of Morocco in its territory, like Melilla and Ceuta. 

But worse was to come on Monday and marked the beginning of this week of terror.  The St. Petersburg metro was attacked by a suicide bomber. Akbarzhhon Jalilov from Kyrgyzstan who blew up a carriage on the metro killing 14 people and injuring more than 50. We are not safe anywhere.  Well I suppose I would be safe in far away, remote Montrondo. 
Suicide bomber attack on the St. Petersburg metro on Monday
But life continued here and that afternoon Lucy, our new home help from Paraguay, joined me on my afternoon walk in the sun. I am liking her more and more and she seems to be very happy here. That afternoon I also received a brief from a possible new customer in Valencia. The project is very alien to me; to gain international press coverage for a TEDx event to be organised at the end of this month by a big music school and I didn't  know how I would tackle it. In fact I kept  putting off drawing up the proposal all week.  It's not up my street and I didn't feel inspired but would have to get down to it eventually. 

On Tuesday I was up at 5.30 - I have slept very badly this week. That morning I had something lovely to look forward to. We were going to go and get my new Mini from the main BMW car dealer in Madrid. And there it was gleaming and glistening with its lovely Union Jack side mirrors. The Mini salesman, Andrés, who was a charmer throughout, quickly showed me how to use it and I found it quite easy. It has been custom made. I prioritized the accessories I wanted over the power of the engine which I didn't care about. It's a 1.5 cylinder Mini but is equipped with a rear view camera, a full scale bluetooth and sat nav systems and most important of all it is automatic.  And here it was waiting for me at the dealer.
My new car waiting for me at the BMW car dealers on Monday

It was a bit daring to have the side mirrors with the Union Jack, possibly like a red flag to a bull in the midst of the Gibraltar issue but I love them.  They make it look so cool. I drove it home and it was a joy to drive. It's very smooth and hardly makes a noise. It's also very modern with features such as Mini branded courtesy lighting, coloured lights in the dark, remote key driving and you can even open the double door boot by just passing your leg underneath so that when you arrive carrying heavy bags there is no need to get your keys out to open it. 

Once home, I parked it outside to do a photo session hahaha. Here it is from the front and the back. Isn't it beautiful?  Yeah, I know it's no match for my former BMW X6 company car but it's the first brand new car I have ever bought and it has been made to my specifications. Love it. I now belong to a select but very large club of Mini owners.

My lovely new Mini
I used it for the second time when I went out in the afternoon to have coffee with a friend at the Alverán café in Boadilla. I was to meet Gunilla, the Swedish born mother of Suzy's once best friend at St. Michael's school, for the first time since the girls left the school more than 10 years ago. We have always got on and have many things in common, especially our daughters' school years. It was wonderful to see her. We sat and spoke at a table in the afternoon sun for more than 2 hours catching up on 10 years of our life. We have agreed to meet again and I look forward to that.  Lovely to see you Gunilla. 

Whilst I was living the luxury of my new car and having coffee with a friend, people had been attacked with chemical weapons in Syria. It was in the rebel town called Khan Sheikhoun where the strike happened. Using chemical weapons, gas or nerve gas or whatever these ghastly weapons contain is internationally banned. At least 70 people were killed 27 including children. Their death was the worst kind  possible. 
Nerve gas attack in Syria
The international community was outraged and most international leaders blamed the infamous Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Of course Russia has a big part to play here. Both Assad and Putin denied the accusations but the US CIA said they had proof. We all know that later Donald Trump ordered a retaliation. For once I am on his side.

On Wednesday  I was up early at 5.45 and the first thing I did was weigh myself as I had an appointment with my slimming doctor who had put me on the so-called 1000 calorie maintenance diet in January. That morning I weighed 55.7 kg which is well under 9 stone and had thus lost over 4 kilos instead of maintaining my weight. I was wondering what he would have to say about that.  But I would have to wait until the afternoon. 

That morning I sent off all the multiple documents, certificates, CV, etc for the job application which I probably won't get but there you are I made the effort. I had a nice chat with Suzy on my walk while she was driving to work. She loves working for the NHS I was happy to hear. I came back to start setting up the laptop I had bought for her on Amazon for her birthday but first I contemplated my lovely new Mini parked at home. I've never been very interested in cars but funnily enough have always had a soft spot for that very British car. Of course it is now German but it's still made in Oxford and is still so very British, especially with my Union Jack side mirrors hahaha.

My lovely new Mini parked at home the day after we went to collect it
I had bought Suzy a cheap laptop made by Asus. It looked lovely but turned out to be defect. It was impossible to use the @ key. So I rang their customer service to hear it was a factory defect and should get in touch with the seller.  The seller of course is Amazon and it is impossible to talk to them. I didn't dare return it for another one in case it was defect too, so I decided to return it. Thankfully these days returned items from Amazon work better now that the post office comes to pick them up. Not knowing what PC to buy on Amazon I decided to drive to the El Corte Inglés, Spain's one and only but very reliable chain of department stores, to the one in Pozuelo. There I was advised to buy a bigger one with more memory. Suzy wanted a small one but the cheap ones are rubbish and the others are very expensive. I got a beautiful purple blue HP. Once home I spent the morning figuring out Windows 10 which I am not familiar with. I managed to install an anti virus programme and later the Microsoft Office pack my dear friend Juana who works for Microsoft sent me. That took hours but it was successful. 

In between time I went for my doctor's appointment at 16h. He was half an hour late. When I explained I had lost over 4 kilos on his maintenance diet he explained that he prescribed 1000 calories only as the majority of people never stuck to it. Well I did and the proof was in the pudding. He has now put me on a 1500 calorie diet, allowing me to break it a couple of times a week. So it was with great gusto that I ate bread and butter with my dinner that night hahaha.  One thing for sure is that my motivation is intact and I am determined not to put on any weight in the foreseeable future.  Only time will tell of course. 

One thing I am continuing with are my 2 hour long walks every day. Lucy now joins me on my afternoon walk. She tells me she grew up on a farm and loves the countryside. So, we have something in common. 

Meanwhile my Catalan customer, Genaker, was taking part in a Conference for Heads of Security in Barcelona.  I had done the plan for their participation so it was good to see how it rolled out. It went well which was very satisfying for me and of course for them. Here is the CEO, Miquel, my ex colleague from our Nokia days.
Miquel the CEO of Genaker, my Catalan customer, at a conference in Barcelona this week.
Later that day I spoke to Oli on the phone. She had been shooting "urban tribes" for her next programme. I didn't really know what they were. In my youth they would have been groups like the Mods and Cons. These days there are viper gothic vampires, Parkour boys (free running whatever that is), graffiti people and even pin up girls haha. She sent me this amazing selection of photos with some of them. 
Oli with the Viper gothic vampire girl

Here with a "pin up" girl, my favourite

Here with a grafitti painter

Oli with the "Parkour" boys.
It was that night that we got some unsettling news. Eladio rang his sister to find out how my brother-in-law was faring after the second operation of major brain surgery the week before. The news was not too good but they were waiting for the results of the biopsy the next day. I was so worried and upset I slept really badly that night and was awake at 4.45 on Thursday morning unable to sleep anymore. 

I was tired all day on Thursday. I worked on everything but the Valencian project and kept feeling guilty. It's what my Father would have called "procrastination", not something I do a lot but I did this week. Exhausted, after lunch I was going to try and get a few winks when we got the bad news from another of Eladio's sisters. It turns out the tumour is malignant even though it had been diagnosed as benign in the autumn. Well apparently it must have turned malignant as it grew. This is a tragedy for him and his lovely family, his wife, daughter and son. I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. I cried and cried and cried wanting to be with them. But I can't go until next week. I got more bad news that day when one of my best friends came to see me. I knew she was fighting cancer which has spread and is undergoing chemotherapy. But when she told me it was Grade IV I burst into tears. We hugged and cried together. She is fighting it hard and she will have me by her side always. 

On Friday, as we know, Donald Trump retaliated to the Syrian gas attack. The world was stunned and surprised. The world was surprised because when Obama was in power Trump urged him not to get involved even when the red line of the use of chemical weapons was crossed. It seems he was very affected by TV coverage of the children's suffering and could also have been influenced by his daughter Ivanka and the King of Jordan, a staunch opponent of Assad, who was with him this week. The Russians were furious. Their argument was that the bombing on Tuesday had been carried out by rebels. There are other theories, such as Assad having bombed a chemical weapons arsenal by mistake. The world tends to believe it was the deliberate work of the Syrian President. That night or in the early morning 60 Tomahawk missiles were fired from two US navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and according to The Times "One Tomahawk was aborted over the Mediterranean. The other 59 smashed into the Shayrat airfield, close to Homs, destroying about 20 Syrian aircraft, an air defence system, ammunition bunkers, plane shelters and fuel storage sites".  
One of the missiles being launched
For once I agree with Donald Trump. 

Friday was Oli's boyfriend, Miguel's 42nd birthday. They began the celebrations at their flat where they live when he has his 7 day leave as TVE cameraman in the Valencia region every other week. Oli had ordered a sumptuous breakfast online to be delivered that morning. 
Miguel, the birthday boy on Friday
Her main present to him was 3 nights at the lovely Casona de la Paca hotel in Cudillero, Asturias. They will be going today. I had recommended the place to Oli as Eladio and I have now been there twice and adore the little "Indiano" mansion and area. If you are interested you can read the review I wrote about it on Trip Advisor here
The beautiful Casona de la Paca hotel near Cudillero in Asturias
I went on with life as normal on Friday, although my thoughts constantly wondered to León where Eladio's family were gathering around my brother-in-law. 

That afternoon after a short siesta to catch up on so much lost sleep, I woke up to read that there had been a terror attack in Stockholm of all places usually such a haven of peace and democracy. It was another horrible lorry attack, this time in the heart of Stockholm in their most commercial street Drottninggatan which I think means Queen's Gate. The stolen lorry was driven at around 60km/h into pedestrians, until it smashed into the entrance of the famous Ahlen department store. 4 people were killed and many injured. It was to be yet another terrorist attack. 

Terror in Stockholm on Friday
I couldn't believe what was unfolding in my beloved Stockholm a city I love and have visited so many times when I worked for Yoigo as our major shareholder was TeliaSonera (now called Telia Group), the main telecoms operator in Sweden. I rushed to Facebook to see the page where many of the people, mostly ex colleagues, had marked themselves safe!! Oh my God. I later expressed my feelings on Facebook and these are them: "I know I should be more shocked or upset about the gas attack in Syria but what happened in my beloved Stockholm shook me to the core . Its a city I know well and adore and where I know so many people. It is a city of peace untouched by terrorism. That is why I am so shocked. This kind of terrorism is unforeseeable and could happen everywhere as we have seen. My thoughts are with my lovely ex TeliaSonera colleagues. I'm so glad they are safe. What happened there is unthinkable of in Sweden and my heart goes out to the victims and their friends and family".

The reaction of the Swedish population could not have been more exemplary. They started an initiative called #opensweden where the ordinary population reached out to those stuck after the lock down in the city offering food, refuge and transport.  You can read more about how the Swedes got going when the going got tough here

So you see, it really has been a week of terror. 

The best moment of Friday was in the evening when we had dinner with my friend Fátima. She joined Eladio and I at a new Asturian restaurant near where we live. And here we are together, best friends forever.
Dinner with my closest friend Fátima on Friday night. 
The dinner was nothing special and I don't think we shall be going back but the company was the best, as was the delicious Asturian cider.

Yesterday I finally sat down to do the PR proposal for the Valencian music school. I got Eladio to proof read it and he thought it was fine. I hope my prospective customer thinks the same. It was another sunny day and I went for my morning walk and then another one with Eladio just before lunch. For lunch I showed Lucy how to make fish and chips hahaha.  PS I didn't eat it but had a small fillet of steak and vegetables. In the afternoon Oli and Miguel came to see us and while Eladio was at his tutoring lessons, the 3 of us sat by the pool "chillaxing" to quote my funny daughter Suzy who now knows more modern expressions in English than I do.  When Eladio came back, we showed Oli and Miguel my new Mini which I think they really liked. As the weather was so good, I suggested that afterwards, Eladio, aided by Miguel, bring up the kitchen patio wooden table. And that's where we had dinner last night. For the occasion I made 3 small delicious Spanish tortillas. 

And today is Sunday, another lovely day. In fact we are on the cusp of a spate of fantastic weather which will apparently last all through Easter. The most significant thing to happen today is the semi official disarmament of the Spanish Basque terrorist group ETA.  About time too I thought. 

Today will be a quiet day at home. But tonight I shall be receiving 6 Korean guests who have rented the 3 spare double bedrooms on Airbnb. That will be fun hahaha. I'll tell you all about it next week. Next week in fact we shall be receiving more guests for Easter, 3 Russians from St. Petersburg although we shan't be here. I'm not sure how they and Lucy, our new Paraguayan carer will understand each other. Hopefully my Russian neighbour, Katya will be at home to lend a hand whilst they are all "lost in translation". Of course my Father will be able to help too. 

I can't wait for next week. On Tuesday my school friend Kathryn and her husband Phil, an ex teacher of Spanish, will be visiting us on their way from the North of Spain to Nerja in Málaga. We ourselves will be going to León to see my brother-in-law on Wednesday. We will be joined by Miguel and Olivia after their stay at La Casona de la Paca in Asturias. From there we shall make our way to our beloved Montrondo where we look forward to spending the Easter break. Next Sunday I shall be writing from our house there.

So my friends and readers, I shall leave you now. It just remains for me to wish you all a great week ahead.

Cheers till next time.