Sunday, October 29, 2017

The end of Suzy’s time with us, lots of cooking, a goodbye family dinner, more Airbnb hosting, a rushed PR job, the pantomime declaration of independence followed by the stripping of regional power in Catalonia, the clocks go back and other stories of the week.

Sunday 29th October 2017
The 4 of us, a family portrait . Dinner at Oli's the night before Suzy left for London
Good  morning everyone.

How is your body clock behaving this morning after the clocks went back last night? Mine didn't react to the end of summer time. For most people it meant an hour more in bed but not for me. We changed the clock in our bedroom last night and when it showed 5.15 (6.15 today) early this morning, both Pippa and I were wide awake. Well, at least it probably means an hour more awake and a more productive day. I have lots to do today; first write this blog post, go for our walk and come back to make a family lunch when we will be joined by Oli and Miguel. We won't be joined by Suzy though who left for London after a month's break at home, on Monday morning. We miss her already and the house has felt very empty this week, apart from my Airbnb guests  of whom there have been plenty this week.

Let me start from where I left off, last Sunday, Suzy's last Sunday at home. On this day last week, my morning was pretty similar to this morning. I wrote my blog, went for our walk and then made lunch. Lunch that day was home made pizza, including the base. For that I made dough out of strong flour and left it to rise for an hour. I rolled it out and covered it with tomato sauce, chopped onion and red pepper and then mozzarella  (the only cheese I can tolerate). The base turned out to be just how I like it, slightly thick and spongy. 
Last Sunday's delicious home made pizza
Neither of the girls were with us for lunch, Suzy was still sleeping after a night out on the tiles and Olivia and Miguel were at his brother's house.  Thus I would have to make pizza for them another time, today in fact. I would spend the afternoon cooking too - there has been lots of cooking this week - and was joined by Suzy, briefly, who came home to pack as she was leaving the next day. She would spend the night at Oli's house which is nearer the airport. Before she embarked on deciding what to pack in her, or should I say my large Samsonite suitcase, she enjoyed a coffee under what would probably be the last rays of sunshine for quite some time. The dogs joined her as she sat soaking in a bit of Spanish sunlight in our garden.
Suzy soaking in the last rays of Spanish sunshine last Sunday afternoon
While she packed I cooked. We were going to Oli's for dinner that night, our last night family dinner and I wanted the make a dessert. I also wanted to make bread to take along as both girls love it. I have so much of it sliced and frozen in the deep freeze that I haven't made any more this week. Besides, Eladio finally confessed he prefers Mercadona (local supermarket) bread to mine:-(

The dessert would depend on what ingredients I had in the house. There were lots of "reineta" (bramley type) apples so I decided on apple pie. I'm not good at making pies as I'm not good with pastry but as I have been making so much bread, I thought it wouldn't be too difficult. Of course I had to find a recipe online and this is the one I used. It is called "the perfect apple pie". I hoped it would be.
The "perfect apple pie"  recipe I found online and used. 
It worked out ok but would have been easier if the butter I used hadn't been frozen hahaha. The worst part is transferring the rolled out pastry into the tin. Here Suzy helped. I then realised there was not enough filling which by the way I had par cooked in case the apples turned out to be a bit hard.  It would take 45 minutes to bake. I wondered if the pastry would cave in but it didn't. This is the finished product:
My apple pie
So how did it taste you may be wondering? Well, not quite perfect but good. There was probably not enough filling and I think the pastry was too thick. In any case we ate half of it that night, saving some for my Father and the rest for Oli to take to work to share with her colleagues. 

I then embarked on making whole meal bread but didn't have much time for proving. So instead of proving it twice for an hour, I did so for half an hour each time. Actually it didn't turn out too bad. At least the girls loved it. 

About 15 minutes before we were leaving for Oli's house, I got a sudden Airbnb booking. Christian, the student who had stayed with us the week before, was bringing his mother to stay 2 nights. While with us he had bought a flat and his mother had come to see it  and help him move in but had nowhere to sleep as they had no furniture yet. I had to react quickly, mainly get Suzy and her luggage out of her room and tidy it up before they arrived. They came as we left and we greeted them, gave them the keys and told them to feel at home which I think they did, according to the lovely review Cristian posted on Airbnb afterwards. He gave me 5 stars and apart from all the other positive things he wrote, what I liked best was his writing that we make our guests feel as if they were in their own home. Thanks Cristian! Of course we do, that's how we are.  I would be very busy with my Airbnb hosting this week which I am really enjoying most of the time. 

We left our guests to settle in, after all Cristian knew the place, and off we went to Oli's flat further north from where we live. 

Miguel and Oli had gone all out and made a wonderful spread for our dinner. It consisted of many little platters of delicious vegetables, rice and also fillet steak, all to be washed down with sparkling cider which Eladio and I love, or wine. This is what the table looked like groaning with lovely food at Miguel and Oli's cozy and comfortable apartment. We hope to be going back again soon as we love having dinner there.
The dinner table at Oli and Miguel's last Sunday night.
It was to be our last dinner together and the last time we would be together until Christmas so we made the most of it. We took lots of photos and laughed a lot taking animated gifs using the camera on my Samsung S7. The evening ended all too soon and at 10.30, very late for us, Eladio and I reluctantly said our goodbyes as we hugged both girls. It was a great end to a month with Suzy home in Spain. We wished her all the luck in the world in her new job and new accommodation. News from her since her return to London has been positive I am glad to tell you. 

On Monday, while Suzy was beginning her journey back to London, our Catalan Airbnb guests from Tarragona were also preparing to leave. They are against independence and I wonder what they have made of the events this week. We helped them finish packing their very full van and then said our goodbyes. They also would write me a fantastic review. That morning our next guest, Paulo, from Brazil was supposed to be arriving but his flight was delayed and he didn't get here until Tuesday poor guy. He had come to do a course for Triathlon national coaches at the UEM University and wow was he sporty hahaha. He eats a lot of hard boiled eggs too, at least 10 over 2 or 3 days, mixed with cheese, curry and mustard - what an awful concoction hahaha. 

As Suzy arrived to cloudy skies in London, I got my first Home Away reservation. Home Away is similar to Airbnb and I recently posted an ad there for accommodation at our house which as you know is my main job and source of income at the moment. This is the ad
The main photo in my Home Away ad
3 adult couples will be staying here around New Year's Eve. After they made the reservation they rang me - guests cannot know the hosts' contact details until they make a booking, and I was surprised to learn that they were from Madrid centre, just 20km from here. All they wanted was a place to be together to celebrate NYE and they thought our house was perfect for the occasion. They will have it to themselves apart from Lucy and my Father as we will no doubt be in Montrondo for NYE. I was chuffed to get my first Home Away reservation. I hope it's the first of many.  

It was good news for Cristiano Ronaldo, the RM and Portuguese striker, or forward, however you want to call it, when that night in London he was named Fifa's best male player of the year. It's the 4th time he has won the award in 5 years. The awards are called "Best FIFA Awards" so yes, Cristiano is simply the best! 
Ronaldo, best player of the year in the FIFA awards in London this week

He beat rival Lionel Messi who was also up for the award. In a way it was a win from Real Madrid against their eternal rival, "El Barça". Real Madrid and Barcelona are forever rivals in football as they are in politics. I'm sure that was on many people's minds as the awards were handed out. And by the way, Zinedine Zidane, the French Algerian RM coach, was voted best coach of the year too. 

Tuesday was another beautiful day. It may be the end of summer time today but this week has been just like summer with temperatures unusually high for the period. Mercury rose to 30ºc at times in Madrid this week and even higher in the south. Today we will be down to 24ºc but I'm not complaining. 

That morning, Cristian's Mother, Norma, left after having a coffee with us. And while we were on our walk, our Brazilian Airbnb guest, Paulo, finally arrived. He was received and greeted by Lucy who is from Paraguay and from very near the Brazilian border. She is from Ciudad del Este and he is from a wonderful looking place called Florianopolis, an island in the south of the country. Both Lucy and I know some Portuguese but Paulo, who is here for the triathlon course, is also here to practice his Spanish. It's funny trying to understand each other but we do. I came home to have a coffee with him and was amazed at how Pippa didn't bark as she always does with anyone she is not familiar with. He loves dogs and seems a bit like a dog enchanter or so I thought when I saw Pippa licking his hand and all 3 dogs surrounding him and wagging their tails. 

He caught me making lunch and we would chat later. It was a sunny afternoon and I spent some of it reading by the pool which is a lovely thing to do when the weather is so good. I was starting on a book called Rasputin by the US historian and expert on Russia, Douglas Smith. His biography of Rasputin is supposed to be the definitive one. I downloaded a sample of it from Amazon after having read "our cousin" Felix Yusupov's biography, "Lost Splendour", recently.  It's interesting reading but a bit heavy going so I'm not sure if I will buy it on my kindle although I may well buy a printed version for my Father. 

Meanwhile, Eladio was giving his weekly lesson in philosophy to his Brazilian pupil Luciano. It would have been interesting if he and Paulo had met but it was not to be.  When it was over he joined me by the pool. Pippa loves to find us together  there and we love having her. Here she is sitting on Elado's lap. What she only ever wants, apart from food hahaha, is to be with us and we are always happy to oblige. As I told Paulo, I don't have grandchildren and she is my substitute for the moment:-)
Pippa with Eladio, Eladio with Pippa - by the pool on Tuesday
On Wednesday Suzy started her new job as a locum dietitian with the NELT (North East London Trust) where she will be working three times a day. The other days she will be working at the health clinic in Harley Street. I spoke to her at the end of the day and was happy to hear all had gone well. It was very familiar to her as her first job with the NHS had been with the same trust. Also she will be working directly under her ex mentor, Adam, with whom she gets on very well. She is also happy in her new accommodation. She will be sharing a flat with an Angolan nurse, Sandra, who is a friend and also colleague of her Spanish nurse flat mate, Chati. However she will be alone in November and December while Chati and Sandra travel the world, starting with India.  Suzy told me the flat did not have a shower and that she had to wash the "African way". I wondered what that meant. It means using the bath and a jug for rinsing or that's what my daughter probably thinks because she is living with a lady from Africa.  Actually that's what I did as a child and teenager at our house in Bradford which I never thought was strange as we only had a bath and no shower. I just thought it was cleaner to use fresh tap water to rinse my body and hair rather than the soapy bath water. But I suppose it is strange today. I wonder whether the majority of the British population still prefer the bath tub to the shower?

I'm sure they don't bathe the "African way" in Seville, in the south of Spain which this week was voted the number one city to visit in the world according to Lonely Planet (Best Travel 2018)  I'm not sure if it's the best city in the world but it is certainly one of my favourite Spanish cities. It is pure magic, beauty and history with a niff of the past of what Spain used to be like, especially in Andalusia. Chile, by the way, was voted top country. Don't ask me why. I have been there once and yes it was nice, but the top country? Well no. My top countries would be (in no particular order and excluding Spain and the UK): India, Vietnam, Morocco, South Africa, Finland, Iceland, the US, Greece, Cuba and all of Scandinavia.  But I'm proud for Spain that Seville got top place.
The stunning Plaza de España in Seville. 
I had a quiet day. I gave up on Rasputin for the moment - I may go back to him hahahah, and chose a new book after looking up the WH Smith's top fiction list for 2017. There I found a book called Behind her eyes. By the British writer, Sarah Pinborough, it's a suspense story told by different characters, jumping backwards and forwards which seems to be the norm these days. It's similar in style to Gone Girl or the Girl on the Train and is famous for its very surprising ending. I now know the ending so won't tell you anything more. I actually prefer books written in chronological order and hate flash backs. It's the same with films. Perhaps I am simplistic but I find jumping backwawrds and forwards is often confusing. 
My fictional book of the week
On Thursday the temperature rose to 30ºc. It also rose in the political climate where the crisis in Catalonia deepened. Article 155 for direct rule was to be approved by the Senate the next day and meanwhile there were a lot of negotiations going on between Madrid and Barcelona as well as Bilbao. Puigdemont and his unruly group were obviously not united as to which way to go: call elections or declare independence and on Thursday he ruled the latter out. It was expected that the next day in the Catalan parliament there would be a vote for independence. He didn't dare proclaim it himself because of the criminal charges it would mean so handed over the decision to all his cronies. He would have us on tenterhooks once again, until Friday. 

Life continued for me and I got a call from Catalonia that day too. But it had to do with work. My Swedish but Barcelona based customer wanted me to do their nationwide communication for news to be announced the next day about the powering up of the first phase of their network in the Cantabrian region. They didn't give me much time to react nor much information. I had to draw up a press release which would have sufficient meat on it for the Madrid and Barcelona media to buy; no easy feat. I started work there and then and within a few hours had a draft which I had to put on google docs. I also had to go to the dentist that afternoon, at 5pm, just as Puigdemont went on TV to announce there would be no elections. But my mind was on my client, Adamo. It was to be a really rushed PR job and I only wish I had been given more time.  But still, you know me, I love a challenge. 

That night I slept really badly and was awake at 5 in the morning, my mind on the Adamo press release. I was still introducing minor changes to the press release until mid morning. I then had to draft an email text introducing the news and prepare the mails to be sent to my media list. I decided to send each one individually with a personalised text and I had until 12.30 to do so which was one big rush. It finally went out and this was it. It was very local news and I didn't have much hope of coverage on a national level but I did my best. I had to sort of grovel in my emails which is not my style but on Friday I had to use all the tools I had. I kept googling to see if anything had been published and it wasn't until Saturday morning that I would see the fruits of my labour.

Meanwhile, our new Airbnb guest arrived, Borja, a sports master student from Navarra near the Rioja region attending a weekend course at the UEM University. It was bad luck but the hot water had stopped working the night before which is not good for my Airbnb hosting. Thankfully it was warm weather and the plumber came later that evening and things were sorted. I never used to worry about breakdowns in the house but now do because of my guests. Poor Eladio is the one in charge of maintenance so I'm afraid he gets a bit more badgering than before. 

My problems, stress, work, etc paled into insignificance when that morning the vote for independence took place in the Catalan parliament. It was just a pantomime as 1 day later the parliament would be dissolved. But the separatists had to have the last word and the picture of victory which would be sweet but very short. The whole thing was a farce not to mention void of any legality. The constitutional parties (PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos) left their seats in disgust covering them with the Spanish and Catalan normal "senyera" flag - not the "estellada" the independence flag - and the separatists continued their farce. 
The Senyera Catalan flag and on the right the Estelada the pro independence Catalan flag
In order not to be discovered, they voted in secret. Yes in secret (very undemocratic) and of course the bill went through. Less than 70 people were to decide the future of the unity of Spain!!!!  
Puigdemont voting in secret for independence and ilegaly
Outside, pro independence supporters popped their bottles of cava in celebration while the rest of Spain and of course the Catalans not in favour of independence and who are a majority, looked on aghast. Meanwhile Rajoy told the nation on his Twitter account that order would be restored. Well it would but they still got their picture which was published the world around.  I couldn't believe what was happening. I mean can you imagine Angela Merkel or Emanuel Macron letting independence be proclaimed in a German Land or French region? No, of course not.  I would have sent the Army in I was furious. It was a sad day for Spain and a very ugly picture that was painted on Friday and a fractured society in Catalonia. 

Eladio and I went out to dinner to commiserate. We went to Ginos where I mostly enjoyed a few glasses of rosé lambrusco wine which weren't very good for the headache I had before and after dinner. But it was nice to get out and try and not think about the Catalan crisis although of course we did talk about it. That's all there is on in the TV these days anyway. 

Saturday morning was very much the day after the night before. I had breakfast reading the international headlines about Catalonia. I have been surprised by the BBC's coverage so far which seems to sympathise with the separatists and so many international publications that compare this crisis to times under Franco. That is just so "old hat" I'm afraid and far far from the truth as Catalonia as a region has probably the most autonomy in Europe after the Basque country and is far from repressed. What pleased me though was to see quite a bit of media coverage resulting from my efforts the day before. I was happy to see Adamo's news in La Vanguardia, El Periodico de Cataluña, El Economista, Expansión and quite a few others. That was one huge sigh of relief as I had expected far less. It was quite a feather in my cap on Saturday morning. 

It was on Saturday morning that the Government announced the application of Article 155. Meanwhile, Puigdemont, refusing to accept being sacked, released a previously recorded speech announcing he would continue the fight. Elections will take place on 21st December and my fear is that the result will be very similar to the power share today and that the separatists may get even more support. I wonder where that would leave us then. Hopefully, by then he and his cronies will be in prison.  I am astonished at events this week and sad for the Spain I love. I only want peace and unity. One good thing to come out of all this is more unity in the rest of Spain and also that the Spanish red and yellow flag has finally become a symbol of unity rather than of fascism. People are flying it everywhere after this week's and the previous week's political commotion and crisis, the worst since the Spanish Civil War and I don't write that lightly. 

Just before lunch, a book I had ordered from Amazon for my Father, Eladio and I, arrived although my Father will be the first to read it.  I also bought it after reading Felix Yusupov's memoirs. Called "Thirteen Years at the Russian Court" - The last years of the Romanov Tsar and his family by an eyewitness" it is a biography by Pierre Gilliard a Swiss who was the Tsar's childrens tutor of French. He was with the family when they were imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and was one of the few who was with them and whose life was spared. 

As far as I know, he is the only eyewitness of the end of the life of the Tsar and his family to have survived and written a book. I look forward to reading it. Looking at the cover at the picture of Tsar Nicholas II it is uncanny how similar in appearance he was to his cousin George V.  One thing I learned though from Yusupov's autobiography was that the King of England did indeed invite the Tsar and his family to take exile at Buckingham Palace but it was the Russian Emperor who declined saying he would never leave Mother Russia. I had always thought that it had been the other way round. But wouldn't things have been different if the Russian Royal family had taken exile in England? You must be a bit tired of my writing fleetingly but often about this time in Russia but of course it's in my blood and genes and I was brought up on the stories of those times. 

I said the book came before lunch but I didn't tell you what I made for lunch. Well, more cooking of course took place yesterday and we had the most delicious roast meal - lamb and all the trimmings including some baxters mint jelly bought a while back at the English shop in Madrid. You're right if you think it is odd to have a Sunday roast on a Saturday. Well I just felt like doing it ok.
Yesterday's roast lamb which we all adored.
The rest of the day was quiet, we read, did the weekly shopping, had a light dinner, interacted with our Airbnb guests and went to bed early to watch the news about Catalonia - no films or series on Netflix at the moment I'm afraid.  This is far more dramatic I can tell you.

And today is Sunday, the end of the week and blog day to quote my Father. As I said at the beginning too the clocks went back last night and this morning we all woke up to find it was one hour earlier and the end of summer time and beginning of what is called "daylight saving time". 
The clocks went back last night
I'm not sure what it saves. There are cases both against and for the change in time. It was apparently introduced in many parts of Europe during the War to help the economy. I'm not sure the pros outweigh the cons as it can affect your health. Apparently we get longer daylight hours although I prefer more light in the evening rather than in the morning. It is said it decrease the number of car accidents but that it can also give you a heart attack. The debate is eternal. All I know is that each time the clocks go back I hate it. I far prefer it when in March they go forward and we gain more evening light.  

So today will be a very long one. The best part about today was having Oli and Miguel for lunch. As I said earlier, I decided to make my new home made pizza with home made dough. We ate nearly all of it - I actually made 2 - and I forgot to take a photo. 

Now everyone is sleeping a siesta and instead of sleeping, here I am finishing this week's post which, by the way, is a bit late today. Sorry about that everyone.

Who knows what next week will bring? You can find out about mine next Sunday of course. Hopefully things will have calmed down in Catalonia by then. 

Cheers everyone till then,

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