A modern day Grand Duchess

I have to admit it’s one of my guilty pleasures. Occasionally following the bizarre rantings, ravings and revelations about politicians, celebrities and certain members of the Royal Family is entertaining. Perhaps I harbour a secret jealousy or admiration for those who do what they want without fear of ridicule or consequences. Maybe there’s a petty little side of me which finds it hearwarming to see that even the privileged and successful have set-backs.

The Grand Duchess

Spanish culture however, is rather more concerned about what others might think or say, el que diran. That does not mean there is an absence of well- loved eccentrics and few are greater than the Grand Duchess of Alba.

Her name is Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva and she is the 18th Duchess of Alba, Spain. Born in 1926 she is a descendent of King James II and therefore a distant relative of both Princess Diana and Sir Winston Churchill (source http://www.seguilamoda.com/ver_nota.php?id=cayetanaalba ).

Her Property

Hers is one of the wealthiest families in Spain. This wealth has grown through marriages resulting in an accumulation of lands, palaces, buildings, stocks and shares and an unbelievable art collection. As a child I remember being told that  the Duchess could travel across the whole of Spain, North to South, without ever setting foot outside her own lands. Urban legend? Who knows. She purportedly owns some 34,000 hectares which is approximately 170 times the size of Monaco. (source http://blogs.ua.es/duquedealba/category/patrimonio/ )

At the age of  8 her mother passed away and two years later, due to the Civil War she had to flee to England. From her first marriage she has six children. After  twenty five years of married life her husband passed away. The Duchess shocked the sensitivity of many people by choosing for her second husband a man who had previously been a Catholic priest. But she was not to be deterred from her choice. He too passed away in 2001. Cayetana, the Duchess continued with a “normal” life; bullfights, charity events, family life and attending receptions with the Royal Family. She loves Seville, the fair, is spotted in street markets in Ibiza and the press just cannot get enough of her. The people love her.

(source http://www.elmundo.es/especiales/espana/duquesa-alba/iman-mediatico.html )

Husband number three

On the 5th of October 2011 the 85 year old lady married a 60 year old civil servant who had been a bachelor all his life. Her children opposed the wedding right from the beginning but once the Duchess drew up her will and shared out her property the arrangements proceeded without much of a hitch. Most of her children attended the wedding.

YouTube videos of the Duchess

http://youtu.be/9Qxne8XzZ1 The Duchess over the years.

http://youtu.be/tPF1hyKeDn  The Duchess just after her 3rd Wedding, aged over 85.

At the end of the day we rarely please everybody so at the very least we should please ourselves. At least from time to time. Like the Duchess. What do you think?


Albondigas Guisadas – Meatball Casserole

These Spanish style meatballs take me back to my early childhood in my granny’s kitchen. My mum now makes them for my daughter and they are genuine comfort food, made with love.

For the meatballs:

500g minced beef

2 slices of bread

2 cloves of garlic

1 tbsp chopped parsley

50g grated cheddar cheese

1 tsp grated nutmeg

1 egg

plain flour

pepper and salt to taste



For the sauce:

1 small onion, chopped finely

1 small green pepper, chopped finely

1/2 tsp saffron or food colourant

2 tablespoons tomato puree/ concentrate

1/2 tin of chopped tomatoes

1 Oxo cube (beef)

3 small carrots peeled and finely sliced

5 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

50g peas

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the minced beef in a bowl.  Add the grated cheese, parsley, nutmeg, salt, pepper and beaten egg.

2. In a separate bowl place the 2 slices of bread and cover with milk. Remove the bread and squeeze out all the liquid. Place in the first bowl with the other ingredients. Knead well.

3. Take small amounts of the mixture and form into small balls in the palms your hands.

4. Roll them in the flour. Heat the oil in a frying pan and shallow fry until browned on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and set to one side.

5.  In a deep pan fry the chopped onion and the green pepper until golden and softened. Add the tomato puree and fry for another minute.

6. Dissolve the oxo cube in a mug of boiling water and add to the pan.

7.  Add the saffron, bay leaves, chopped tomatoes, carrots, peas, potatoes and garlic. Bring to the boil.

8. Turn the heat down and add the meatballs. Allow to simmer for a further 25 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are tender.

Children absolutely love it if served with a side dish of grated cheese for them to scatter over the steaming meatballs. Buen provecho.

La Sagrada Familia; the old and the new.


I have only ever been to Barcelona once and even then only for a few hours. We were on our way to start a cruise of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea in the month of August. It was to be our first ever family cruise and we were all excited and really looking forward to it. Good weather was guaranteed, everyone said wonderful things about cruises so seven days of predictable contentment were bound to ensue. Or so I thought.

This holiday took place almost 3 years ago and changed the course of my life, ending in marital separation. And no, I can’t possibly blame it all on cruises even though I’ve learnt they are not everybody’s idea of a dream vacation. (Just ask the ex!)

La Sagrada Familia was right in front of our little boutique hotel. And even though I had promised the kids there would be no sightseeing I really could not justify not crossing the road to see this beautiful building. It was without a doubt amazing. I knew nothing about it other than the fact that it was in the centre of Barcelona. For me, tenderly and with a touch of sadness, it remains a metaphor of what all our lives are about. The old and the new coexisting with unbelievable grace, beauty and resilience. Still a work in progress even though it was started 130 years ago. It has been in the hands of different architects; starting with Francisco de Paula del Villlar in 1882, then Gaudi until 1926 and various architects since. They have all influenced and shaped the design, adding character and individuality. It remains unfinished but it stands strong.

It has been built entirely from donations. Gaudi famously said that it’s future is “in the hands of God and the will of the people”, aren’t we all….

How is Spanish GCSE assessed?

Spanish GCSE aims to assess your knowledge of the language across four skill areas; Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Examiners are looking to see that as a candidate you can both use and understand the language in the four different skill areas.

At the end of the course there will be one Listening exam and one Reading exam. Each one is worth 20% of the final mark.

Speaking and Writing are assessed by means of Controlled Assessments. There are two Speaking tasks and two Writing tasks that need to be conducted throughout the course. Altogether they are worth 60%.

So what is a Controlled Assessment? This is an exam but it has a number of advantages:

  • It is not set by the examining board. You have a choice.
  • You can choose the topic areas which suit you best. Decide where your strengths lie.
  • You have scheduled preparation time – so ensure you prepare well and maximise your research from the internet, notes, textbook and dictionary.
  • You will be allowed to make notes in Spanish (as bullet points) and take them into the exam room.
  • If you have the opportunity of carrying out more than 2 tasks you can select the best 2 to send to the examining board. 

Overall the Controlled Assessments (Speaking and Writing) are worth 60% so it is worth preparing well. There is no Foundation or Higher Level in these tasks. All students are entered in the same way.

Listening and Reading are exam based and are worth 40%. There is the possibility of being entered as either a Foundation or Higher Level candidate depending on your knowledge, strengths or level of confidence. The papers are different. The difficulty level varies considerably. However, if you aim to achieve the higher grades you need to opt for Higher Level papers.

If you would like a pdf with this information please get in touch and we will email it to you.