Month: October 2011

Sweets for the sweet

My grandma used to keep a little paper bag of boiled sweets tucked away in the front pocket in her apron. Occasionally my brothers or I would be slipped an Army and Navy or an Everton Mint, it seemed to be arbitrary whether we got one or not, and sometimes the sweet had some fluff stuck to it, but being awarded one was a very cosy feeling. These days my daughter, La Gidg, hankers after some terrible sweets. Kids’ sweets just don’t have the same innocence or simplicity now, and I am quite fed up with Hello Kitty and her many and varied ways of trying to part my six year old from her pocket money in return for fabulous packaging and a rubbish biscuit. Or the incessant demands from Gidg for ‘Chiclet’ which to you and I is chewing gum. I’d rather have fragrant Turkish Delight, or lurid gobstoppers. So much more fun to eat and so many memories attached to them.

So it was with much anticipation that La Gidg and I went along last Saturday to the opening of That Sweet Temptation in Portals Nous. We were right to be excited though as it’s quite an emporium that the owner, Andrea Collier, has created: row upon row of jars of old fashioned boiled sweet favourites lined up like soldiers, piles of handmade Belgian chocolates, and stacks of new and unusual confectionary that I’d not encountered before which is saying something, believe you me, as I count myself as a bona fide sweetie expert.  Gidg dashed about the shop gasping at the choices (so many more than the usual poor selection in our local petrol station) and I had a rapid trip down memory lane.

When I was a kid there was a sweet shop opposite my primary school where, if we were lucky, we could spend 10p on a bag of penny sweets. Making the decision about what to buy was agonising, but eventually I would normally choose a combination of Refreshers, chocolate mice, bananas, Fruit Salad and Black Jacks. Sometimes I would buy a little packet of Parma Violets if my pocket money stretched to it. The sweets would be handed over wrapped up in a logo-less white paper bag, ready to be savoured, but not often shared, I have to admit.

So, of course, La Gidg and I had some difficult purchasing decisions to make, and I apologise to anyone who was behind us in the queue, as you can’t rush this sort of thing you know. We left the shop with several little white paper bags full of goodies. Good luck to Andrea with her new venture, here’s hoping you will be contributing to happy memories for a new generation of kids in Mallorca, and jogging the memories of the big kids too.

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

Party Politics

When I was a student (it didn’t last for long, but then the course was only for a year) I had to provide for myself, more or less. This meant that I did a variety of part time jobs in order to show the wolf the door. I was in turn a data entry operative (boring), a residential social worker (sounds fancier than it was), and a youth worker (barely older than the yoof) but the pinnacle of my various employments was as a children’s party entertainer. The younger kids were sweet, and enjoyed the simple magic tricks that I could perform, but the worst of the worst of my experiences was whenever there was a gang of eight or nine year old boys because they were absolute terrors. I just couldn’t control them at all, and they would spend the entire party (which their parents had spent good money on getting me in to do the entertainment for) trying to beat each other up. Now, as I had not had any rugby coaching experience I was at my wits end whenever I was hired to do a party for this particular age group, and it was pretty clear to me I was completely hopeless with them. If you haven’t ever experienced this then just imagine a group of feral boys in some sort of ‘party rage’ and that’s before they get anywhere near to the orange squash and sugar.

I can’t say that twenty more years of life experience have equipped me in any way to deal with nine year old boys, and so it was at La Gidg’s birthday party that we had a breakaway group of tearaways hell bent on breaking each other’s skulls. Why were they there when the party was for my delicious six year old? Well they were all big brothers of her friends, and you can’t invite one without inviting the other. Well you can, but I hadn’t. They enjoyed themselves anyway, charging around the grounds of Sa Taronja Cultural Centre in Andratx (the venue was kindly donated to me by them when it became apparent that the weather wasn’t going to play ball on that day and it is a brilliant place to have a kids’ party, just so you know).

But it is all getting a bit tricky: when my daughter compiled her invitation list she was very clear that she wanted to invite certain children, but not others (she also has quite a big crush on a couple of the big brothers, so they were on the list anyhow). This is all very well if you’re not friends with their parents, but I am so how do you explain ‘well, she’s decided that she isn’t friends with Fenella this week’? Frankly, you can’t, so you’re left in the sticky situation of trying to avoid the parent until the birthday party is but a distant memory and hope you don’t get asked about it.

On the up side the party was a hit, La Gidg made an extremely cute rabbit, and my husband did dress up as a carrot (the man in the fancy dress shop in Santa Ponsa had a good laugh at me when I tried to enlist his help to assemble a costume, but he did come through with some garish green hoola skirt and orange plastic fringing), and my mum had massive birthday cake anxiety – the icing wouldn’t stick and she fretted about it for a full 24 hours. Of course like any great event, you have to wait for the reviews, so when La Gidg came home from school on Monday to tell me that her friends had said it was ‘the best birthday party ever’ I felt like we’d just been awarded a Michelin star.

http://www.familymattersmallorca.com

Business as usual?

Goodness me, what a week of changes. There seem to be so many people packing it all in and heading back to the UK.  People who are going back for health reasons, for family reasons, and for financial ones as well. But there are still people toughing it out here, with gritted teeth they’re persevering with their businesses and trying to tighten their belts now that the summer tourist season has finished. I know of some cafes which only have just enough cash to restock so that they can keep their doors open. And just as these people are leaving or struggling so many other people are arriving and thriving on the island, which I think is also important to remember, it’s not all doom and gloom.

If your business is booming or floundering, or hasn’t even been set up yet, the Small Business Day is for you. It’s an opportunity to network with other business owners, to meet industry experts and professionals and to discover some new skills and ideas which might make a difference in your own field. When I came up with the idea for the Small Business Support Day a couple of years ago I wanted to make it as inclusive as possible which is why the price for the whole day is so low, it’s only 30€ for the workshops which start at 9.30 and go through until 16.00 and includes lunch.  The last time I did the event it attracted about sixty people, so I am hoping this time to get around a hundred. There will be workshops and seminars presented on topics such as ‘How to protect your business’, ‘How to manage PR’, ‘Group dynamics and communication’, ‘Personal Branding’ ‘Accounting and preparing for the tax man’ amongst others.

Last time we did this event there was a varied group of delegates, people representing their own small and mid scale business, people looking for investors, and people looking to invest and buy businesses, and people who had not yet set up their business but subsequently have done.  If you’ve got an idea or a dream that you want to fulfil then the SBS day is a really good way to start. When I set up my first business in Mallorca all those years ago I didn’t really have a clue about things like cash flow and marketing, and I had to learn the very hard way about how to do things, there wasn’t an event or a course which I could have gone on (in English anyway) that would have addressed some of the things that I wanted to develop. Well there is now, and I’m proud to be the person who came up with it!

The event will be on Wednesday 19th October and will be at Mood Beach Bar & Restaurant in Costa D’en Blanes (it’s between Marineland and Sporting Tennis). If you want to come for the day, or know someone who you think would benefit from coming then contact info@moodbeach.com or call 971 676 456 to make your booking. (It’s best to reserve in advance as tickets on the day are more expensive).

Blood and water

How do you define your family?

There are times when we live in Mallorca when we feel far away from our families, and celebrate that we are: far away from the crazy politics, from the silly arguments, and from the ongoing feuds. But then there are times when we’re not near enough. As I write this my friend is on a mad dash trip back to the UK to try to get to her mother’s bedside as she is seriously ill. Meanwhile, here I am with new visitors, my mum and her fella, they’ve been here 24 hours and they’ve already cleaned my house from top to bottom and taken La Gidg on a pedalo. All without a fuss, and they’re supposed to be on their holidays! We’ve got a trip to Son Amar Dinner Show planned, and a little jolly to Palma to check out the big boats. (I’m hoping to even it out the favours before they leave!)

They’re here because it’s my little girl’s birthday this weekend; she’s going to turn six. Sla Gidg has rather an eccentric do planned as it hangs on the inspiration which sprang from the purchase of a glittery rabbit mask that she chose a few weeks ago in the Palma sales with her hard earned pocket money. So, if you go down to the woods on Saturday you might find a gang of children dressed up as rabbits chasing my husband (dressed as a carrot, no, really) on a treasure hunt. Well, if you can’t have an insane birthday party when you’re six, then when can you? (don’t answer that, I know about Magalluf!). But if my husband turns up on Mallorca’s Most Wanted on Sunday, you’ll know why.

There has been meticulous planning: many, many sausage rolls have been bought, there will be rabbit shaped sandwiches (not rabbit sandwiches that’s an entirely different party), and a carrot shaped carrot birthday cake (my mum is I.C. that). And in amongst all of that will be my family: my mum, my dad and people that I am not related to by blood, but who would be there in the blink of an eye to help me and mine if we needed them, every single one of them I have met since I’ve lived here in Mallorca.
That is the extraordinary thing about this place; you do make lifelong connections, unexpected ones. Sometimes these people bring you joy, and sometimes they bring disaster: (also this week a person I know has been let down badly by people she thought were her friends).  But in the end of it all, you have to celebrate don’t you? When the world is full of terrible stories about economic disaster, and there’s a red bill that you haven’t paid, and there’s someone telling you about how we won’t have enough food to feed the world in 2050, well, what do you do? Well here’s my answer, you gather your family (whether you have the same DNA or not) and have a party that no one (especially your daughter and possibly the parents of her friends) will ever forget.

School’s IN

There is a beautiful photo sitting on my work table of my daughter. It’s hard to place her age, she looks so knowing and so wise, and so old, and so young, a mezcla. The only thing that gives her away is her fringe, it’s clear that her mum cut it as it’s a bit wonky; and her gaze into the camera lens is straight, direct and honest. It is a priceless photo for me (the terrible fringe cutter). It was taken a couple of years ago when she was in infant school, she might have been about to turn four years old. The second I saw that picture I had to have it, for myself. It’s the essence and purity of my little girl before she was tainted with ‘Tiny Pop’ and all the sugary crazy stuff that children seem to want to immerse themselves in these days.

To be honest, I can’t remember being four, or even five. My earliest memories are hinged to food (mainly eating either birthday cake or cocktail sausages – I don’t know why, perhaps there is a career here for a psychologist) and my first ever memory of school is decimalisation. I remember having to learn about centimetres and metres, and I remember being the milk monitor (the milk was foul, it was always warm and if we didn’t drink it we were in big trouble).

But the thing I do remember about school when I was a littleun is enjoying it, entirely and without question. I wanted to go, every single day.  I didn’t want to miss out.

So I am dismayed and worried about my (almost six year old) daughter’s attitude to school. Already homework is ‘boring’, she’s only done one – and all that was writing her name and address in a book (after being cajoled and harassed by her confused parents  – i.e. myself and the long suffering other). So, what do we do? Ban the telly? Quit worrying and show her a stack of wood that needs cutting? Invite a grandparent to live with us (in my day, this was a norm), or go the whole Victorian hog and do the ‘children are best seen and not heard’ route?

I find myself channelling my inner grandma and insisting that La Gidg (which rhymes with ‘fridge’ for those people who have asked recently, although she does not look like a fridge, she’s got a ‘surf blonde chick’ look going on these days) sits at the table and eats her dinner before slipping off to watch cbabies or pop teen, or whatever it’s called. The harder she pushes forward the stronger I pull back. I think this is to do with my own raising, which all in all wasn’t too shabby, and although my own mum was out earning, along with my dad, my own grandmother was putting our tea on the table at 4pm (after saving whatever string, rubber bands and brown paper came her way that day). So I am going to call on my ancestors and dig deep into my own memories and try to remember how they did it, and perhaps severe a couple of digital tv cables on the way… because as I had to remind my little girl today (whilst gulping in some swallows of air), if you’re going to complain about writing your name on a form in Spain now then you’re really in trouble tomorrow.

Zzzzzzz . . . :­-)

It could be the heat, it could be the work, it could just be a build up of many years of long days and short nights, but all of a sudden my favourite thing in the world to do is to sleep. I’m not talking about siestas or micro naps, or power naps, nope, I am talking about full on 12 hour sleep marathons. I’ve been putting La Gidg to bed at 8pm and very shortly following her to the land of nod. It’s the most luxurious thing I have ever done, and I love it. I am more able to handle difficult conversations, more able to think clearly, I am less likely to lose my temper, all of these things I think make me a nicer person to be around.

So why is it that people see getting a proper night’s sleep as being lazy? I’ve certainly changed my mind, and as I understand as I get older I can expect to sleep less then I am very happy to put the hours in now. Sleep allows your body to recharge, Sleeping Beauty did pretty well out of it. This time next week we will be back to school (hoorah!) and our rising time in the morning will be set regardless of what time we go to bed, so I am going to make the most of it whilst I can.

There are stories of world leaders only getting a few hours sleep a night, but would we put them in charge of a nation (or heaven forbid, a war) if their meagre sleep quota meant they were jetlagged and could be arrested for reckless driving?  Margaret Thatcher famously got a maximum of four hours sleep a night and we know how grumpy she was. Thomas Edison was another famous for only getting four hours, and he changed the world with his inventions, but I’m not sure of the safety aspects of letting an exhausted scientist anywhere near electricity! I disagree that ‘great people sleep less’, but it has taken me a few decades to come to that conclusion. Einstein slept for ten hours a night, unless he was working very hard on an idea in which case it was eleven, he claimed that dreaming helped him to invent.

To be fair, the novelty of sleeping 12 hours a night may wear off; I think I am clinging to an idea where instead of our normal morning family routine where everyone is late, there is the inevitable daily row, no one can find their clothes, and we run out of the door at ten minutes to nine to get to school before the gates close. That if I get to bed early enough I will be able to rise early in the morning before everyone else, spend some time as the sunrises doing yoga, perhaps write a few pages of my book, make a healthy breakfast for my family and do the chores. Yeah, I know, dream on.

You can take the girl out of London . . .

I had to get out of Dodge last week, after several years of living in Mallorca I suddenly succumbed to a bad case of ‘islanditis’ and desperately needed to get away. One Easyjet flight later and I was in the UK. Going from the intense August heat to the rather autumnal rain was a shock, yet I doggedly wore my flip flops as I crossed London on trains and buses to reach my friend’s house in West Hampstead. I noticed that I was not the only person wearing flip flops as they were also being sported by some ‘gentlefolk of the road’ and realised that perhaps I would have to rethink my footwear. Once I was installed in my old friend’s spare bedroom I was ready to roam. Trainers (and socks, SOCKS!) on and off I went.

Now, I’m not saying that the big city is better than the country, as they both feature things which I love, but it was a tonic to meet up with old friends and wander around London window shopping and people watching. We didn’t do anything fancy or expensive, in fact most of the time we just walked around talking about life, love and London.

I noticed things that had changed: the smoking laws seem to have worked, the cost of a packet of cigarettes is now about £8 as opposed to the 4€ here in Spain, plus you can’t smoke inside and there were definately less people sparking up outside. And then there’s the cost of a glass of wine (average price over the weekend £6! Per glass!). And there’s all that walking from the house to the tube and then from the tube to your destination. In my opinion people who live in London must be pretty healthy specimens.

There are posters for the Olympics everywhere, and there’s an enormous new building called The Shard which is due to be the tallest building in Europe once it’s finished. There are new green shoots of developments sprouting up all over the place, and the city seems to be humming with energy and positivity. I even found myself smiling at strangers on the street, (don’t worry I didn’t get locked up). Could this really be the same town where just a couple of weeks before was the arena for the most destructive public disorder in recent times? Whilst I was away there was huge fire in Bendinat, and the pool bar in a hotel in Portals collapsed, life suddenly seemed to have switched things around!

Returning to Mallorca after just a couple of days respite from the heat and plenty of inspiration from the city streets has put a spring in my step and a smile on my face. When I left London for Mallorca in 2004 I felt as if I was being unfaithful to my hometown, and now I’m wondering, is it possible to be married to one country and have an affair with another?

The rain in Spain

When my husband and I decided to move to Mallorca seven years ago we diligently went to Spanish lessons. I remember thinking: I don’t want to be an immigrant and not bother to learn the language. So we went to night school. The spirit was willing however, but the flesh was weak: we learnt virtually nothing.

My ability to speak Spanish didn’t immediately improve after we’d arrived on the island, but poco a poco we started to pick up words, and I understood más o menos what was being said. We went to some lessons, we picked up a little more, and by making Spanish friends we picked up a little bit more. When all else failed, I fell back on the age old language of pointing and smiling, it got me a long way anyhow.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how frustrating and isolating it would feel to be unable to have a quick gossip with the guy in the corner shop, or stand up for myself in an argument or how fearful I would become about making a telephone call in Spanish. I’d start a conversation and then get stuck in the middle of it, and then I’d feel stupid. I wonder if we’ve all endured that moment when a Spaniard who speaks English asks with incredulity ‘HOW long did you say you’ve been living here?’ (I translate that to mean ‘I can’t believe you’ve lived in Mallorca so long and you STILL can’t conjugate a verb’). I could converse, but only in the present, I just didn’t understand how to change the tense.  I’d joke about wanting to be in the film, The Matrix, and getting a rebooted brain with Spanish installed into the back of my skull.

So the course ‘Spanish for frustrated beginners’ pretty much summed me up. Run by the 3Phase Lingua Group, their teaching method promised I would increase my Spanish (they also teach French and German) vocabulary by 500+ words in three days.  Imagine being given the key to a locked door behind which lays a vast opportunity to communicate, that is what happened to me last weekend.

The three day course (which was hosted at the Bodhana Wellness Centre in Puerto Portals) is a combination of traditional teaching, physical exercises and word games, conversation, practice, repetition, lots of laughs and (my favourite bit) lying down in a darkened room. It didn’t really feel like learning, it was too much actual fun to be learning, surely? Then something amazing happened, the penny dropped. Just like that I suddenly got it. I was Eliza to our teacher’s Higgins. I was gobsmacked, how could it be so EASY? The knowledge hit me as if it was the rain in Spain falling on dry cracked earth and I drank it in. There I was speaking in the past and future tenses, and making complete sense. Nothing short of a miracle.

So, if you’re stuck, or a beginner, then don’t give up, if I can do it, then so can you, it IS possible to improve. Now I’m thinking, well, if I can do Spanish, then let’s give German a go… Today Mallorca, tomorrow the world!

Visit www.3phase.es to find out more.