Better late than never

I have a blogger friend called Bibsey Mama, whom I have mentioned before, as she always makes me laugh, and has a rather fine turn of phrase about being a mum, and stuff like that.

A few days ago, she did a post for Mother’s Day, which was on Sunday if you happen to be as clueless about these things as I am. She tagged me for something called a meme, whereby you answer some questions and then pass the idea onto other bloggers.

Needless to say, I didn’t manage to do this in time for Mother’s Day, largely because I was out and about, but also because I, er, forgot. To be fair, Bibsey did acknowledge that there wasn’t much time left before Mother’s Day to write the post. So I’m sure she won’t mind that I’m a couple of days late.

I don’t tend to write much about being a mum, as I’m not sure I’d know where to start, so I don’t know many mummy bloggers. Which is why I haven’t tagged that many other mums below. Anyway, now that the big day has passed, the post is just a general one about parent/motherhood, which is always a good subject for what it tells us about people and their attitudes.

Describe motherhood in three words
Exhausting, challenging, rewarding.

Does your experience differ from your mother’s – how?
It does and it doesn’t. My mum was a SAHM (called a housewife in those days), who didn’t much like cooking and hating being bombarded with questions about anything and everything.  Her mother lived in Scotland and my other grandmother had died, so she didn’t have any family around. I’m a journalist and I work from home, often with the kids around, with ample help from my mother-in-law when I need peace. I sometimes enjoy cooking, but always love my kids asking me questions. Explaining things to them is a joy. That’s the journalist in me – being  careful to choose the right words in order to get my point across to the audience, even if they are three years old.

What’s the hardest thing about being a mum?
Trying not to lose my rag, which I usually fail at. I’ve got a short temper which I know I need to control better, and my tongue tends to run away with me. And I don’t have a good handle on the work/life balance – too much of me glued to the computer in the afternoon while the kids are glued to the TV, when we should be doing artsy crafty stuff or baking cookies.

What’s the best thing?
Seeing my children hug each other, and play their complicated, imaginative role-playing games together, and hearing their involved, surreal conversations. And lots and lots of hugs.

How has it changed you?
It has made me suffer fools less gladly and be more protective, though less able to switch off. My liver is thanking me; I used to like my drinkies.

What do you hope for your children?
Happiness, good health and a realistic sense of what life is about. I fear I had it much easier than they’re going to.

What do you fear for them?
Anything bad, from illness to relationships (I’ve had a few of the latter).

What makes it all worthwhile?
Laughter and hugs. Drawings and off-the-wall comments. Reading stories and singing songs together. Family rambles in the countryside. More things than I could name. And there’s so much more to come. How incredibly bloody lucky we mums are (see – that foul mouth).

Here are the fellow mummy bloggers to whom I am passing the baton – run with it, chicas!


Victoria Wallop

Quiero milk

Updating a classic

This week, the Alfonso XIII hotel in Seville reopened after a major refurbishment. This landmark luxury hotel, one of the most famous in Spain, had been closed since the end of May last year.

When I first heard about the refit, I wondered if they would go all designer minimalist, with bare rooms accented by statement lamps and crazy artwork. Many hotels with old facades here in Seville – the EME and Fontecruz in Seville, for example – have chosen to go down the largely monochrome with jewel-coloured velvet sofas, metallic lamps and bold patterns road, with mixed success.

The Alfonso XIII has trod a careful path – the majority of their clients are people who prefer traditional decor and comfortable rooms, rather than a rustic wooden four-poster and a clothes rail.

All the famous tiles of the public areas remain – notably, the entrance hall and public areas on the ground floor, and the staircase.

As you can see, the colour palette is neutral, but with modern accents such as the square lamp, graphic rug and studded square leather pouffes. The studded theme is repeated throughout the hotel, a nod to Seville’s medieval era as seen in the Alcazar.

Some fabrics are a little more interesting print-wise – among the fabrics used are Ralph Lauren. Quite bold, but in a conservative way, if you know what I mean. Classic contemporary.

The new tapas bar, formerly the  Bar Alfonso, has a bold red theme (popular with hotel tapas bars, as it’s such an Andalucian colour – passionate and fiery: the EME’s is similar).

With the imposing portraits it feels appropriately regal. While the serious-looking aristocratic gentlemen (when your hotel is named after a king, you can’t very well not have a likeness of hhim) were not to my personal taste, I loved the oak bar, embroidered leather sofa – made in Spain – hurrah! – and the studded wooden panel down one edge of the bar.

The outside terrace is one of my favourite spots (until the much-anticipated new American Bar – turquoise Art Deco, no less – opens), with its gauzy curtains and shady hideaways.

But of course the most important feature for most guests is their own personal space – the bedrooms. These come in three themes: Andalucian, Castillian and Moorish. The first is the photo shown at the top of this post. Here is the Castillian.

What stood out most in these newly decorated rooms, for me, where the shaped headboards, and the white walls, which replace the fancy silk wallpaper and give a much more clean, modern look. Furniture is either specially commissioned for the hotel, or reconditioned antique, with original wood and new leather, such as this chair.

Walls are hung with black and white historic photographic prints, and contemporary art. But they also have chandeliers, which I thought looked totally out of place.

The Moroccan ceiling lamps were much more in keeping.

Most interesting, for me, were the Mudejar rooms, which have retained their elaborate plasterwork mouldings around the beds, and have brass Moroccan wall lamps on either side. Mudejar is the Arabic style which was employed by Moors who stayed behind in Spain after the Inquisition, outwardly coverting to Christianity, and using their traditional skills to create countless beautiful structures around Spain.

These, along with the inlaid tables and mirrors have the Mudejar rooms a much more tangible character, although I wasn’t too keen on the upholstery fabrics.

Other details I liked included the wardrobes, which are fitted out in black and red with handy (studded) drawers, and look (to my mind) like Louis Vuitton trunks – of which I have 15, naturally. They’re also inspired by Morocco, the hotel group’s regional president told me.

The bathrooms are the same as ever, with the metallic tiles, but with new taps.

All in all, I think the design company, Hirsch Bedner, which did the Landmark in London and Mandarin Oriental in New York, have successfully updated the Alfonso XIII’s look, giving it a fresher feel but without putting off the purists.

Personally I had hoped to be rather more blown away, but then it doesn’t cater to my taste. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite touches; those studded leather pouffes and gorgeous wool rugs.

Ups and downs

Lately, my life seems to be a series of peaks and troughs. Nothing dramatic, thankfully – no deaths or major illnesses, or serious disasters. Just one of those times when a week without anything going wrong represents an unusual, and welcome, period of calm.

Last week, I was staying in one of the best hotels in Spain, according to Conde Nast Traveller among others. I’ll be blogging about it in detail soon.

This week, there wasn’t enough money in the bank account to pay the mobile phone bill, and our (other, thankfully) car died. It was a 20-year-old Volvo kindly donated to us, which lasted for a year and was extremely useful for my husband as a second means of fanily transport, especially for ferrying children around and leaving me free, occasionally, to get out and about without my carriage turning into a pumpkin, Cinderella-style, at 2pm when school finishes for the day.

Living half one’s life in a dreamworld can be confusing. When I am lucky enough to be invited to stay in such places, I try to make sure my car isn’t too dirty (failed this time, both inside and out); my suitcase is not too scruffy (oops, handle broken); and my clothes are appropriate (almost, though too plain. Forgot jewellery. No holes, creases or fallen hems, at least).

My knackered laptop looked completely out of place in my huge sea-view suite (I wish now I’d taken a photo of it in situ – at the time, it didn’t occur to me). When my host asked what my husband did, it’s hard to dodge the fact that, rather than being some dashing entrepreneur or successful lawyer, he’s an out-of-work engineer who’s been on the dole for two years. The bubble of our luxe-surroundings conversation bursts, and we come back down to earth with a bump.

All this isn’t to say I’m not happy with my life. I have two gorgeous, healthy children, who are as creative and bilingual and affectionate as I could hope them to be; we live in a small house which belongs to us, not the bank; I have a loving, if not overly industrious husband; an endlessly supportive and helpful mother-in-law; and a group of fantastic friends; and I love my work – well, who wouldn’t? I write for a living.

Swinging between wordly, confident journalist and competent, organised mother isn’t easy for anyone, and nor is being the sole wage-earner, though obviously it’s vastly preferable to both of us being without an income. But please don’t think I’m whinging, because I’m not; I’m just describing my topsy-turvy life.

Tomorrow I’m going to the reopening of a palace-hotel, built as Spain’s most luxurious by the then-king. I’ve already laid out my clothes, just to make sure I don’t inadvertently wear something which will embarrass me (it’s happened before). I’m looking forward to it, though I know I’ll have to do my Wonder Woman role-change spin before I leave the house.

What are you thankful for?

The Andalucian-ness of Andalucians

Feliz Dia de Andalucia!

Andalucians have a sense of local loyalty like noone I’ve ever encountered. They are fiercely proud of their Andalucian-ness, with famous cultural markers such as Moorish architecture, flamenco, bullfighting and Lorca inspiring the kind of adoration that borders on obsession.

This sense of regional identity is instilled from an early age. Over the years, my children have come home from nursery or school at around this time of year, displaying a range of appropriately-coloured adornments symbolising the bandera blanco y verde: masks, flags painted on their faces, and flags in their hands.

This year, in the run up to today’s Dia de Andalucia celebrations, my son’s school focused on Blas Infante, the politician and writer who is known as the “Padre de la Patria Andaluz” (Father of the Andalucia Fatherland). It was Blas Infante who drew up a charter for Andalucia in 1918, also designing the Andalucia flag, based on historical symbols: Hercules, lions and the Pillars of Hercules.

According to legend, the Greek god founded Seville – hence the Alameda de Hercules. Infante also wrote the lyrics to the Andalucia himno (anthem). (Dia de Andalucia itself commemorates a later, but no less significant, event: the referendum for regional autonomy which took place on 28 February 1980.)

My son did a project on the story of Hercules and the two lions featured in the flag, and how the flag got its colours – something to do with one of the lions loving (green) olive trees and vines, and the other loving the frothy (white) waves of the sea. The lyrics of the himno talk of white for peace, and green for hope:

La bandera blanca y verde/Vuelve, tras siglos de guerra/A decir paz y esperanza,/Bajo el sol de nuestra tierra. (The green and white flag/Returns, after centuries of war/To tell of peace and hope/Under the sun of our land.)

His class also visited the great man’s house in Coria del Rio, now preserved as the snappily-titled Museo de la Autonomia de Andalucia. They were given a complicated make-it-yourself version – lots of working out which bit goes with which bit – IKEA in miniature. One for a rainy day.

All this was part of a build-up to the Main Event: their school play. This was called La Mansion Mas Bella, and it was about the eight provinces and all the elements that make up Andalucia.

La Mansion Mas Bella, with its eight provinces.

We had the Sevillanos, Cordobeses, Granadinos et al…

(From left): Cadiz (Carnaval), Almeria (Wild West), Granada (Sultans), Huelva (El Rocio), Malaga, Cordoba (horse-riders), Sevilla (Feria). Jaen (olive farmer?) is just out of shot.

We had the animals

Horses, flamingo, pig (jamon), deer, lynx.

We had the writers

Lorca, Rafael Alberti, and Juan Ramon Jimenez with Platero the donkey.

We had the painters

Daniel Velazquez, Julio Romero de Torres, and Picasso (yes, blonde).

We had the flamenco artists

Paco de Lucia

La Lola Flores (with Camaron de la Isla on the left, and Paco de Lucia on the right).

We had a torero and a toro


I am knocked out with admiration for the teachers who put this spectacle on, from the casting, to the rehearsals, teaching them their lines, and supervising them on the day – 50 children coming on in groups with all their props.

My children have a very strong feeling for Andalucia, as Andalucians. As an outsider, I don’t share this sense of belonging. I’m from Essex – we do have a flag, but an anthem?  A school play? As I approach my ninth year here in Andalucia, though, I am beginning to understand its value and power.