Live from the Homefront – time to dance ourselves delirious

June 12th, 2020 by
Susannah Grant walks up and down her garden on crutches

This the 14th post since we embarked on lockdown and now that the Covid situation is easing up and summer is approaching it´s time to look forward, not back.  No one more than me as I have spent the last two months in a wheelchair mending a fractured hip. In April I reported on Captain Tom, a 100-year old UK Army Veteran who raised a whopping €36 m from donors for health charities by walking 100 laps with his zimmer frame. Now that I´m now up on crutches, I´m wondering if anyone wants to pay me even a tenth of that sum to the very worthy cause, alias the Susannah Grant Chocolate Fund to ensure I remain in high spirits throughout the summer.

Swiss heaven

In between the frenetic zooms, hangouts and google parties a lot of us have had time to reflect on our own happiness and how that relates to our own purpose in life. Recently there was a worldwide happiness survey in which Switzerland came out top; I imagine the endless supply of quality chocolate and shiny ski slopes mitigate the high cost of living. Yet I pondered on why Denmark had taken the number two spot and asked former long-term resident, Char Tamason to enlighten me.

Lots of happy Vikings

“I believe Denmark ranks as one of the happiest nations because nearly everyone has their basic needs met. The minimum wage is one of the highest in the world, and people that need financial assistance can readily get it. This practically eliminates a primal fear of physical survival. And helping others in society helps ourselves because at the end of the day, we are all connected.”

Josephine chose her moonshot literally

I hope that Covid has kick-started a lot of our own dreams or moonshots or given us an opportunity to progress them. This has certainly been the case for Gladys van Oosterum from Area 1 who runs a successful coaching business that lends itself to virtual consultations. I asked Gladys how she´d made her own moonshot idea come true in her mid-50´s.

Gladys teases us out of our rut with a smile

Gladys was drawn to coaching after she noticed she was often being called on for advice by friends and family so she left her travel company, did a Masters in Psychology and trained as a coach. Having found her true purpose, Gladys set up The Feminine Tide with her business partner at the age of 58 in which clients learn to silence their hidden critic and lead a more fulfilling life.

The sky´s the limit

I am a stronger believer that if you wait for the right time to do something in your life, you will never do it. Fitness Trainer, Melanie Pomford bit the bullet and has spent two months connected to a virtual Hatha Yoga school in California during this confinement. Now a certified instructor, Melanie has tapped into a global clientele and is now giving yoga classes round the world from her house and peaceful garden.

Isabel, Area 1´s coordinator flies high in white on the left

Isabel’s impulsive decision to do an intensive Aeroyoga instructor course in Valencia at three days´ notice led to a new career. On her return to the Wellness Centre she was managing at the time, after her week-long course she discovered her Aeroyoga teacher had resigned and found herself replacing her!

Pharrell is a certified mood-changer

And if you´re ever looking for a quick happy fix, there is absolutely nothing…but nothing like this rendition of Pharrell Williams´ Happy Song set against the iconic shots of sizzling Chipiona. Bring some of the beach atmosphere to your living room while you bop along with Tiziana´s recommendation of ice cream that can be delivered all over Madrid: Bibí e Bibó, c/Joaquin Bau 1, 28036 (Chamartín). Tiziana´s top flavours are Zabaione, Bacio, Spagnola, Calvados, Maracuyá and Pistacho.

Everything you love about Spain in a nutshell

It might seem crazy what I’m ’bout to say
Sunshine she’s here, you can take a break
I’m a hot air balloon that could go to space
With the air, like I don’t care baby by the way

Looking forward to dancing with you all after the Summer!

Live from the Homefront – idyllic desert island dreams and the best of Madrid´s ice creams

June 7th, 2020 by
Rainbow coloured ice cream scoop

This week the weather is feeling distinctly tropical and Madrid´s best-known ice cream parlours are restoring our spirits with their refreshing array of pastel colours and fruity flavours.

Whenever I feel the sultry breezes calming the balmy heat it reminds me of a trip to the Fijan island in the film, Castaway a few years ago whilst en route to a trekking holiday in New Zealand. I was expecting to relax in a rustic hut on a deserted beach but to my surprise I ended up in a communal backpackers´ dormitory the size of an aeroplane hangar in the middle of a palm tree forest where the only respite from the extra ravenous local breed of mosquitos and the sweaty plastic-coated foam mattresses was to submerge myself periodically throughout the night in the 28-degree peacock sea.  

During the day I managed to entertain myself with such games as “count the falling coconuts” or “who can get the brownest armpits”. In the evenings we were subjected to various Fijan harmonies sung by the chefs who then doubled up as bingo callers in which I won a coral necklace…narrowly missing out on the lottery jackpot I was hoping for so that I could upgrade to the aircon bungalow Tom Hanks might have enjoyed. Since the beer was overpriced and lukewarm I decided to settle for the local speciality, Kava, a delicious non-alcoholic narcotic liquid that tastes like mud and numbs all your muscles until you become fossilized in your hammock. Never let it be said that paradise is over-rated.

Down the hatch for Harry on a royal visit to Fiji

One item that wasn´t on offer was ice cream. Apparently our love affair with the silky smooth combination of this rich, sweet delicacy harks back to our yearning for the similar formula of fat and sugar found in breast milk. All this nutritious information makes it rather tempting to take a trip down to my farmer father in law´s milking parlour to see if I can reactivate my own diary production.

Sani Sapori in Lavapiés does delicious creamy shakes as well as top notch ice creams

Ice cream dates back to biblical times where Nero was reported to have enjoyed iced drinks and later the Chinese mixed buffalo milk with rice and ice to produce their own creamy version. The Arabs also came up with their sherbet (sharabt) version, flavoured with cherries, pomegranates and quince. The first ice cream parlour was opened by a Sicilian in Paris in the 17th century and in the summer of 1790 George Washington reputedly spent 200USD in a bid to quench his craving for this iced delicacy.  

Dulce de Leche flavour from Argentine-owned Toto heladería in Malasaña

During my childhood the gloopy trio of chocolate, vanilla or strawberry tubs bore little resemblance to the array of stiff artisanal ice creams crafted from premium ingredients. As we emerge from our cocooned confinement we can now discover the rainbow of options on offer in and around Madrid.

Delicious ice cream on delivery

Heladeria Gioelia is on speed-dial with our treasurer, Shalini. Particularly the Cremino flavour of white chocolate with hazelnuts and chocolate praline cream. Most importantly, they also deliver!

Heladeria Los Alpes is one of Madrid´s oldest ice cream parlours, since the Tuscan founders arrived here in 1933 and has a few branches across the city and suburbs including Las Rozas and Pozuelo de Alarcón.

Solo Naturale in Alcobendas, with its focus on premium natural ingredients, has a huge following amongst the northern suburb crowd.

Malasaña is an ice cream hotspot and my favourites here include Popota, whose owner is a graduate from Bologna´s own ice cream university. I´m sure I´d qualify for a PhD in ice cream tasting by now. Look out for their lemon sorbet with lavender and kaffir lime leaves.

Popota´s original refreshing selection

Finally, there is ubiquitous global brand, Amorino whereby exotic ices are fashioned with a spatula into the shape of a rose. Each flavour forming a different petal. My favourite branch is in El Corte Inglés Gourmet section in Callao from which you can admire spectacular views over Madrid´s rooftops.

My son enjoys Amorino in London

Live from the Homefront of Happiness

May 29th, 2020 by
Dalai Lama´s theory of happiness as a skill we acquire from our own actions
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions”

As we enter our twelfth week of social distancing I thought I´d dish up a happy pill to keep our spirits up on a more meaningful longstanding level.

A year or so ago I attended a fascinating talk by British former accountant and HR executive, Vanessa King at ICADE on her 10 keys to happier living.  Little did I realise that a year later her evidence-based advice would take on a greater significance as we withdraw physically from our extended network of friends and family.

King explains that happiness is a skill we can all learn, similar to fitness and that compassion and kindness are essential attributes in our pursuit of it. Her website is an invaluable resource on items of particular relevance such as creating happiness in our and other people´s lives, a coping calendar and hosting online groups. I urge you to have a look on:

There is also a free online coaching programme to boost mental wellbeing during this time with daily tasks.

Area 1 is orchestrating a similar meaningful activity via whats app whereby a designated member suggests an uplifting activity or call to action such as “Guess the baby” from old photos of club members, “Send a photo of your top 10 quarantine essentials”, or even, to capture the international flavour of our club, a request to post inspirational messages in various mother tongues such as this Slovak one: “Jedna pozitivna myslienka po ranu moze zmenit cely tvoj den.” “One positive thought in the morning can change your whole day.”

Who is this happy fashion icon?????

My own pursuit of happiness has brought me into contact with some wonderful experts on the subject. Not least, Egyptian-born Mo Gawdat, the former Chief Business Officer of Google (X), the department responsible for many of the visionary ideas that came out of Google´s Moonshot factory such as balloon-powered internet and driverless cars. Spurred on by a feeling of discontent whilst at the peak of his professional success,  Gawdat set about creating an algorithm to achieve happiness irrespective of life´s circumstances.

According to Gawdat´s scientific equation, happiness is greater than, or equal to, your perception of the events in your life minus your expectation of how life should be as he describes in his international bestseller, “Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy”. Gawdat´s personal moonshot is to deliver his message of happiness to one billion people around the world and judging by his notoriety he´s well on target.

Both his podcasts on Elizabeth Day´s award-winning How to Fail series: have created seismic waves in my and many other people´s lives. Gawdat talks, very movingly how to handle negative thoughts that inevitably pop up, how to practise gratitude and how to accept a situation and work out what you can actively do to make life better. He is a truly inspirational figure I encourage you to explore.

How to Fail ….and learn from the experience

Fortunately, a short term shot of happiness was served up to me by way of chocolate via Amazon which I have now taken to storing (ok….hiding) away from the children (and my choco-holic husband) in my wardrobe. Once I´m back up on my feet I shall probably have more need of a gastric band than the exercise band shown below.

Dilemma: exercise or eat chocolate?

It is probably not coincidence that Vanessa King has a degree in Zoology and that INC member, Tatiana da Silva taught us to laugh like a monkey during her laughter therapy class recently. I suspect that there are several species that can teach us a thing or two about resilience and sticking together in our community when our safety is compromised.

(Broken) Hip Hop dancing

My own recipe for happiness, contentment and oodles of joy comes from the sweet yeasty aromas of this sugar-free bread recipe from the Sugarcubes´ native land of Iceland courtesy of I.Guttormsdottir, the mother in law of a friend. Ever so often a recipe that´s really worth making pops into your inbox, believe me, this is one of those. No kneading required.

I´m nuts about this viking bread

ICELANDIC BREAD – Heilsubrauđ hjá Ömmu (Grandma´s healthy bread)

400ml brown flour or spelt flour

200ml ground coconut 

200ml mixed seeds

Hand full of raisins 

12 or so dates or other dried fruit cut in half

3 tea spoons of yeast (can be dried)

200ml cold semi or full fat milk

200ml boiling water

Mix it all together and pop into pre heated oven 180 for 25-35 mins 

Tip: to increase protein content: use 50/50 ground almonds and ground coconut

Once you´ve put that on the table you can sit back and reflect on why “It´s oh so quiet”

Taking Mohammed beyond the mountain, to the moon

May 21st, 2020 by
Mohammed being carried to the mountain as it didn´t go to him

They say “If the mountain doesn´t come to Mohammed then he must go to the mountain. For many of us, once we settled into the rhythm of confinement we started to take a fresh look around our immediate vicinity or even deep within ourselves which often in turn, triggered a deep-seated desire to implement some form of change.

If you want something badly enough you can either wait for the “perfect” opportunity to present itself to you (and recognise it when it does) or be proactive and force the issue as Mohammed did. Maybe your business needs to diversify, your parents or children need some different level of support, you need some more ME time or you´d like to be an entrepreneur.

Lucid Moonshot thinking has created businesses such as Microsoft, Uber and Google

But how does one start? By taking a blank piece of paper and writing down a list of crazy ideas until one of them appears less crazy than the others. Don´t let the realms of feasibility hold you back. Once you´ve approached this task with a can-do mindset, even if you don´t know how to implement your ideas at this point, you´ll be astounded at the list of potential solutions you come up with. Only once you´ve filled up your paper do you start to filter. Some of the most courageous, radical ideas have been described as Moonshots and these have propelled Mohammed to much higher heights than his original mountain.

Man smashes through barriers

The term, Moonshots was coined in 1961 when JFK announced he was going to put a man on the moon, without knowing exactly how he was going to achieve it. We all have our own individual dreams, some are easily within our reach, whilst others are distant “ideal world” scenarios that we´d like to achieve but are often forgotten as more easily achievable gains are prioritised. Now that our diaries are clearer of social engagements and non-essential errands we can carve out some time for self-contemplation and dust off our own individual mini moonshots. Please share any I can mention in subsequent weeks in the comments section or via your area coordinator.

Here is mine, many years ago when I was a frequent business traveller and women´s business attire was more formal, I would spend endless hours on a Sunday night compressing myriad suits and changes of clothes into hand luggage for a 2-3 night trip away. This led me to ponder the practicality of reversible garment; jackets that could mix and match with different trousers depending which way round you wore them. That way you could halve the garments you needed to pack.

INCnewcommers Madrid
Double trouble on skates

In addition, I wanted to produce attachable accessories of butterflies, flowers, animals or shapes that you could att ach to shoes, belts, boots, handbags or even jacket lapels to suit your mood, occasion or time of day without having to purchase separate items. And all this before the era in which “sustainable” became the watchword on everyone´s lips.

My flatmate at the time happened to a be a fashion student and she advised me to work up a prototype and tout it round the fashion houses. Unfortunately I listened to my inner critic and the erstwhile mockery of my school sewing teacher who had to staple my wrap-around skirt onto my knickers behind the scenes of our annual school fashion show because I hadn´t sewed on the waistline securely. The disappointing reality was that the reversible clothes idea was buried at the back of my wardrobe and I bought a bigger suitcase.

Two for the price of one

However, based on the exponential design concept of today´s driverless cars maybe I should be inventing clothes that walk by themselves into washing machine. I look forward to hearing about your own dreams.

What are yours?

Live from the Homefront – keep teaching and carry on

May 14th, 2020 by

By now most of us have become quite adept at motivating our home-schooled children but there are plenty of parents who are still concerned that their children are missing out academically. My advice would be to consider the story of a former war refugee, Ira Martin, who was caught up, aged 12, in the Bosnian war when term was cut short in March 1992. Ira spent the following year swimming in the Adriatic ocean, watching American soap operas, completely disengaged from any academic curriculum.

Children in war-torn Bosnia at play

Eighteen months later she started 7th grade in the US and won a regional physics prize that same year. Meanwhile, Ira´s schoolfriends back in Bosnia spent the following four years in dark basement bomb shelters with a few paltry books and a candle for company. Despite their adverse circumstances they went on to become lawyers, doctors and professors. I hope there are similar stories going on throughout Syria as we speak.

The school of life

Now is the time to focus inwards and prioritise the knowledge and values that are most important for our children and loved ones right now. By that I mean, fostering an atmosphere at home and in our communities of kindness, empathy, love, support, confidence and courage. Embracing these qualities will be stand us in great stead for the challenges ahead of prolonged distancing and as for the rest….there´s always You Tube to help you catch up when the time comes.

Remote learning is not a new concept. Children in remote regions of Australia have been tuning in successfully to lessons via radio since 1951. 

I do sympathise with teachers as funnily enough, I have been one. Fresh out of university I decided that my linguistic skills would be useful in the fashion industry so off I went to Florence….unfortunately by the time I realised that there was not much happening in terms of textiles in Tuscany I had already fallen in love with my language school´s best-friend. So, after a fast-track teaching course and a few haphazard experiences in language schools I landed my first proper job as a Lecturer at the Fashion Faculty at Florence University. 

Florence´s trendsetters

Unfortunately the nearest I got to the fashion industry was telling off my bohemian students for swapping fabric samples under their desks every time my back was turned to write something on the board.  My students displayed great creative flair for flamboyant designs but were less gifted when it came to phrasal verbs. I remember the only spark of linguistic interest was triggered when, on emergency occasions, I surreptitiously deviated from the Cambridge curriculum and asked them to narrate an imaginary script to Mr Bean´s extraordinary encounters.

Mr Bean´s universal appeal

Some parents, like me, may be pleasantly surprised to see that their children are actually learning more via self-study than they ever did in their crowded classrooms. In a country where students are often treated like geese in foie gras production, whereby knowledge is forced down their throats and then regurgitated verbatim in endless exams, some teachers have found that this methodology has even less success via a computer screen.

A biology lesson they´ll never forget

Instead they have experimented with play or humour in order to inspire their pupils to learn as opposed to force feeding knowledge to an apathetic audience. For the first time, the students are the protagonists and given a freer creative rein in which to be heard. Let´s hope these techniques are here to stay once classroom-based learning resumes.

Manual dexterity is just as good as philosophy

Live from the Homefront – from royal bloomers* to digging up our past and keeping in control of our present

May 8th, 2020 by
A Grandmother scales the front door of a block of apartments

Many families have come up with ingenious ways of keeping in touch with their loved ones remotely to avoid screen fatigue. Some of the family meetings require some amusing planning in advance, the rewards of which are more than reaped by all the participants on screen.

For example, joke day or hat day where each member has to come up with a joke in turn or appear on screen wearing some millinery creation, or perhaps read out a poem, composed by themselves or another. Or even story day where a set of 4 words are set to the host in advance and she has to pull them out of a hat and invites the author to explain their significance. As a natural progression I can see that charades might be fun, a quiz (on the eccentric ancestors?), or even dressing up as a character or a citizen from a different nation that the other participants have to guess. Let me know what you have tested out successfully.

Susannah and her sister investigate our grandmother´s acquisition from Queen Victoria

I would probably need an extra-long confinement to exhaust the Spanish Inquisition on my forebears. Here are some of the questions I might include in my family´s quiz: “Who bought Queen Victoria´s knickers (otherwise known as *bloomers)?”, “Which male ancestor was devoured by a tiger at Ooty, in India?”, “Which relation has Margaret Thatcher´s former lavatory in his hotel?” “Who fell backwards into the swimming pool in a kilt at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town during a business meeting?” “Who checked a shotgun into the cloakroom of the Royal Albert Hall at a concert in London after a day´s pheasant shooting?” “Whose former castle featured on the front cover of a U2 album?”

As various countries start to relax their confinement rules it is becoming increasingly apparent that normal life as we knew it is not going to resume any time soon. This may be a very harsh reality for some, particularly vulnerable, people so we may benefit from adjusting our mindset to focus on our more immediate present, over which we have more control or, alternatively, on the more distant future, perhaps in a year or so from now.

This advice is echoed by a US navy vice admiral, James Stockdale, who having spent seven years as a prisoner of the Vietnam war, advocated a “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” mentality. If socialising or travelling is going to be restricted or inadvisable for some of us, we should plan accordingly for a longer-term constraint and consider how we can turn this situation into an opportunity to clarify what areas of our life we should focus our attentions on. This will give us a sense of control, purpose and conceivably, achievement. Additionally, our hope for a brighter future can be boosted by a daily acknowledgement of gratitude for our present.

Give me another few weeks to practise my moves

I have had a highly productive time unsubscribing from the deluge of daily emails from various so-called “just-in-case” sources that are no longer relevant to the current life stage of my family or to the circumstances I now find myself in, temporarily confined to a wheelchair. I no longer beat myself up for not answering to the daily pressurised call of baking with masa madre or shaking my booty to cardio salsa ….

Aurora shows us her foolproof recipe

Some of us, however, have been very industrious in the kitchen, such as Aurora who has posted a useful tutorial on how to make a fabulous fideuá. This is the short fideo pasta variation on the traditional paella and much enjoyed in my household as I find it more forgiving than its rice brethren.

Live from the Homefront – pushing boundaries towards happiness on demand

April 30th, 2020 by
A Dir advising his patient to exercise

So finally we are allowed out for a spot of exercise, albeit each one of us jostling for space on the pavement due to the fact that the huge open spaces such as the Casa de Campo remain closed. If you are feeling cut off from the rest of the world after 8 weeks’ confinement at home, spare a thought for the ex-Russian investor and former member of Vladimir Putin´s inner circle, Sergei Pugachev.  In 2015 he filed a claim against Russia in excess of 12 billion USD for expropriated assets and he has been confined to his chateau in the South of France ever since. Fearing for his life every time he leaves.  Perhaps I´d even imprison myself in a huge chateau with sea-views for 5 years if anyone would like to pay me a few billion dollars….all offers considered….

Whilst Pugachev can invite friends over to his abode, we are still forbidden from socialising which reminds me yet again of my time, as one of 50 girls, at an 850-strong boy´s boarding school where visitors of the opposite sex were strictly banned. Admittedly some girls tried to defy their own anatomy by contorting themselves into wafer thin slivers to slide in and out of the windows that could only be raised 20 cm. However, the boys were more valiant and preferred to sneak in to the girls’ quarters after parties when security was lax, one such chap was expelled after he experienced a coughing fit after smoking in a girl´s wardrobe at 2 am.

Other girls used illicit alcohol as a means to liven up our lengthy imprisonment at our Mallory Tower-esque retreat. Never having been caught in flagrante, biro in hand as I tried to force the cork back down the neck of a bottle of Bulgarian Country Red (frequent random searches of our rooms by the teaching Gestapo precluded us from keeping a handy corkscrew), imagine my surprise when my nosey housemaster turned up at 11 pm while I was having a peaceful nightcap of Baileys with 2 friends….Stern punishment ensued although I suspect it was somewhat harsher on my parents having me back home for an extra 2 weeks, than it was for me to spend it studying in the local London library.

As we embark on yet another week of quarantine I cherish my restorative daily treats to keep up my spirits, often losing myself somewhere in the potent aromas of Montezuma´s cocoa bean. Whilst chocolate certainly provides a well-trodden route to contentment I wonder if it provides happiness?

Richard Wurman, founder of the infamous TED talks questions whether happiness is our ultimate goal or is it more about having our interests satiated? Buying a new Armani dress will certainly bring contentment but is that happiness? The designer garment could gratify our interest in feeling fabulous, fortunate and fashionable, yet, arguably trigger an ephemeral sensation of pleasure more than a route to boundless happiness.

For a lot less money than any designer dress, you can spark more joy in your life by enrolling on a free course offered by Yale on The Science of Wellbeing which includes the following:

  • – Misconceptions about happiness
  • – Why our expectations are often negative
  • – we can overcome our biases
  • – Stuff that really makes us happy
  • – Putting strategies into practice
Dior´s understated elegance

If you´re looking for inspiration on how to upscale your vintage Zara dress for your virtual dinner parties, here is a truly uplifting, fascinating documentary behind the scenes of the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition that was staged at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. The hour-long film (via Youtube), in French with English subtitles, will teleport you away from ironing jeans and other mundane tasks to a world of glittering glamour and haute couture.

Live from the Homefront – the Hitchhiker´s Guide to the Galaxy (chocolate) or Confina-Cadbury

April 24th, 2020 by
Image of countless Cadbury´s chocolate bars
Best medicine ever

Some lovely friends sent me this wonderful parcel to boost morale and my thigh surface area….all my favourite UK chocolate bars transported to my wheelchair by British Cornershop worldwide deliveries.

This is not the first time I´ve been confined and actually 2 months is a mere drop in the ocean compared to 7 years of being locked up and opposed to locked down at boarding school.

When in doubt use a bag to keep off the rain

When well-known author of Kane & Abel amongst other books, convicted perjurer and former UK politician, Jeffrey Archer was questioned about how he was adapting to life in prison, he replied that his time at an English boarding school had stood him in good stead because, in essence the regime wasn´t very different. I know what he meant. We had very strict rules, on Saturdays we were allowed to walk down a windy country lane to the local village shop to buy essential rations of sanity-saving sweets 7 km away. This posed somewhat of an impossible feat as you had to report back, having walked 14 km to the teachers a mere 2 hours later.

On one such drizzly occasion, we decided to hitchhike to ensure we didn´t overstay our strict curfew. Unfortunately one of the Religion teachers happened to be driving past as I was touting out my thumb hoping for a speedy lift back to school from a total stranger………always ready with a good excuse, I reassured her courteously that in actual fact I´d merely been holding out a sausage and naturally would never contemplate getting into a strange man´s car, all of which left her somewhat at a loss for words.

Morning Flower Power
That wasn´t the only time I was forced to hitchhike in a hurry. In 2004, during a trip round Japan I decided to scale Mt Yufuin. Having been served rather a paltry breakfast of omelette and pansy flowers I was extremely keen not to miss the hourly bus back to the nearest town on my descent. The appointed hour was fast approaching and just as I was 100 m from the foot of the mountain I spied the 5 pm bus pulling away from the bus stop. 
Yufuin Mountain
Having been told that rural Japan had almost zero crime and that hitch hiking was completely safe I set about sticking out my thumb in a layby. To my disappointment all the cars sped up as soon as they saw my request for a lift. By this stage I was absolutely famished and starting to hallucinate about the prospect of some hot thermal spring onsen bath and a steaming bowl of miso soup.
A chap from a neighbouring table crashes my photograph
Then it dawned on me, that some Japanese, whilst terribly kind and friendly, will do their utmost to avoid embarrassing themselves, which is a position they can easily find themselves in when having to speak faltering English to foreigners. This was why drivers were swerving to avoid me. Determined not to be thwarted in my attempts, I decided to adopt more ruthless tactics. If they were not going to let me into their car I had to gain entry on my own wit. So I positioned myself near the service lavatories, waited for a sharp-suited, weary business man to return to his car, opened the passage door and slid in before he could say Kon'nichiwa. 
Yufuin Blossom
The horror on my chosen driver´s face was plain for all to see….as he slowly computed the necessity to speak the dreaded English with a native. He looked like I´d just stabbed him. Wishing to distance himself from this problem, whilst remaining courteous, he motioned for me to sit in the back. So there we were, sitting in awkward silence all the way to Yufuin town, whereupon he parked up at the supermarket and waved me out. By this time we were both heaving a sigh of relief and my dinner beckoned. 
Aurora cooks up the real Valencian deal

Talking of food, Aurora has been busy making delicious paella this week, check out her excellent Paella for Dummies tutorial on youtube and send me your photos next week!

Another busy cook is Fernanda, who has been making her native Pão de Queijo from Brazil…..those moreish cheese-flavoured little tapioca buns, a long-time favourite of mine. Now all we need to do is to persuade her to do home delivery!!!

Bring on the cheese bread balls

If you´re keen on occupying your older offspring, whilst they practise some valuable life skills, here is a fun activity you can do with you and/or your older children can do with friends.

‘Virtual Masterchef’

1. Your child and 5 friends select a dish to cook or bake

2. Send their selected dish to each other/mothers

3. They will have until 6pm on Saturday to complete the task

4. Take pictures of the dish made

5. At 6:30 the mothers via Zoom or House party app will taste the dish prepared by their kid and score it.

6. Scores given will be as follows:

A) 30% on presentation

B) 70% on taste

C) – 100% if helped by their parents. Parents can assist with chopping etc

7. Mothers to award the score

8. Post lockdown, the kids are to make the dish again and all to have a dinner party to re score


1. Cookery lessons

2. Free meal for the parents (!!)

3. Excuse for a dinner party post lock down

Live from the Homefront – from Bolivia to Poland as Susannah recalls other times of hardship, resourcefulness and bare cupboards

April 17th, 2020 by
Author is sitting in a wheelchair on the pavement in Sucre, Bolivia
Negotiating tricky pavements in Sucre, Bolivia aged 20

As you can see from the picture above, being confined to four wheels and overcoming life´s obstacles has never prevented me from living every day to the full as I refused to interrupt my trip from Lima to Rio aged 19 following an unfortunate thrombosis in Bolivia.

This week, having bumped myself down the stairs to the kitchen, one by one, I headed straight to the pantry on crutches to see what the chocolate status was… would appear that the cocoa monsters in my family have furtively devoured almost all our rations while I was freewheeling about unaware upstairs. Husband will be doing the supermarket run from now and bearing in mind he is a virgin supermarket shopper, we could very well up with white cooking chocolate by mistake.

In the meantime, we will have to eke out our current food supplies for another week. I remember my grandmother talking about World World II rationing that actually was endured for 14 years until 1954 in the UK. Interestingly, tea was considered too valuable a contributor to the average Briton´s wellbeing so it was exempt. A bit like chocolate in our house.  

Tea was the equivalent of zoom or hangout during WWII and it provided a common bond for civilian people of all classes during air raids spent in cramped bomb shelters or soldiers of all ranks in the trenches.  Churchill reputedly claimed that tea was a more important weapon than ammunition. Tea consumption was also encouraged to reduce reliance on alcohol. Mmm – I can´t see myself substituting a double brandy with a cup of Earl Grey after a hard day battling with the kids’ algebra.

A generous ration of tea was allowed during WWII

Tea´s perceived value in boosting morale was not confined to Britain, the Royal Air Force dropped 75,000 tea bombs in a single night over the occupied Netherlands. Each contained 1 oz (28g) bags of tea from the Dutch East Indies and was marked “The Netherlands will rise again. Chins up.” Perhaps I could persuade the Spanish Air Force to arrange a few edifying Lindt bar drone drops over my house for medicinal purposes.

Enjoying a restorative cuppa during WWII

Rationing was also implemented in Poland during the end of the Cold War, from 1981-1989 and has been going on in Cuba since 1962. In fact it has become even more strenuous there since May 2019 due to the loss of aid from Venezuela and other countries. I was inter-railing round Eastern Europe in 1992 and I remember in the suburbs of Warsaw, where I was staying, the local shops were still quite bereft of any fresh food and that all the dry goods were placed behind the counter. This required customers to request them by name…which was quite a tall order for me considering the word for water “woda” bears an uncanny resemblance to vodka, “wodka”. Well that´s my excuse for getting mixed up anyway.

A typical Polish shop in the late 1980´s

The Poles were no less creative during shortages than many other nations, and were soon brewing substitute coffee made from roasted barley, rye, chicory and beetroot which would probably cost you a fortune nowadays in a chic bar in Chamberí.

Resourcefulness or “ser resolutivo”, which means “make do and mend” were the key skills adopted during WWII as was thrift (ahorro) when supplies of all types were scarce. Both are now the watchwords of 21st century sustainability culture and certainly experiencing a revival during Coronavirus as we try to make do with whatever we have at home. Shalini, our treasurer, reports that, in a bid to reduce the vast quantities of milk her household have been consuming she is rationing her husband´s delicious Indian milk puddings.  

Rice Kheer, a delicious Indian version of Arroz con leche, infused with cardamom, saffron, almonds, raisins and other nuts and dried fruits

Finally, a heroic, uplifting story from Captain Tom, the WWII veteran who pledged to walk 100 lengths of his garden two weeks before his 100th birthday to raise money for the UK´s National Health Service. His initial aim was to raise £1,000 (€1,147) but he captured the hearts of donors around the world from Cincinnati to Cologne and has now raised over £17mn (€19,5 mn)!!

Another patriotic feat for his country as Captain Tom, 99, raises epic funds for the UK Health Service and related charities

So perhaps we should take our cue from Captain Tom´s approach to life, “Tomorrow you will find that everything will be much better than today, even if today was all right. That´s the way I´ve always looked at things. Tomorrow will be a good day”.

Here I am outside my communist-era Airbnb in Warsaw and hopping off the tram in Cracow aged 23.

Live from the homefront – chariot racing at Easter and other hip adventures

April 10th, 2020 by
Susannah Grant bites into a bar of chocolate  whilst sitting at her desk in a wheelchair
Chariot racing whilst eating chocolate

I´m obviously loving this confinement so much that I´ve decided to extend it till mid-June and to restrict myself to the first floor of my house. That can be the only explanation I can give to the absurd accident I had last week whereby I fell down and managed to fracture my hip. There was me, only venturing out to the supermarket once every two weeks to avoid contamination and suddenly I find myself in an ambulance hurtling at top (excruciating) speed to a Corona virus battlefield. Funnily enough, there weren´t many people in the Emergency Dept… The following day I had surgery and increased the metal content of my limbs with 3 screws and was dispatched back to my room only to be discharged, to my great surprise and discomfort, 24 hours later to avoid risk of contamination.

Personally, I can´t recommend a hospital stay right now as an extreme measure to take a break from your kids or spouse….the staff are very stressed, over-worked and God forbid you should need a bedpan first thing in the morning. It was a very sobering experience and made me sympathise enormously for the huge numbers of elderly people in old people´s residences on a long-term basis.

I shall have plenty of time to enjoy “A Gentleman in Moscow”, the New York Times Bestseller by Amor Towles. Hailed as a book to “spark joy” I’ve been assured it´s a fascinating book that features wine and food a lot and recounts the story of a Russian count who finds himself confined to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. His musings are curiously prophetic as he advocates: “adversity presents itself in many forms, and if a man does not master his circumstances, then he is bound to be mastered by them.” Never truer than now. It´s available on Amazon or downloadable for free on

Photo Treasure hunt

It looks like this self-isolation is going to continue so here are some novel tried and tested indoor games from 2 schoolfriends you too can try at home:

Treasure hunt with close-up photos from around the house and garden –

This comprises hiding photos around the house. Except that you play the game backwards, starting with the prize. For example, a €5 note in dartboard – a small photo of a dartboard number hidden under a radio – a small photo of a radio on/off button hidden under…..and so it goes on. Suits all ages.

Film Festival – everyone makes a mobile phone film which you then show on TV, the one with the highest votes wins a chocolate bunny Oscar.

Cris Barbi, an estate agent with Remax has been crystal ball gazing and predicts that the property market should recover quite quickly once the corona virus issue eases off.  Those vendors in a hurry to sell may decrease slightly their asking price but we had already seen a levelling off of prices in the last quarter of 2019.

There has been a flurry of activity amongst INC members this week, Char has been busy making baby bassinet cars.

Titane has been busy embellishing her summer wardrobe, Barbara Scalera’s dog has been enjoying the spring flowers and Cara has been doing some much needed flute practice with Mozart flute concertos on backing tracks online. Her son has joined her for the odd duet of “Hit the Road Jack” on his saxophone – let´s hope their neighbours are still on speaking terms with the Wilsons after confinement!