Sunday, January 14, 2018

The end of Christmas, a week of breakdowns, Manchester is not in Lancashire, a surprise birthday dinner for Fátima and other stories.

Sunday 14th January 2018
At La Castafiore restaurant last night with Julio and Fátima, the birthday girl
Good morning everyone.

How has your week been? Mine has been troublesome as you will read on. In fact this week's post, unusually for me, is going to be one long whinge. Sorry about that as I am normally more positive. 

Sunday 7th January when I last wrote, was of course Russian Christmas but the end of Christmas for us. That day Eladio and I took down all the decorations which is one of the most hated tasks of the year. Everything looked so forlorn afterwards. Here is a photo of the lounge just as I was ending the dreaded task that puts a sudden end to the festive season.
Taking down the decorations that puts an end to the festive season. 
My Father was not well that day. He was breathing with difficulty and was very weak. We immediately rang the emergency services and within about 15 minutes a doctor and ambulance were here. The lady doctor diagnosed bronchitis but luckily she agreed with me that it was better for him to be treated in the comfort of his own home rather than at a hospital which may have been a more correct option but very tough for him aged nearly 99. She prescribed antibiotics and paracetamol. As I write now, he is better but the illness has taken its toll and he is still very weak. He can no longer stand up which is a huge problem as Lucy, his carer, cannot lift him alone and needs Eladio or me to help. That, in turn, means we have to be at home all the time. How awful to be old. I completely sympathise with him but at least he is very well looked after. 

It was a wet and rainy day and our walk with the dogs was not very pleasant. When we got home I had to bathe Pippa who was completely soaked and dirty. Here she is ready for her bath in our jacuzzi bath tub we hardly every use. It's mostly for her. She is never very keen on a bath as she hates getting her head wet poor thing. Isn't she sweet? "As pretty as a picture" to quote my friend Anne.
Pippa about to be bathed after a wet and dirty walk
It was raining here but in many parts of Spain it was snowing and snowing hard. The snow caught a lot of the returning Christmas holiday traffic. The AP6, the toll motorway from La Coruña in Galicia to Madrid, was heavily hit and some 15.000 people trapped in their cars overnight, many without provisions. There has been a huge hoo-ha  about it all this week with all the different authorities blaming each other. The truth of the matter though is that most motorists knew there would be heavy snow and were not prepared. Either they had no snow chains or only put them on when it was too late. The other truth of the matter is that Spain, generally, is not prepared for snow as are countries such as Canada or Finland. If we had been in Montrondo for Kings' Day, no doubt we would have been trapped too. What a nightmare.
Snow last weekend caused havoc on the roads
Monday was back to the "grindstone", well not really as I don't consider my work for Adamo a grindstone at all except that it would keep me extremely busy all week as next week I am organising a big press conference and dinner so there's lots of detail in organising that I can tell you.  Monday was a difficult day and the day some of  the breakdowns began. We had to take Eladio's car, our old Volvo, to the garage to be mended as there is something wrong with the ignition. Also it needs paintwork after a small accident in Alicante this summer. The plumbers came to change 4 radiators and charged a small fortune. Another one came to fix a pressure valve. We thought that was the problem with the boiler but it wasn't in the end and problems with the heating got worse as the week progressed which with the cold outside and my Father ill was not a good time for it to happen. If it had happened in August we would probably hardly have noticed it. Later in the day the boiler started leaking and we had to switch off the heating completely. I was very worried about my Airbnb guest, 19 year old Enya from the warm climate island of Guadeloupe. I lent her both a coat and a dressing gown. I also dreaded a bad review. Luckily, for her room and ours, we could resort to switching on the heat fan that is part of the air conditioning system  we have. But that wouldn't fix the lack of hot water. I went to bed with 4 layers of clothing on!!  There is always some sort of breakdown in our very large house and for Eladio, as head of maintenance, it can be a nightmare. To top it all Netflix didn't work either and wouldn't connect. The next day I rang Telefónica and they repaired some "parameter" of the router and now it does work. What a day. But it was a much worse day for Suzy who had been in Bristol on Sunday and when she came home she realised she had left her keys in the flat. Her neighbour came to the rescue and invited her to sleep at her house. She even provided pyjamas! Thankfully, the next day, Suzy was able to get another set  of keys from the owner's daughter. So no, Monday was not a good day all round.  

On Tuesday we rang my Father's GP. Unsurprisingly she was overwhelmed with flu cases and didn't come and visit him. Instead she prescribed more antibiotics which I'm not sure are the right thing. Suzy prescribed probiotics to counteract the adverse effects of the antibiotics. It was cold and wet again and horrible being without hot water or central heating. Yet another plumber came. He told us what we had suspected, that we had to change the boiler. That of course is only going to cost 4 or 5 thousand euros:-( However, he told us how to keep the heating on and use the hot water only when we were going to have showers using  the old boiler. He did warn us to watch the pressure though, less it exploded!! Eladio has now spent the whole week getting estimates for a new boiler and talking to God knows how many central heating and plumbing firms. Poor him. 

Wednesday was not a good day either. My Father had slept badly and was very poorly.  Just nothing seemed to go right that day. It wasn't only the heating that had broken down, or internet, or Netflix or the car. One of our 2 washing machines had broken down too. That I sorted out immediately by buying one online from El Corte Inglés. I bought the cheapest AEG I could find, the price of which thankfully includes installation and the removal of the old one. I would have bought it on Amazon but they wouldn't have installed it and I just don't want to see any more plumbers here for the moment hahahaha. 

I worked all day and at 16.30 had a conference call using Google Hangouts. Well that didn't work either hahaha and of course we had to resort to a landline.  While I worked, Pippa joined me as she always does. She is so sweet you can't imagine the number of photos I take of her. Here is the one I took on Wednesday by my desk.
Pippa with me when I work at my desk at home. 
It was on Wednesday that I found out that Manchester does not belong to Lancashire. If you are not English you probably won't find this very interesting, so do please skip to the next topic haha. You see, my daughter Oli, TV reporter for "Madrileños por el Mundo" will be doing a programme there on people from Madrid who live in or around Manchester. I told her Manchester was in the county of Lancashire, the one next to my beloved Yorkshire,  and she told me I was wrong and that it belonged to a county called "Greater Manchester" which, I, although I was born in Britain, had never heard of. So suddenly my Spanish born daughter was informing her British born Mother that the latter's geography of the UK was wrong. How could it be wrong I thought? So I looked it up on Google and "by gosh" she was right and I was wrong. Apparently, in 1974 the government reshuffled  certain towns and counties in the UK and Manchester became the county town of "Greater Manchester" when previously it had of course been the biggest town in Lancashire. I felt ignorant. However, I was comforted later on FB, by friends from the UK, who told me that in their minds Manchester would always be in Lancashire just as it is in my mind. One ventured to say he could hardly imagine Shakespeare referring to "Greater Manchester". I can't either. To prove the fact, here is a photo I found on Doctor Google.
Manchester is not in Yorkshire anymore as I found out this week
Thursday was another day at home, if you don't count a visit in the afternoon to the dentist. My Father had a bad day but even so insisted on  coming up to have lunch with us. However, he has lost his appetite which worries me as if he doesn't eat he will only get weaker. It makes me very sad.

On a brighter note that day I read that Spain is once again the world leader in organ donations and transplants. 5.259 transplants were carried out in 2017 exceeding 4.818 in 2016. That makes me proud of my adopted country. 

Spain leads the world in organ donations and transplants.
Spain also leads the world, only beaten by France, in the number of tourists visiting the country. It has overtaken Donald Trump's U.S. and gone up from the 3rd most visited country to the 2nd. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, a record number of 82 million people visited us in 2017, up 9% from last year and despite the terror attacks in Barcelona and the separatist issue in Catalonia. Tourism earnings rose 12% to 87 billion euros. Amazing. Want to know what they visit most? Well in the first place it's the Alhambra. The Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona comes second and the Prado Museum in Madrid comes 3rd. The top 10 most visited "monuments" include, unsurprisingly, the Real Madrid and Barcelona football club stadiums! 

The Alhambra, the most visited monument in Spain
Actually it's not true we didn't leave the house on Thursday. At the dentist I saw a promotion for a 2 x 1 dinner for two at Ginos, a local favourite, which is applicable in January from Sundays to Thursdays. So there and then, I asked Eladio if he wanted to go out to dinner, to cheer us both up and he agreed. There are no photos as I wasn't wearing anything special and had no makeup on and wasn't feeling in the mood for any. We ate comfort food, or rather I did as I ordered pasta and had ice cream for "pudding" all washed down by half a bottle of cheap but delicious sparkling rosé wine (lambrusco). On top of the promotion I was able to use some vouchers I had on the VIPS restaurant group app that I didn't even know I had and we ended up paying just 17 euros for a 3 course meal for 2. It was a good idea to go out that night. 

On Friday morning I did go out. I had an appointment or rather a coffee meeting in Madrid with the head of the Spanish Association of Communiations Directors, Dircom. Sebastian was interesting in knowing my professional situation which was really nice of him. Of course I was happy to tell him about my role with Adamo but I am also seeking other customers and he was happy to try and help. It was nice to get dressed up to go out and finally on Friday it didn't rain. 

I was home on time to make lunch or rather put the final touches to the dishes I had made early that morning.  I was very happy to see that my Father looked slightly better as he has worried me a lot this week. Just before our midday meal, Borja, my faithful Airbnb student guest from Navarra, arrived. He's attending a master degree course at the local UEM University and I think this is his 4th time with us. I gave him the green room as Enya is in Suzy's room or "suite" as he calls it. 

Lucy helped me do the food shopping in the afternoon and we came back with the car loaded with provisions for the week. What a chore. But the worst chore, at least for me, is putting everything away. The best moment of the day was dinner with Eladio as it usually is. We later watched a new film on Netflix about a Czech politician called Milada Horokova. Her story is interesting but the film was very slow and we both fell asleep.  

Yesterday I was up early at 6.15 and as soon as I had had my breakfast and read the headlines in The Times - mostly about Donald Trump - I started making bread. He really is as clown I'm afraid to say. I have been reading the sensational book about him called Fire and Fury and it doesn't paint a good picture. This week he will be remembered for cancelling a trip to the UK to open the US Embassy. His excuse is that he didn't build it and it costs a lot but the real reason is that he knows he is unpopular there and fears a hostile reception. He got a hostile reception too when this week he called some of the countries where immigrants come from to the US " holes" and then added he would prefer to see immigrants from Norway. As you will have seen the reactions have been both comical, ironic and angry. The other news this week and indeed over the last few weeks since the Catalan elections on 21st November, is all about whether the exiled and run away ex President, Carlos Puigdemont really can govern the region from Brussels by skype or similar technology.  The idea is absurd and the man is a buffoon and lives in a surreal world a bit like Donald Trump. I personally think they are both megalomaniacs. 

Disgusted with them both, I got on with my little life and made bread which always soothes me. It's so down to earth and homely. My 4 multi cereal loaves with seeds, sultanas and walnuts were out of the oven by about 10.30 and I was able to offer a few slices to Enya, our French guest, when she got up at nearly 1 o'clock hahahah. I had forgotten just  how much teenagers are able to sleep. 
The bread loaves I made on Saturday morning
It was a horrible wet day and once again we were cheated of a walk but Saturday was definitely the highlight of the week. It was my best friend, Fatima's 57th birthday and her teenage daughter, also called Fátima (confusing) had  very sweetly organised a surprise dinner for her with her family and best friends. We were to be a group of about 35 people. She created a whatsapp group for the guests which has been active all week. She chose a very special place for the dinner called La Castafiore where the waiters are professional opera singers and sing as they serve you. I wasn't really looking forward to a large  group dinner with a long table and not  knowing everyone, not to mention that the service is usually slow or that awkward moment when you don't know where to sit and end up sitting next to the wrong person. I was not sure it was my thing but I was very happy for my friend. However, I was completely wrong and it was the best dinner and surprise party you could ever imagine, except for our trip there and our trip back.

It was a horrible dark and foggy night and the restaurant is in a tiny street in the centre. There is valet parking but when we got there the valet was nowhere to be seen. So Eladio had to drive on and turn round and come back until he returned. He got lost in the process. I finally found the valet and Eladio eventually turned up, minutes before Fátima made her entrance  when most of us were sitting down. Her daughter had told her Mother and grandmother they were going to have dinner in town and made her Mother wear a birthday hat, all sorts of party gear, including a pair of wings. When she finally walked in and found us all inside she could hardly believe her eyes. She was so happy. In fact she spent most of the night with the gear on, standing up talking to all her friends and hardly eating hahahaha, as you can see in the photo below.  The photos of the evening are pretty bad because of the dim light.
Fati at her birthday dinner last night
Julio and I had wisely grabbed 3 spaces at the end of one of the tables and we were in luck as Fátima sat next to us which I hadn't expected at all. She hadn't expected what would come next either as the whole night was a surprise. She had no idea the waiters were professional singers and actually they gobsmacked us all with their amazing singing. They sang popular opera songs, Zarzuela (Spanish operetta) and famous Spanish songs of all types. 
Waiters singing at La Castafiore during dinner
Dinner was slow of course. I hadn't expected particularly good food but actually it wasn't bad at all, although what you pay for really is the singing. The waiters get you to participate too and involve all the people celebrating birthdays or anniversaries so the atmosphere they create is very special. At the very end we all  danced the conga around the restaurant and then the song "despacito" was played and people started to dance. The evening ended really late, at nearly 1 am. Eladio and I set off after saying goodbye to everyone and after about 15 minutes and still in the middle of Madrid I realised my mobile phone was missing and it was panic stations all round. I couldn't find it anywhere. I tried to ring it with Eladio's phone but there seemed to be no signal. A bit later I was able to ring Fátima who didn't hear the phone call, so I rang the restaurant. They said there was no mobile to be found and then I started imagining buying a new one on Monday and not just the cost but the loss entailed. I finally got through to Fátima who couldn't find it either. Then, once again I rang my own phone with Eladio's and guess what? I could hear it vibrating in the car. I had put it on silence while the waiters were singing. We could hear it vibrate but couldn't find it until we stopped and parked on a busy road and looked and looked until we eventually found it stuck in between the driver and passenger seats. It had obviously slipped out of my pocket and fallen. What a relief but by then it nearly 2 in the morning and you can't believe the traffic there was at that time in Madrid. We didn't get home till really late and were not in bed until past 3 in the morning. So, yes it was a wonderful night but we had a nightmare of a journey home. Eladio says I should find some system to chain the phone to my body. Any ideas anyone? 

And today is Sunday. I was up at 8 so slept just 5 hours. Now as I write the sun is shining and the best news of all is that my Father is better. He is eagerly awaiting a copy of this post. The other good news is that Oli will be back from Valencia today and will join us for lunch although that won't be until very late as she is arriving at 14.20 in Madrid.

So my friends, sorry for the whingeing. I just hope next week will be better and it looks as though it will be.

I'l sign off now, print this for my Father and start making the lunch.

Cheers to you all until next time,

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