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Culinary journeys

As I write this I am in the UK. Although I have never attempted space travel before, it does feel as if I have landed on another planet! I am trying to re-enter the atmosphere at as slow a speed as possible in order to appreciate all the differences, good or bad to Britain as I used to know it, and indeed Mallorca as I know it now. But goodness me UK haven’t you changed? Or have I just forgotten what it is like to be here?

First stop is Marks and Spencers food hall at the airport for a sandwich, and some interesting things called ‘Choc Bites’. Then it’s straight to Smiths for newspapers, and then on to the train. No one talks to each other on the train, that rule seems to have remained the same anyway. I turn my attention to my mobile lunch and nom down the sandwich (classic egg mayonnaise and cress on malted brown) in record time. Why can’t the Spanish make a decent sammie? They never have any moisture or freshness about them do they? And there’s no variety either, there’s only three choices, Jamon, Queso, or Jamon and Queso. Egg and cress isn’t asking too much is it? But then, I crack open the ‘Choco Bites’ and as I pop one into my mouth idly read the ingredients. I almost spit the bloody thing out (almost, but no, it is a sin to spit out chocolate) when I realise in this tiny, tiny, tiny slip of a thing there are over 200 calories. What? That means in the bag of 5 ‘Choco Bites’ there is a total of 1000 calories. I stuff them back into my bag. Make them last McLeod, I tell myself.

I have to change at Birmingham New Street station so I prepare to step out into the cold evening air, what I am not prepared for is the stink. The station reeks of diesel, everywhere, on the platforms, in the ticket office, waiting room, everywhere. Is that a new thing? Is this because I now live in the relatively fresh air of Mallorca that I am super sensitive to smell, or have railway stations just got stinkier whilst I have been away? I am lured again to the takeaway stands and soon enough am clutching a super sized cup of coffee and (sucker) two cookies. Thankfully these cookies don’t come with a calorie counter so I eat them in ignorant bliss, then dig out the ‘Choco Bites’ and think, ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and they go the same way. To be honest, they weren’t all that, it’s only greed.

Eventually I reach my hotel, which is a Premier Inn. I am disappointed to not be welcomed by Lenny Henry, but soon enough I am installed in my new reasonably comfortable room and directed to the restaurant. Again I cannot resist my curiosity to see what is on the menu. I have to call my husband back in Mallorca to tell him what is on the menu: it is pie night, and not only that, it is All-You-Can-Eat Pie Night. He seethes with jealousy and tells me that he loves pies more than he loves me. So of course, I have to try them, but they’re not as good as I imagined they would be. And then I roll into my room for a night’s kip.

In the morning, I rock back down to the restaurant for breakfast, it’s another A-Y-C-E extravaganza – all you can eat bacon? Has the world gone mad? I decide not to call my husband again as bacon ranks higher than pies, which means he loves me more than my breakfast as well. The breakfast hits the spot, they even have crumpets, but I’m not hungry after yesterday’s eatathon. On my way to my first meeting I calculate that I have already consumed double the calories that I should have in the past 18 hours and I have another five days to go. Perhaps I should be walking to my meetings rather than letting the train take the strain.

Movember

Happy Movember to one and all! Yes, you read that correctly, this is Movember, not November, at least it will be in my house. Movember is a yearly event to raise awareness of men’s health issues and as such is responsible for the sudden appearance of furry growths on the top lips of many normally tonsured faces. Yes, November has become Movember because for the whole thirty days of the month men are encouraged to grow moustaches!

This for me is a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand I love to call my husband’s bluff: he has on many occasions spoken about growing a D’Artagnan style moustache, or even a ‘Niven’, but until now has completely chickened out of the actual growing and sporting of said facial accessory. The closest he has ever got to having a moustache has been when he has taken his own sweet time in the bathroom shaving off his beard and perhaps just rested in between strokes of the razor to see what he would look like with a handlebar, or a Dali, or perhaps even a Super Mario Brother. But on the other hand, snogging a fella with a moustache, well, I guess everyone has to make sacrifices for charity and health awareness.

My husband has said that he would definitely do it if we were still living in London as plenty of his friends would be doing it with him, so this has led me to try to form the S’Arraco Moustache Club. So far I have not been able to recruit one single person, but I am determined as it starts today, Movember 1st. The rules are such: each ‘Mo Bro’  (that’s the cute name you get if you participate) must start the month clean shaven. For the entire month the Mo Bro must grow and groom a moustache. There is to be no joining of the mo to the sideburns as that is considered a beard. And there is to be no joining of the handlebars to the chin as that is considered a goatee. And, (this is the best rule), each Mo Bro must conduct himself like a true gentleman.

Mo Bros effectively become walking, talking billboards for the month of Movember and through their actions and words raise the profile of men’s health issues, such as prostrate and testicular cancer which is often still not spoken about as it is such a private issue for so many people. Some get sponsored to grow their moustache at the money goes to men’s health charities. At the end of the month there is often a party (I am using this as a way to encourage the Moustache Club: come on Bros! There will be Scotch eggs and beer!). ‘Mo Sistas’ are the women who support the Bros. The most supportive thing you can do is not, repeat NOT snigger at the early days attempts. Teenage ‘bumfluff’ moustache or full on ‘Tom Selleck’, it is the thought that counts.

Since its humble beginnings in Melbourne, Australia Movember has grown to become a truly global movement inspiring more than 1.9 Million people. Last year over 854,000 people  around the world got on board, raising GBP 79.3 million. Big steps have been taken towards changing attitudes and habits relating to men’s health around the world but there is still much to be done to catch up with the women’s health movement.  You can get more information at http://www.movember.com . If you are planning to a fundraising Movember moustache campaign in Mallorca then please let me know!

Press Play

Recently, whenever I have been asked how I am, I haven’t really known how to answer the question. I neither this nor that; neither up or down; neither happy or sad. It’s a curious position to be in, this neutral state. Meanwhile there are a lot of changes going on in people’s lives I know that, this seems to be the season of ebb and flow in Mallorca. People are leaving the island, others are getting new jobs, businesses are closing, and we are all changing our summer wardrobes for our winter ones. (There should be less ebb and more flow on the tidy campaign in my house, but even that seems to have paused).

So in preparation for the winter season I have been busy busy cooking up some interesting things to do at Mood Beach in Costa D’en Blanes which will hopefully keep us entertained. There are several things in the pipeline so please let me know if any of this tickles your cockles. I am preparing a Winter Fair, a Homes and Interiors Fair, a Wedding and Events Fair and a Pet Show. There will be language lessons every weekday morning (Beginners Russian, German and Spanish and intermediate Spanish too) starting in November. There will be some brunch and lunchtime events as well, and every week there will be an event on Thursday evening: I am planning to have a writers’ and book group, a regular live music event for acoustic musicians, wine tastings and of course The Supper Club.

The Supper Club has been going for almost a year now. It is a very friendly and relaxed group for people who would like to make new friends and possibly business connections as well. We meet once a month on a Thursday normally. Our next meeting is tonight (Thursday 25th October) at 7pm. It costs 15€ per session to be participate and this includes two glasses of wine or beer or soft drinks, and a supper plate, plus the speaker or presenter. This month we have Kate Mentink who will be speaking about her role as Assistant Director at the Centre Baleares Europa and the European Citizens Department. A lot of Mallorcan residents know Kate from her time as a Councillor for Calvia Council, so it will be good to get back up to date with her.

Also to update you on two very exciting developments recently: firstly my DJ debut went so well that I have been asked to do the whole thing again on Saturday November 17th so if you like 70s and 80s music and like to dance, then that’s not a night to be missed. And the choir had its first meeting last Saturday: twenty five people turned up for the first rehearsal, and almost all of them were women. So if you’re a fella and you would like to join a friendly and fun group then make sure you head down to Mood Beach this Saturday morning to sign up for the Mallorca Community Choir! Rehearsals are from 11am until 12.30pm.

So even though it feels as if I have hit ‘PAUSE’ it’s only to draw breath for the next big push! If there’s anything you are interested to join in with or want more information about then please get in touch with me on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/vicki.mcleod or by email vicki@moodbeach.com.

Making business work

So, we’re almost back to normal. Or at least our version of normal. La Gidg is back to school full time and so this should mean that I can get all of my work in without having to burn the candle at both ends. Yeah, right *laughs hollowly.

Let’s examine again the situation in Spain. The current condition that the economy is in means that we all have to make savings and try to find ways of living on less as the government wants us to pay more taxes. This also means that we have to make sure that every hour counts. So why, please explain this to me, is the costs of my child’s care not counted as a business expense when I do my tax returns? She stays at school from 2pm until 5pm and that costs us in the region of 200€ extra a month. That includes the cost of her lunch and the playground supervisor, and then an after school activity from 4pm until 5pm. Now if I didn’t pay for that then I would have to pick her up at 2pm and then do what? Take her back to work with me? (This has happened on occasion and she is very good at sitting and colouring in, but it’s just not interesting for her, not healthy either, and certainly doesn’t look all that professional if you’re constantly in ‘take your daughter to work’ mode).  So it is a business expense. If I didn’t pay for it, I wouldn’t be able to work for the 15 hours a week that it covers. This drives me mad, and has done for years. I’ve asked every single politician I have ever met why they think that this is excluded from permitted expenses, and not one has ever been able to give me a sensible response.

So whilst my taxes increase I am still not permitted to declare either my child care or a portion of my mortgage: we have a dedicated office in our house but because we don’t have a separate door to the office, it’s not permitted. Well the gloves are off, and it’s time to start making some waves. These policies are anti-business, and sexist. How can any person, especially women (who are naturally entrepreneurial) seriously try to go into business for themselves when the obvious expenses that they would incur to make a go of the business are not allowed to be declared? And on top of that you have to pay over 200€ a month to be an autonomous worker, but if you lose work you can’t claim any benefits or help. Where is the encouragement in that? Where is the motivation to try? Especially when you hear the kind of stories that I do about people exploiting their contracts with their employers, or businesses not declaring their taxes, or people not even paying autonomo because “it’s just not worth it”.

Meanwhile, a young man I know just got the sack from his employers. He wasn’t made redundant, and he didn’t resign, he got the sack. If that was the UK benefits system he wouldn’t get anything, but in Spain, no: he gets sixteen months guaranteed benefits, and is on the ‘paro’.  It sickens and frustrates me. Where’s the encouragement Sr. Rajoy? Why should I continue to stress myself out trying to make my business work when you don’t seem to care? I know why, because that’s the sort of person I am. Is there anyone out there who feels the same way?

Pant Zero

With the autumn comes the need to change the family wardrobe around. We put away the summer stuff and fetch out the winter. There is a lag in the process of course, when you’ve got both out as you can’t tell from one day to the next if you are going to be most comfortable in a t-shirt or long sleeves, shorts or trousers. This makes my recent pseudo-housewife achievement even more remarkable: I managed to reach ‘Pant Zero’.

Pant Zero is when every single item of clothing, including underwear is clean and put away in a cupboard. There isn’t anything on the line, in the ironing pile in the washer going smelly, or in the basket waiting for any parts of the aforementioned to happen to it. To be honest, the ironing pile doesn’t normally exist in our house anyway – when we are visited by a female relative of a certain age it seems as if they have gone ironing mad. If they intercept and get their hands on the pile of dry, clean washing before it is sorted and folded and put away they seem to delight in ironing stuff that frankly in our opinion doesn’t need it: socks for example, SOCKS. Why? Answers please to the address below..

So I can’t tell you how accomplished and organised reaching knicker nirvana made me feel. If only I could apply this level of pristine military precision to every area of my life. Perhaps because my family’s pants are now clean and put away we will arrive everywhere on time, our taxes will be paid, we will put out the correct recycling on the correct night, we will remember to send birthday cards a week before the event, and many other admirable and ‘Superwoman’ like characteristics will suddenly become easy and natural to us.

I did meet someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety recently, this person had to clean their hands very frequently, and carried around with them a little bottle of hand sanitiser and wet wipes to do just that job. What a good idea thought I. Reflecting on this I realise that I might be going a little doolally, it is just as okay to go to a sink and wash your hands I told myself. Perhaps when the world gets even more out of control we will all start carrying around little bottles of Dettol, “Yes, Spain is in terrible debt, we can’t afford to eat but at least my family’s knickers are folded and my hands are clean”. It could happen. On the other hand (you see what I did there?) apparently chaos is part of being creative.  Or I could try to reach Pant Zero minus One or is that perhaps a step too far? This would be when you have everything clean and put away and you aren’t wearing any pants at all because even they are in the drawer lining up with their fellows. If you’re into army style folding and aligning everything in your knicker drawer then going commando could be where it’s at.

I can see clearly now

ImageI have hung up my running shoes, mainly because I seem to have developed a limp. One knee does not like jogging and immediately starts to complain whenever I hit the road with my running group, swiftly followed by the rest of me also complaining. But hey, I have lost several kilos, this is GOOD. However now I am doing zero exercise: yesterday I sat on my sofa eating chocolate chip cookies and watched the Olympic gymnastics, the irony was not lost on me.

The whole point of exercise etc etc is to help me to get fit, stay healthy and look better. As my knee has thwarted my mission a little my husband has decided to find other forms of outdoor activity, he wants me to join him in his forays up mountains on a bike. Well, we’ve borrowed a bike, a very fancy one actually, and I have sat on it, in the living room. Crikey those seats are sharp, aren’t they? Anyhow, no actual cycling will take place until the weather has calmed down as it is now too hot to anything at all except sit in a swimming pool up to your nose, with a cocktail being siphoned in via a hose.

I am a glasses wearer, I have to wear them in order to read and type, which I do most of the day every day. In my ongoing Project Look Better I have realised that ditching the glasses may actually help (I’m beginning to think they may be a bit ‘ageing’). So I’ve been along to Specsavers for a contact lens trial. It’s quite good: they test your eyes, for free, to see if you can wear contact lenses, then they put a pair in for an hour to see how you get on, and then if you want to give them a go they give you, again for free, a few days worth of lenses to see if you can manage with them. How novel thought I as I walked out of Specsavers a couple of weeks ago with contact lenses installed: look at me being all modern and ‘go-getter’. I’ve got contact lenses in you know… A few hours later when I was taking them out I wasn’t thinking quite the same thing though and I really struggled on my own to remove them. I wasn’t frightened of sticking my fingers into my eyes or anything like that, I just physically couldn’t grab them to get them out. Ah well, thought I, my contact lens wearing career was short but illustrious. But by the morning I had changed my mind, and decided that being a quitter wasn’t going to help Project Look Better. Enter Zoe, a very patient employee at Specsavers. She coached me through putting in and taking out the lenses until I could do it on my own without panicking, swearing or involuntary crying. It took her about half an hour, and she was brilliant. Thank you Zoe.

 I picked up my first ever month’s supply of lenses yesterday, so far so good. Apparently, according to my Olympics’ obsessed husband, athletes have special contact lenses with tiny prescriptions to give them the ‘edge’. I told him that I wouldn’t be running before I could walk. 

Be Bold

ImageIt’s been a very enjoyable week in the Family Matters household. La Gidg returned from her holidays (North Wales, wet, lots of indoor activities) to blazing sunshine and day long adventures in swimming pools so that was the daytime covered. And then in the evenings we have been watching the daily coverage of the Tour de France, one day the peloton actually went past my mum’s house in France! (we waved, of course). So the cherry on the cake has to have been enjoying SKY team’s victory last Sunday when Bradley Wiggins and his team cycled onto the Champs Elysees and into the sporting history books.

It’s been wonderful to watch Team SKY operating. There’s more than one world class athlete in the team and yet they have worked together to ensure the victory of their leader and the group. World Champion Mark Cavendish has taken his turn alongside the other team members to deliver water bottles to his colleagues during the day, young rider Chris Froome who could potentially have won the race himself set aside his own ambitions to ensure the triumph. I found this inspiring and emotional, the idea of people pulling together to achieve something as a team. In my experience it’s getting rarer and rarer. And I think we should all be trying to find ways to increase that in our lives.  

Another thing that I loved was watching Bradley himself being exactly that, himself. He’s a fan of all things Mod, he’s a family man, he hates drug use in the sport of cycling (his own father was a drug smuggler, he used to put drugs in Bradley’s nappy to get them through border controls), he’s articulate, he writes his own column in the Guardian and he won’t let people manipulate him. How refreshing to watch him being eccentric, grumpy, joyful and outspoken. As a punter I’ve loved watching and listening to him, and I can imagine that the press love, love, LOVE him as well. And the most engaging thing about him? He speaks his mind, he is authentic.

When you work in P.R. (as I do in Mallorca) you can walk a dangerous line. You want people to stick to the ‘party line’ and not say things that may show the business in a negative light, but then if you prevent the individual from being able to express themselves, you run the risk of having a robot representing you. Look at some other sports personalities for example, even if they’ve had the worst day ever on the track or the field, they’ve got to come up with something positive to say about the team, for fear of upsetting (or worse, losing) the sponsor. As Jessie J sang a couple of nights ago in BCM Square, it shouldn’t be all about the money, money, money. But in so many cases it is. So what makes Bradley so appealing? He isn’t afraid. And that is what is holding a lot of us back I think now, fear. I read a book once about recommended that you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Be bold. 

Taxing Times

La Gidg is now well into her summer holidays. The first two weeks were spent in the UK in a caravan in North Wales. This coincided with flash floods and heavy rainfall across the whole region. Apparently there wasn’t much to do because the weather prevented them from going out really. So back they trekked to her grandparents’ house as it was just too awful to spend another day in a hut in a field.

So, this means that there could be a stream of British tourists knocking down our doors this summer, right? To get some respite from the seriously terrible weather, well I hope so. We’re all going to have to remember to increase our prices by 10% to include the increase in IVA and income tax that is about to be applied to everyone here in Spain. Will that put off our visitors? Will they be able to absorb a 10% increase in hotels, transport, food? I hope so, as I can’t imagine spending a weekend in a draughty caravan in wet Wales is much fun.

Right now Mallorca is at its most vibrant. Every day there are events, fiestas, concerts and glorious sunshine. This week already in Magalluf there have been two top artists performing (Tinie Tempeh at BCM and Professor Green at Mallorca Rocks). This weekend coming there is the Radio One Extra party at Mallorca Rocks, and we have celebrity visits coming out of our ears! It’s all good news in the UK Press for the island, so let’s hope that the island can live up to the PR.

Some businesses are going to have to make a sharp increase in their prices to take into account the tax hikes. Hairdressers for example, who used to charge 8% tax are now expected to charge 21%. So a 20€ haircut will now cost you 22€. Certain foods will now cost more, I guess we can say goodbye to caviar and lobster sandwiches then…

On the upside King Don Juan Carlos has decided to reduce his salary, and they’ve curtailed their trips and holidays. No more elephant safaris for a while. We can expect to see Queen Sofia and her grandchildren at the Marivent Palace after she’s been to represent Spain at the Olympic Opening Ceremony. And the King will come to visit his favourite island at the beginning of August as well. So we have to remain positive about all the fantastic stories that Mallorca can generate about itself over the summer.

When La Gidg returned last week to the bosom of her family I picked her up from the airport, when we walked out into the sunshine, the wall of heat hit us as we stepped out of the building. She smiled and heaved a sigh of relief to be home. It’s good to remember that sometimes.

Congratulations Ma’am

Goodness what has come over me? I don’t recall being a raving fan of the Royal family but for the past week every time there has been mention of the Jubilee I’ve come over all sentimental and tearful. I remember 1977 when the Queen celebrated twenty five years on the throne. I was the tender age of seven, more or less what La Gidg, my little girl, is now. We were presented with a commemorative mug, and there was a huge event at school. The children had to learn and perform a maypole dance: the ribbons of course were in red, white and blue. And we had a street party which I seem to recall featured a great deal of elderly people. But I was seven, and everyone looked old.

Mallorca has been crammed full of Jubilee parties, it’s been such a fun time for everyone to enjoy. And quite a few people have admitted to feeling homesick, just a little, not so much that they’ve wanted to pack their bags and get on the next flight home, but enough to stir the cockles of the heart and get a little damp eyed over the National Anthem. I have certainly been amongst that group, but I don’t think it is to do so much with the Royal Family, and more to do with the feeling of being British. What a fantastic show the nation put on over the weekend, despite the appalling weather conditions (I bet those opera singers on the barge on the Thames needed a hot water bottle and a Lemsip after their performances on Sunday) it seemed as if the whole four day spectacular went off with a bang. The British are just very good at organising and throwing a party, being welcoming and getting stuck in. I am intensely proud of being British, and I am very proud of my Mother country. I want my little girl to grow up knowing about her parent’s heritage, and as well as our adopted home. So this is why over the weekend I spent hours making cakes, scones, and cucumber sandwiches and gallons of tea. La Gidg and her friend Alyssa went to a crown competition (crowns created by Alyssa’s mummy, Nicky) and they came third and second respectively. We even participated in an egg and spoon race. And we spent a long time discussing what it was like in Britain, and why all those people wore funny outfits (‘they’re called Beefeaters darling…’).

So, if that was a Jubilee party, let’s see what they’ve got in store for the Olympics. I’ll need to bulk buy some tissues for the inevitable sobbing with pride, and I shall probably have to take a month off of work to make sure I don’t miss any of the coverage… Bring it on!

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

(pictured: Gigi and Alyssa practicing their most regal of postures!)

The end of innocence?

When I first visited Mallorca the island and the way of life here reminded me of my childhood in the UK in the Seventies. The supermarkets had half day closing, children played out on the streets, there was a feeling of innocence and gentleness about the place.  When I moved to Mallorca it irritated me that the supermarkets closed when I wanted to go, and I wasn’t so charmed by the fact that children played on the streets that I was trying to drive down. But soon I found myself fitting into the pace of the island rather than forcing the island to move at mine. And something unthinkable happened, something that would never ever have happened back in the UK: I left my front door unlocked. It became a bit of a symbol to me that our door was always open. Yes we live in a quiet little village where nothing really happens, so it’s not the same as leaving my front door ajar in Walthamstow for example, but it was still a big step for me. 

But I won’t be doing that anymore. In the past couple of weeks there has been a spate of serious burglaries in the South West which has left me wondering about how safe we really are. Santa Ponsa, El Toro, Puigpunyent, Palma Nova, Calvia, they have all been hit by a series of shocking incidents. It’s heartbreaking to hear about crime in our residential areas, targeting and unsettling us. Please keep an eye open for strangers around your neighbour’s house, and ask them to do the same for you. A friend of mine asked a man if he was lost when she found him at the fence at the bottom of her garden: he quite literally scarpered. Other people I know have had burglar and security cameras and alarms fitted to reduce the risk of being robbed or broken into. I have heard mixed reports about how seriously the local police have been taking the incidences, initially they were slow to respond and take fingerprints, but now as the frequency has increased so has their attention to the problem. If you need to call the police urgently then don’t forget that you dial 112. Alternatively now may be the time to get that dog you’ve been thinking about. There are plenty of loyal pooches out there waiting for a new home, get in touch with your local animal refuge (if you don’t know where or who they are then get in touch with me and I can point you in the right direction).

It makes me feel very sad that we are now the potential victims of crime here, after such a long honeymoon. We’re like those holiday makers I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in that ‘we’re in Mallorca, nothing bad can happen to us here’ trance. Well time to wake up people as some of us have had very scary awakenings, and in my case, time to start locking the door and check that the contents insurance is up to date. 

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com