Candaleda

First Proper Bike

The weekend before flying out to Korea we stayed at the house owned by Dani’s abuelos (grandparents). On the way we stopped at one of those large supermarket sports stores Decathlon to buy his first proper bike. Not long after arriving he was keen to get pedalling. We found a quiet area for him to try out his new mode of transport where the road was just like a small circuit. Perfect. He took to it immediately.

Candaleda is not very famous in Spain. In the UK most people will not have heard of it. Despite this there is one reason that some in the UK will know about the town.

British Connection…

Its biggest claim to fame in the UK is that one of the main roads leading in to the town is named after a former Prime Minister of Great Britain. A certain John Major. Yes there is street called Avenida de John Major!

At the time he was arguably the worst elected Prime Minister ever. He has since dropped to 4th worst ever due to the three subsequent PMs since his time in Government. How on earth did this come about you may be wondering?

Well it is because of a man called Tristan Garel-Jones. A close friend and former colleague of Major who owns a house near the town. Major made regular visits to the town and the mayor obviously thought this was great publicity for the relatively little known place. Amazingly in his (or her) wisdom the town council decided to name a street after the former PM.

Starman and another Major…

Lately Dani can be heard singing to himself. It happened the weekend in Candaleda.

“There’s a Starman waiting in the sky,
He’d like to come and meet us…bla bla bla… ”

Cleary he doesn’t know the words yet. Then a little later:

“Ground control to Major Tom.
Ground control to Major Tom.”

How many four year olds sing David Bowie I wonder? He did not get it from me although once I hear him singing such songs I naturally join in. Encouraging him and teaching him the lyrics. If I know them.

I think it will be a while still before I can introduce him to the likes of Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin ….

Meanwhile…

I am packing my bags to leave Korea. More anon…

Korean Unity?

And so back to Korea….

I flew back to the Korean peninsula at an incredibly historic time. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has become the first leader of his country to visit the south in over 65 years. Along with his wife Ri Sol Ju, North Korean leader Kim has been spending a lot of time with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook (I am not making these names up. Really.). The two leaders have even been seen holding hands listening to some trashy K-pop music. Scenes almost unthinkable only a few months ago.

While the war between north and south was never officially declared over it seems that we may now be on the brink of that huge step. The North has even reset their clocks to line up with the South – who incidentally do not alter their clocks like we do in the UK/Spain. That means this time around I am only 8 hours ahead of the UK and 7 ahead of Spain.

Odd Coincidences…

On my first visit to Korea the President of the USA Donald Trump was in the country. Much sabre rattling followed with Trump and Kim trying to show who was the toughest. Well, all that seems to have been a charade now. Time will tell of course. Suffice to say that President Trump is not getting any credit from the main stream media (in the UK at least) for these historic events. Despite his firm stance, visible support of his allies in South Korea and Japan; plus of course his visit to China (almost immediately after he was elected). No surprises though. Heaven forbid the media suggest that he may have had a hand in any of this.

My second visit coincided with the winter Olympics in South Korea where the two countries put out a joint North/South team.

This visit I will be here with North Korea’s leader. Or at least just after; and who knows?….

And even more…

Since I arrived the powers that be have organised a meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Supposedly set for Singapore. An even bigger surprise was the release of U.S. prisoners form North Korea. Is this the first step to a unified Korea? If it is the end result will be a long way off.

The North Koreans have even synchronised their clocks with the South. Who knew they were ever an hour different? Possibly the North wanted to be in synch with their one ally in Beijing. It’s a little like Spain. Why is Spain an hour ahead of UK time. The Greenwich meridian passes through part of Spain and Portugal and the Canary Islands are on UK time. Admittedly that pat of Spain is Catalunya. Maybe the Catalans could do the opposite of North Korea and un-synch their clocks with the rest of Spain to follow Greenwich Mean Time. Now there’s a thought…

New Book

Another little coincidence: I bought a new book to read on the long journey and while over in the far east. It is “The Korean War” by Bruce Cumings. It is almost a forgotten war for us in the West due in no small part being over-shadowed by the war in Vietnam just over a decade later. I shall be reading it with one eye on the current news. And naturally there will be a quick review in a future post.

This is NOT Engineering…

I had only been here a few days when disaster struck. The sole of one of my site safety boots came off. It was raining heavily as well. How typical!

Fortunately I was able to make a quick repair using some blue tape I found on the ship. Hardly good engineering eh? Still, it did the job until I made it back to the support centre where I managed to acquire a set of partly worn boots that fitted perfectly. They are mine now.     

Back to Korea

UK and Madrid. In Limbo.

After a week of hanging around in the UK waiting for news of another imminent trip to Korea I decided to take the bull by the horns. I flew to Madrid so that I could spentd a few days with Dani while waiting for confirmation of the next work assignment.

As a small surprise I bought a small Lego set featuring D.C. Comics characters Nightwing and Batman’s nemesis The Joker.

“Right” I said. “You already have Batman so now you have The Joker. Plus, this Nightwing dude”

“Did you bring me anything else?” came the almost immediate response.

Once kids get a taste for you bringing so called surprise presents there is no end to it. Unfortunately, the cat is out of the bag. Pandora’s box has been opened. The dam has burst. (Anyone know any similarly appropriate sayings?)

As most people know there are hundreds if not thousands of Lego characters and a four-year-old can never have too many. The way they are churning out the superhero and Star Wars films that number is only going to grow. Exponentially. This is what happens when you expose them to something that you yourself like and show an interest in. But it is great fun.

Banana Splits…

Speaking of Great Fun…. We intended watching one of his favourite DVDs at the moment (Small Soldiers) but could not find the disc. Then I saw the Banana Splits complete season 1 DVD. I had bought it some time ago when he was too small to appreciate it. Not any more I am glad to say. He is just the right age to be captivated by that late 1960s show with cartoons and those four lunatics in animal suits. Older readers will know exactly what I mean. For everyone else please check it out on Youtube. Nuts!

More on the Banana Splits later. I feel an in depth report coming on….

More Tears…

I braced myself for more tears from my little boy. The one thing that will console me (if not him) is that I intend to make this my last trip so far away.

As it was he was not so bad this time. I am not sure that is such a good thing but it did make it slightly easier for me. Finally after a few days back on the East Asian peninsula I have time to write about it.

Before I left we spent a weekend in the small town of Candeleda about 200km from the centre of Madrid in the province of Ávila. Dani’s abuelo (Spanish granddad – my dad passed away before Dani was born) has a lovely little house there with a decent sized garden. I also bought him his new bike which he loves. More on that weekend to follow….

All Birthdays in Korea…

Just as I predicted in a previous post from Korea it is now certain that I will spend my own birthday there. Dani’s birthday was during my first trip. His mum’s during my second trip. Now my 54th birthday will slip by during a third trip to the far east ship-builders.

Bicycles. No Stabilisers Required – Ever!

About 10 months ago I wrote a post about buying Dani’s first bicycle. A huge landmark in any child’s life and equally emotional for the child’s dad I might add.

It really didn’t take long for him to get the hang of his “training bike” and much to my surprise he was zipping along fairly rapidly after only a few attempts. After only a few visits to the park he was confidently pushing himself up to a suitable speed and lifting his feet while maintaining balance. Even managing to steer around some slower kids on stabiliser supported bikes.

Fast forward to last weekend…

He has decided it was time for a proper bicycle. Pedals and all… And he has spotted the one that he wants.

To prove that he was ready he decided to showcase his cycling skills. Using his cousin Susana’s pink-ish bike he promptly demonstrated that he now has all the necessary skill and balance to ride a normal bicycle – see video.

Sceptical? Me?

Now as regular readers will be aware, as an old dad, I reserve the right to be sceptical of any new fangled ideas when it comes to raising kids. “It wasn’t like that when I was a lad” – well actually you are very unlikely to hear me say that phrase but you can surely put yourself in my shoes for a moment. This scepticism extends to children’s toys and even their bicycles.

Hardly a new idea I know. I believe the scoot-along, pedal-free training bikes have been around for some 20 years now. Still it was new to me because of course I had learnt to ride a bicycle the old fashioned way. Tricycle followed by bicycle with stabilisers. Then finally my dad removing the stabilisers and being on hand while I wobbled into some form of free cycling.

Dani managed to skip the stabilisers stage with the help of his training bike. Am I proud? Absolutely. Amazed? Yes. And not only by his rapid, and more or less self learning. It is also because my sceptical view of these pedal-less bikes has now been destroyed. And I am glad it has. Once I have bought him a new all bells, whistles and pedals bicycle I will be passing his balance-mastering,  training bike to his little cousin Stan. So hopefully he too can learn to ride  without needing stabilisers.

There is a bit of a down-side to this however. I feel as though Dani’s rapidly rising cycling career has deprived me of something every parent surely looks forward to. Holding on to the bicycle seat then releasing it while your son or daughter still thinks you are there holding them upright. Then; Hey Presto! They are riding!

The World Awaits…

There will be no stopping him now.

I can vividly remember how learning to ride a bike opened up a whole new world. First it was riding around the neighbourhood in an out of alleys and over man-made (or should that be child-made) ramps. Venturing further and faster as the size of bicycle increased with age.

Later when I had my first adult sized bicycle it meant freedom. Freedom to roam miles during those long summer holidays looking for fishing spots. Stretches of river or any farmland that had a pond that might contain fish. Mobility. Not forgetting a quick getaway if you didn’t have the farmer’s permission.

Oh, those halcyon days of mid-adolescence. Still a long way off for young Daniel. But for a child, being able to ride a bicycle is most definitely the gateway to some of life’s great adventures.

Now to spend some cash.

I have managed to find a great second hand bicycle in the UK for only £40. Forty quid! Bargain. I may need to spend a little more than that in Spain. He has seen one costing €100 and that seems reasonable… Watch this space.

Schools: Now and Then

As promised in a recent post, here is my old dad take on the schools debate. Do you think your local schools are bad now? Well read on…

Parents and school talk – Then and Now

I have been through this school debate recently and will no doubt do so again as my boy gets older. Even I have to admit that it is important. But just how important? Are some parents taking it all a little too seriously?

Then: It was all very simple in my day. You went to the school nearest to where you lived (aka the catchment area). End of story.

Now: Some parents talk of little else. From an early age they are applying to the so called “better” schools or ”good” schools which may be a long bus ride away. Naturally they want it to be (equally) as free as the old catchment school that they went to but still…. They talk and talk and scheme in some cases to get their kids into that “right” school.

Back in time….

Rewind to the mid-70s when this old dad started secondary education at the local comprehensive school (now unfortunately referred to as ‘high school’).

In the final months of primary school we visited what was to be our new school. I remember it fairly well considering it was so long ago. I distinctly remember seeing the seemingly huge arts and crafts area because it was something we never had in primary school.

Metalwork, woodwork, pottery, art and technical drawing (as it was then known) all had their own areas/rooms/space.

Weapons manufacture

In the metal work and woodwork workshops the final year students were busy on their final year projects. Their ‘O’ level or CSE course work. Exam related work.

At that time these soon to be school leavers (5th formers / ‘year 11’ pupils) looked like fully grown men to me. Some even had beards! Such is the difference between an 11-year-old and 16-year-old male.

And guess what some of them were making? Only a full-sized crossbow. I kid you no. I remember it vividly.

In the woodwork area some were busy carving a wooden stock (much like a rifle butt) fore-grip and trigger area. Meanwhile in the metalwork shop others were fabricating and assembling the limb, arrow track and barrel parts. Really. This is all true!

Everybody was Kung-Fu Fighting….

This was also a time when kung-fu had left the shores of China and exploded in popularity in the west. Thanks largely to the X-rated (now 18 certificate) films of one Mr. Bruce Lee. Also, and even more influential to youngsters (due to its availability) that TV series starring David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine – aka “Grasshopper”. The TV show was simply titled “Kung-Fu”

This meant that crossbows were not the only weapons being manufactured. Kung-Fu stars were being made in a makeshift manner by all ages in the school. And they were being thrown at break times too. I kid you not!

And so…

So what is the point of all this you may ask? Well, it’s really quite simple. Whenever I hear people talking about what goes on in schools these days and how bad things have become in some places of education I just recall the story above. Needless to say, by the time we were old enough to make such objects things had somehow changed. I can’t say I noticed when exactly; or how. Whatever it was the production of potentially lethal weapons on school property just seemed to stop. Some may say that is for the best… It all still makes me laugh though.

Halcyon days anyone?

This is the Modern World

How things have changed. I can still remember my first camera. It was a very cheap Kodak “instamatic”? – or some such silly name. Naturally I thought it was great and had it for a few years from about the age of seven (I seem to recall). Dani now has a camera at age four. A digital camera of course with various special effects built in.

We live in a digital age where virtually everyone can take high quality photos on their mobile phone. We also live in an age of instant gratification. Kids today would not be able to wait a couple of days (or more!) for a film to be developed into photographs. Photographic film? What’s that dad? Exactly.

How many of you can recall having to wait a few days while the pharmacists developed your Kodak film? Why was it always the chemist’s shop that did them?

Then came the cheaper special offer. We used to send our films away in special envelopes just because it saved a few pennies on each picture. Those places became quite popular for a while – probably due to their prices – but they took even longer. You might have had to wait a couple of weeks before seeing your photographs. Only to discover that most of them turned out to be low quality grainy pictures. Probably because your camera was cheap, low quality rubbish to begin with.

Why right now?

Why does everything have to be right now? It gets worse. These day kids and adults alike cannot even ask or wait for someone else to take their photo. They do it themselves.

When Dani is older he will realise that his old man grew up in an era where a ‘selfie’ could have been misinterpreted as a code word for masturbation.

What about waiting a few days to receive a letter? No chance! In this era of (anti) social media I wonder if kids are taught how to post a letter; never mind write one. It is all instant text messaging and ‘posting’ means getting your selfies up on Facebook. Ugh! Even typing that F-word makes me feel queasy.

Which reminds me….

Which brings me back to schooling…. Always the subject of discussion these days for parents. I started writing something about school back in my day which I need to finish off and get ‘posted’. It’s a bit daft – crazy even – but it is all true and a little piece of my school history for my son to read. I think you may all enjoy it.

Ok. Time for this old git to get back off the soap-box. There’s work to be done…A little rant now and again never hurts. At least that’s my take on it.

PS: Post title today inspired by an early Jam track.

Why Do They Grow Up So Fast?

The other day my little boy said something that made my feel a little sad.

He said – and these were his exact words: “I don’t like Thomas anymore”.

He was of course referring to Thomas the Tank Engine, or Thomas and Friends as the various trains and other modes of transport are collectively known.

Despite this he still sits and watches the Thomas programmes on DVD with his little cousin. Admittedly, his younger cousin (by about 19 months) is still unashamedly a full-on Thomas fan.

I have mentioned before that I quite like the original series. The ones where they used models rather than computer generated graphics. The ones narrated by Ringo Starr and then later by Michael Angelis.

Kids grow up. It’s an unavoidable reality. While he still plays with his Duplo he now favours the real Lego. Especially the sets with Star Wars characters and superheroes. It’s all part of the process of growing up. And it is sad that it all happens so quickly.

It’s all Kylo Ren now.

When he says that he doesn’t like Thomas he qualifies it by adding “I like Kylo Ren”.

The Darth Vader for the younger generations. My four-year-old son has seen the latest Star Wars movie and I have not. He is now ahead of me on recent developments in that galaxy far, far away. At least he appreciates that Mr. Ren is Mr. Vader’s grandson.

Sorry son. I realise there is a Star Wars generation gap thing going on here but when it comes down to the inter-galactic scale of evilness Vader beats Ren any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

We may agree on that one day but for now our conversations – or should I say debates – on the subject are great fun.

On the plus side…

While it may be a little sad that they grow up so fast I have to look at the positives also.

He is on the verge of swapping some small kids stuff for things that he will probably still like when he is an adult. I certainly like the Star Wars films and the Marvel superheroes. And of course, I still love Lego. As do most adults – if they are honest.

Who would win a fight between…?

It’s that fantastic question that can be used over and over. Thanks to the myriad of Marvel comic films it is a question that we now throw at each other regularly.

Who would win a fight between Captain America and Hulk? Who would win a fight between Ironman (in the Hulk-Buster suit, naturally) and Hulk? Who would win a fight between Ironman and the Green Goblin? And so on… These conversations are great fun and Dani really gets into it.

I know they are only comic book characters but I think it’s great that he is so passionate about them.

And guess who gets thrown into the mix? That’s right.

“Daddy. Who would win a fight between you and Ironman?”

“Well, me obviously. It would be difficult for a while. I might have to take a bit of punishment at first. But then once his batteries start to wear down I would get the upper hand.”

He just laughs.

Dani and His Old Dad Reunited

Back with my Boy…
After what seemed like a lifetime I finally got back to see my little boy. After 7 long weeks I was there to collect him from school yesterday.

What a coincidence. It was Día del Padre in Spain. He was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. He had bought me a surprise present and made me a Father’s day card. And a great card it is too – see below. Maybe he had a little help with that…

I feel that I have to point out a small inaccuracy. I think that, just maybe, the Hulk is a little stronger than me. But the rest is a fairly accurate comparison of his dad with some of the more well-known superheroes.

The present was also a great surprise. It was a ‘LetraBot’ (letter-bot). This is a complete collection of letters that transform into robots. I was lucky enough to receive the letter ‘W’. I quickly got the feeling it was more for himself. 😊

It turns out they are called Alpha-bots in the English-speaking world. Probably not even a new thing. Just new to me. Here is the letter “W” before and after transformation.

                   

Great eh?

The Alpha-bots are even marketed with the following slogan. ‘Ordinary letters one moment and extraordinary robots the next!’. Please…

These ‘toys’ are obviously meant to be collected. There are 26 of them covering the alphabet and they also come in the form of numbers. Well at least there is a clear limit to the size of the collection. All parents should be thankful for that at least. Unless, that is, they decide to try to “educate” kids in the alphabets of the oriental languages. They even come with some kind of comic-cum-magazine that falls over itself trying to be educational. With simple arithmetic and the likes…

Letra-Bots? I don’t Get it!

It reminds me of that scene in one of my favourite Tom Hanks movies “BIG” when he finds a job testing toys for a large toy maker. Josh – the 13-year-old played by Hanks – sticks his hand up in a meeting and says: “I don’t get it.” He goes on to ask about the new “toy” and clarifies that it is indeed a building that turns in to a robot. Then he asks:
“Well what’s fun about that?”

My thoughts exactly when I first saw these ‘Letra-bots”. What’s fun about a letter of the alphabet turning into a robot?
But what do I know? Dani loves them and now has now built up a little collection.

You can watch that scene here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ERuhks3GNk

Who Will Sell the Toys?

Another great scene in that movie is the one filmed in FAO Schwartz toy store in New York. Made famous mainly by the floor piano scene. For me the best part of the action in that store was Hanks riding that zebra rodeo-style; it still makes me laugh. That shop was fantastic. I have been there a few times and I loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, it was bought out by the same group that own Toys-R-Us. They opened a huge flagship store in Times Square and some genius thought it was a good idea to shut down the FAO Schwartz operation. Now of course Toys-R-Us has fallen on hard times and it looks like all their stores will close. In the USA, UK and in Spain. Karma anyone?

Maybe, just maybe some bright entrepreneur will spot the opportunity for re-opening a real toy store and once again we may be able to visit an FAO Schwartz…And then I read….

Apparently there was an attempt to re-open the store on 5th Avenue with East 58th street but it is unclear whether this was just for the festive period alone. Yet another report suggests that it will reopen in the Rockefeller Plaza some time like Autumn 2018. Much smaller than the famous 5th Avenue location but still great news if true. If anyone knows for sure please let us all know.

I suspect that the large supermarkets and internet will completely take over from the large toy stores. Sad but inevitable.

A Curious Piece of Local History

There’s a saying that goes around on big projects: ‘The days drag but the weeks fly by.’ That is so true about this one. I have been here for 6 weeks now, yet each day seems to drag. Well, most of them…

A Local “Attraction”

My last Sunday here – for this trip – so I decided to take the day off. A well-earned day off if I do say so myself. I wanted to visit the Prisoner of War (POW) camp not far from where I am staying. The Geojedo POW camp.

As no doubt everyone knows, the Korean peninsula has been divided since the civil war in the early 1950s. This camp is a large part of the history of the country as it is today.

This part of Korea was the only corner not to be overrun with North Korean and Chinese forces, so it was not only the logical choice of location, it was almost the only one for such a huge camp. The ‘Historic Park of Geojedo POW Camp’ as it is called was built in 1951 and accommodated over 170,000 prisoners. Some 20,000 were communist Chinese.

History meets Entertainment

To describe it as surreal doesn’t quite explain it.

The whole area has been turned into part museum and part theme park complete with rides and similar attractions. Most of the models and pictures had English translation so it was at least educational.

For example; I had always believed that it was an American led mission to help the South; albeit with help form other allies. In fact it was a United Nations operation – the USA naturally contributing the most.

                 

The original camp site would have extended down to the sea but most of that area is now covered in high rise buildings. There wasn’t much to photograph as little attempt has been made to recreate the real living conditions. Most of the so-called barracks would have been tents and the prisoners were left more or less to “self-regulate”. That led to political divisions and gang mentality. Ultimately that led to widespread disturbances and even a US general being captured and held hostage inside one of the compounds

There is no doubt it would have been very brutal. Maybe that is why I had never heard of it?

4D Cinema…

Just before the exit there was a cinema showing a film about two North Koreans who were captured then sent to this site. It included the US general hostage situation. It is a 4D cinema! The usual 3D glasses plus seats that rocked and jolted when there were explosions or heavy machine gun fire. As missiles and objects explode past your face jets of air are fired from below the seat or along the handrail. Not very convincing but different.

There is no doubt that this place paints a one-sided view of that period. I fully understand that. But it has certainly sparked my interest in the history of the country’s civil war. There’s a book or two to be read on the subject when I get back home.

Now I have only a few days before the end of this working visit. The closer it gets the more I miss my little boy.

More Korean Oddities

Tomorrow South Korea is sending a delegation to North Korea. Possibly a first. Things may go well or tensions may increase. We shall see. In case it takes a turn for the worse here are some more fun things from this part of the world to take your mind off it all (and mine!)

Office Drinks

Among the various sachets of instant coffee and flavoured teabags that we can help ourselves to in the office were these…

The first one looks like an instant soup. Just add boiling water…

 But look closer and it is actually a type of tea. Who dreamt up a corn flakes, potato and yam tea? There are clearly jobs out there where people are allowed to go right off track and dream up whatever they want. For the record it actually tastes OK. But I only tried it then left the remaining “tea” in the paper cup. Within minutes it started to congeal. Within half an hour it was like a thick paste. Just as well I didn’t drink it all I thought. What can that stuff do to your insides?

 Later in the day I tried this one….

This one is made in Vietnam. As you can see there is no Korean writing. Someone told me that coconut coffee is available in most trendy coffee bars. I wouldn’t know. I am strictly a coffee with milk man. That said it was quite nice. Sweet tasting -but only in the way coconut milk is sweet. I think I could get used to that one.

Anyone care for a refreshing drink…

Called Sweat?

It doesn’t sound very appetizing does it? It’s an energy drink that is supposed to be SWEET. Do the Koreans think “sweat” is the American spelling of “sweet”? Is it?  I really don’t think so.

It tastes like most non-fizzy, so-called energy drinks. It’s the name that puts me off.

Manhole covers (or is that person-hole covers?)

These two friendly looking characters are everywhere you walk staring up at you on cast iron moulded manhole covers. The holes on the streets that lead to the sewers.

Someone told me that these cartoon-like characters are meant to be two turds. It seems a plausible explanation when you look at them and where they are located. It is as if they are smiling up at you saying welcome to our home. Mr. and Mrs. Turd – they do look like a male and female couple.

In actual fact these two are Mongduri and Mongsuri. They are the area’s tourism mascots. Very odd.

Meanwhile…

I also heard that Maersk had ordered 31 of the giant container ships. They cost about 190 million US dollars each – presumably a bulk buy deal?! Many have already been built and I saw one being driven out of the shipyard today. It looked odd. High in the water without the huge number of containers it is designed to carry weighing it down. These things are just a shade under 400 metres long. That’s four football pitches. That is also about 120 metres longer than the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.  At 59 metres wide they are too big to pass through the Panama canal but can traverse the Suez canal. It is fair to deduce that they will be transporting goods mainly to Europe.

Thirty one! That is some order. While we in Europe may or may not buy some of the cargo being shipped from the far East the Danish shipping company must certainly be making a lot of money moving it around the world’s seas.