Sunday, September 17, 2017

Hurricane Irma hits Cuba and Florida, Suzy in Bali, remembering Bletchley Park, the amateur bread maker, terror in London and other stories.

Sunday 17th September 2017
The bread maker. There is something so satisfying about making home  made bread. 
Good morning everyone. I hope you are all doing well and that you will enjoy the tales of this week. There is not so much to report on the home front, mostly my new found hobby of baking bread, but there is plenty of international news that is affecting the world. So here I go.

Last Sunday Hurricane Irma had already hit Florida. The whole world was watching to see what would happen in the American state where millions had fled their homes. Much less was written about how Hurricane Irma hit Cuba, Miami's poor neighbour. In the end it did as much damage there or more as, of course a hurricane does much more harm to a second world country than a first world country. In fact it seems that after hitting the Caribbean islands and Cuba, it was less strong when it hit the US saving it from worse damage.  The storm first hit Cuba the Friday before and didn't leave the country until Sunday afternoon. It was the first category 5 hurricane to land in Cuba in more than 80 years and caused 10 deaths at least and havoc everywhere. Having been to Cuba this year, I was devastated to see how the storm surged from the iconic Malecon waterfront some 6 blocks inland, including the lovely area where we stayed, Vedado. The streets of Vedado and many areas of Havana resembled canals. 
Havana after Hurricane Irma landed in Cuba. 
Unlike Florida, which will soon be back to normal, it will take forever in communist Cuba where there are no funds to repair the terrible damage inflicted on its inhabitants. My heart goes out to them.

In Florida meanwhile, Irma landed on the Marco Island where winds had now dropped from 185 mph to 130 mph. Of course it caused a lot of damage and loss of lives,up to 26, I read but those in hurricane safe buildings who had not left, survived it by either sheltering in special refuge centres or in their own flats. Not everyone wanted to leave and not all those who did could leave, because of a shortage of petrol. Florida Keys was worst hit with 1 in 4 of all houses destroyed. 
Florida Keys after it was hit by Irma
My friend Fatima's niece Gloria and her husband, huddled together in their flat in the financial district of Miami together with other Spaniards and sat out the the storm respecting the curfew. The only damage done was very superficial but it must have been frightening. On the other side of the Atlantic, I was able to follow the behaviour of Irma, thanks to their FB and Instagram posts. I'm so glad they are safe now. 

Meanwhile, further up the East Coast of the USA, Rafa Nadal was playing the final of the US Open at Flushing Meadows (New York) l against the the South African, Kevin Anderson. If Gloria, her husband and their friends had a TV signal in Miami, no doubt they would be watching the match and roaring for the Spaniard to win. Both tennis players are aged 31 and out of interest you might want to know, if you didn't already, that the latter is over 6 foot tall. Both men know each other well from having met when they were junior players. The Spaniard made a meal of the "giant" beating him in 3 sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to win his 3rd US Open and his 16th Grand Slam. If he wins 3 more he will equal Federer's record of 19 and, as he is younger, he could surpass that figure to become the greatest tennis player of all time. It was another great win for Nadal and for Spain. What a great ambassador Rafa is for this country. Later in the week he spoke out on the illegal Catalan referendum which is supposed to take place on 1st October and agreed, like most Spaniards that Spain is better together.  It is unusual for a sportsman to talk about politics but these are unusual times.
Rafa Nadal with his 3rd US Open trophy last Sunday in New York.
On the other side of the world, Suzy and her friends had arrived in Bali, Indonesia, where she would be continuing her holiday in the Far East. She was supposed to be becoming home today but has prolonged her stay there until next Thursday. Here she is with her friends Anita and Chati.
Suzy in Bali with her London flatmates. 
Back in Madrid, we had the pleasure of the company of Olivia for dinner.  We hadn't seen her since she went to Cyprus and it was great to have her back but it wouldn't be for long as she had a busy week at work. I would have a more relaxing time with her this weekend. She loved my Irish soda bread and so did I but after making two batches and corresponding with my friend Jacky on bread recipes, during the week I would try my hand at making bread from yeast and different flours.

Monday was 11th September, the anniversary of the NY terror attacks which can never be forgotten. It was also the "Diada", Catalunya's national day which saw up to a million people celebrating in the streets of Barcelona. 
The  much reported upon Diada last Monday in the streets of Barcelona
Most of them were pro independence and the whole demonstration seemed more like a pro independence rally. The thing is there are over 8 million people living in this rich area of Spain which is divided in its wish to become independent. Those in favour make all the noise creating an image that all Catalans want to separate from Spain. There is a silent majority who are against it and I wish they would take to the streets but they don't possibly preferring to keep a low profile.  The other thing is, on 1st October if the illegal referendum takes place, I guess only those who want to see Catalunya become a separate country will be the only ones to vote which will make for a distorted result and which the local government, no doubt, will tout around the world to demonstrate that this is the wish of the majority of Catalans which it isn't. Meanwhile, the Spanish government is using both the legal system and police to make sure it doesn't happen. But they are not doing a good job with their international PR leaving the rest of the world  to sympathise with the separatists and call for dialogue. Those outside Spain calling for dialogue don't know though that it is impossible to dialogue with them. None of this is good for Spain's image abroad. Things are getting heated now and I wonder what will happen on 1st October. 

On Monday I was pleased to get another Airbnb reservation. I now have 5 upcoming after our Mexicans leave this morning.

Oli was back at work after Cyprus, editing everything she had filmed there, and rang me to tell me her next destination could well be St. Petersburg or Armenia. However for the destination to work out they have to find a minimum of 3 people from Madrid living there which is not always easy. I have tried to help with my contacts but so far have found non there.

Suzy continued her exotic stay in Indonesia and delighted us with photos of her visit to rice fields on Monday.  I mean, how exotic can you get?  I loved them. 

Suzy visiting a rice field in Bali. She is love with the place.
On Monday I tried my hand at making bread with fresh yeast rather than bicarbonate of soda which I used to make Irish soda bread. I used 250g of wholemeal and 250g of spelt flour, much in fashion now and apparently very healthy. I added walnuts and sultanas and made it deliberately flat as that is how Eladio likes it best because he prefers the crust to the crumb. It came out really well and tasted delicious.
My wholemeal and spelt bread which I made on Monday
If you are wondering whether I am eating all this bread, don't, because I have just a small slice or two and whatever is not eaten on the day it's made, I freeze for use later. I have been offering my Mexican students my bread too which they love. But it is my Father who has been most enthusiastic having it for breakfast. I'm sure it reminds him of when my Mother used to make bread. I always loved the smell of it in the kitchen and remember we would eat it with butter as soon as it came out of the oven. I have resisted that temptation so far here at home. 

That afternoon I came across the story of Charlotte Webb who had worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.

Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park was the central site for British code breakers during the war. It housed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) which was recently made even more famous by the film, The Enigma, the story of British code breaker Alan Turing. Charlotte Webb, now in her 90's wrote a short book, Secret Postings about her experiences which is the book I was reading that day. 
My book of the week
When she started working there, she and all her thousands of co-workers had to sign a secrets document preventing them from talking about their work until after 1975. Her story, far too short and rather simply written, is more about the human side of wartime work at Bletchley Park but even so it was interesting. Unfortunately there was not one mention of Alan Turing. 

Tuesday was Apple's big day. In a huge fanfare, typical of them, the company based in Cupertino that has the biggest turnover in the mobile phone market, due to its high prices and margins, was to announce its latest new phones, the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. The new flagship model, the iPhone X has really no new features which don't already exist in the market but they wanted to make a big noise about one of them, face ID recognition. On stage, Apple's head of softward engineering, Craig Federighi, had trouble demonstrating the new feature which did not work in public. 

Not a good moment for Apple when the Face Id demo didn't work 
That was one big PR mess for the company which usually reaps gushing articles for its new toys. But not this time. Whoever set up the phone for the presentation must have been cringing behind the scenes. I wonder what did happen behind the scenes when things went wrong? I would not have wanted to be in their PR shoes. They later tried to explain that the demo hadn't really gone wrong but the damage was done. I could have told them the demo could be dodgy before they started because, in my experience over the years, both voice and face recognition always end up giving problems. Another thing Apple did was remove the home button and that is another reason I won't be buying one. I never liked the fact that iPhones don't have a back button like other manufactured smart phones but no home button, at least for me, is not the way to go. However there are a legion of iPhone fans out there who will buy whatever the company from Cupertino makes even if costs 1000 pounds or more. Let's see how long their loyalty lasts. Only time will tell. 

Wednesday 13th September was the 61st birthday of best school friend, Amanda. She lives in Devon and we haven't seen each other for quite a few years and I miss her. I sent her a birthday message and only got a reply the next day. She had an awful birthday as their younger dog died on Wednesday. Poor her, poor them, poor dog. I can imagine their pain as if Pippa were to die, I think I would die with her. 

On a lighter note, I made more yeast bread that day. This time I made it all wholemeal and experimented with the rising time and adding steam to the oven, both tricks I had read about online. The added rising times certainly made the dough increase its size a lot but I realised later that, once in the oven, it didn't rise anymore, thus missing what is known as the "final burst" of proving or rising and it stayed the same size. From now on I would stick to the 2 proving times of one hour each. The steam  which I created putting in a tin of boiling water under the oven tray, didn't really work and I think it even made the lower crust less crusty. I won't be doing that again either. The result was ok but it was not the best bread I made this week.

My experiment with wholemeal bread on Wednesday
I'm sure though that Suzy would have loved it as she is a great advocate of wholemeal bread. She won't be trying it though till she comes. She seems to be having a very relaxing last week, to judge by the photo she sent of the three of them in their individual pool in Bali which seems to me the height of luxury.
Suzy resting and relaxing in the girls' private pool in Bali this week

I would have loved to have the bread for breakfast  on Thursday morning.  My breakfast these days is always a bowl of oat bran porridge, a cup of coffee and an orange. What makes it special is that I have it on my beloved Emma Bridgewater pottery like this which is the latest pattern in my modest collection.
Breakfast with Emma Bridgewater
It's not my preferred breakfast but I make the sacrifice to keep trim. My overall favourite breakfast would be with French croissants and a piece of toast. In fact I shouldn't really be having two slices of my home made bread for dinner,  as on Tuesday I weighed the same as the previous week. So, from now on, there would be either no bread at night or just one slice. There would also be longer walks. 

That morning, Thursday morning, I increased the length of my morning walk from 2 hours to 2.5h which is about 12 km. Doing the extra two is a question of will power as I feel very tired after it. Pippa probably does too as I still don't know how, with her little body and short legs, she keeps up with me. She does though, get extra food at breakfast to keep her going which I'm sure she appreciates hahaha.

The highlight on Thursday was seeing Olivia. She had to come home to get ready to go to a special event. Telemadrid, the TV broadcaster she works for, was holding a gala event that evening to present the new programmes, including hers, "Madrileños por el mundo". Apart from looking for people from Madrid living in St. Petersburg or Armenia, they are also looking for them in Brighton. The daughter of a friend of mine, Carlos, who heads up Apple Spain, by the way, studies there and when I contacted him, he was more than happy to give me his daughter's contact. I hope she turns out to be a good candidate.

I helped Oli get dressed for the gala evening and after trying on some of of her dresses and mine, she chose a lovely Zara one she had bought a few years ago and which I think she has probably never worn.  She looked spectacular that night. Later she sent us this photo next to Telemadrid's photo call which also shows their new logo. I'm so proud of my younger daughter. I really am.
Oli at the Telemadrid gala evening on Thursday
On Friday I was up at 6 in the morning again. I always read The Times online on my iPad and was worried to read that North Korea had fired another missile over Japan in possible retaliation for the new sanctions against Pyongyang. That's terrifying of course but far away. Much nearer home was the news of the home made bomb on the tube at Parsons Green in London. 
The Parsons Green tube bomb
It was yet another Isis terror attack in London. The bomb was home made and so maybe not as lethal as others but even so it injured 22 people. Later Scotland Yard detained an 18 year old man, boy really, but we have yet to hear if he is the culprit or if there are more bombs being planned. The Army has now been called upon to reinforce the Police and the former will be employed at locations or events with crowds. Frightening!

Life continued as normal at home. Thankfully where we live it is very peaceful, although of course any big town is in danger of this new type of warfare. 

The weather has been cooler this week so I have taken to wearing in between season clothing. I was wearing red that day and decided to put on the beautiful Les Nereides bracelet Sandra and Adele had bought me for my 60th birthday. In fact I am still wearing it now. I also got out my red Zara handbag to go with it. I do like the coordinated look don't I as my friend Kathy commented on Instagram:-)
Wearing my Les Nereides red bracelet this week. 
My dear Nottingham University friends told me they had chosen the bracelet in red as I always wear red nail varnish. True, true, it is my trademark as is my red lipstick. 

But I wasn't going anywhere fancy that day, just food shopping with Eladio. Ah but I did go out and it was to dinner to La Vaca with Eladio and we were joined by Olivia. Unfortunately you can no longer book with the La Fourchette app meaning there is no longer a 40% discount. We had a nice meal but the three of us all agreed the quality is not quite what it used to be. It was my first dinner out since I came back from France and for the record I had a glass of wine, enjoyed the bread with oil and shared a brownie with Olivia. Naughty naughty but nice. 

Before I move onto Saturday I should add that Friday was Mexican Independence Day. Our Mexican Airbnb guests told us the next morning that they had gate crashed the Mexican Embassy party. Their stay would be coming to an end on Sunday. They have been wonderful guests. They came to finalise a master degree in physiotherapy at the UEM (Universidad Europea de Madrid). The UEM has some agreement with Real Madrid and they went there 3 times; once to visit the installations, once to a Champions League match and on Friday for their diploma ceremony. They told me excitedly later that they had been shown round by ex RM player Emilio Butragueño who is a legend in this country. They left this morning and tonight I am expecting an Italian woman who is coming to bring her son to the University. Thankfully, Zena is taking care of changing the sheets and getting the rooms ready for our next guests.  

On Saturday I woke up to limited access to internet. In fact the signal has been performing badly for a while and I had to ring Telefonica again yesterday morning. The biggest frustration is not being able to watch Netflix. The Telefonica coverage for Netflix is notoriously bad by the way. After umpteen phone calls talking to a machine, I think it is now working better. I do hate the modern ways of customer service and far prefer talking to a person but that's the way of the world today unfortunately.

Again I made bread yesterday morning  as Olivia wanted to learn how to make it. We made spelt bread with walnuts and sultanas. If you are interested this is the recipe which is actually mine and does not come from any book. You can use any other type of flour or liquid and the measurements and method are the same. 


500 g spelt flour
10 g fresh yeast (or 1 sachet of dry yeast) to be dissolved with a tsp of sugar and a small glass of warm water (amount to be discounted from the total liquid)
350ml of liquid either water, milk, yoghurt or in this case kefir.
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of oil 
If you wish, add a tbsp of honey instead of the sugar 
Add sultanas (careful cos they can burn) and walnuts or seeds, etc. 


Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon so that the flour doesn't spill when kneading it with a dough maker. Beat the dough until it does not stick to the bowl or the hook. Remove, make a round shape with your hands, cover loosely with cling film then place in a warm area to rise / prove for one hour. It should rise slightly. After the hour of proving, remove the cling film and knead again with the dough maker. Shape the loaf or loaves as you want them, cover with cling film again and leave to prove in a warm area for another hour. Meanwhile turn on the oven to 190ºc. An hour later the loaf or loaves should have doubled in size. Remove the cling film and score the loaf or loaves. Place in the middle of the oven and leave to bake for 40 to 45 minutes. You can either place them in a greased and floured tin or on grease proof paper. When they are ready, remove from the oven and place on a grilled tray. And voilá there you have your delicious spelt bread. 

I have now made bread about 5 o 6 times and I think this was the most successful recipe so far. I have chosen the picture of me with the two loaves we made yesterday to illustrate this week's post. Here is another one of me feeling proud with the warm loaves. I do have a look of satisfaction on my face don't I?
The happy bread maker. Here with my spelt bread which I made on Saturday
I have heard that bread making can become a passion so I may have to look out. I am still only a very amateur bread maker but I am loving this new hobby. I got a 10 out of 10 from Eladio when he ate it that night which is high praise from him. 

I spent most of Saturday with Olivia. In the afternoon we went shopping for Eladio's birthday present. He will be 73 next Saturday which I can't believe. Suzy will be with us then so the family will be complete. Apart from present shopping, Oli and I went into the luxurious Carrefour store in Majadahonda were I got some dried yeast, more lomo and smoked salmon (divine) as well as ingredients for our Ukranian weekend carer, Zena, to make gloubsy for lunch today.  Gloubsy is basically stuffed cabbage rolls, a dish my Father and I adore. My Mother did too and apparently she used to call it "heavenly" in Russian or so he told me.  

Now it's Sunday and I haven't been on my walk yet as Eladio has resumed his private tutoring to his Brazilian pupil, Luciano who came at 10 o'clock this morning.  Instead we shall go this afternoon. While they were talking about Nietzsche and  existentialism, Olivia wanted to make more bread or rather she wanted to make it herself so as to learn properly rather than watch me make it. Right now, as I write, it is proving for the second time. Right now is the perfect time also to sign off as I have to come to the end of the tales of this week, the tales of  a novice bread maker hahaha.

Now my friends, I shall leave you now to get on with the day. Wishing you all a great week, cheers till next Sunday,


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