2017: A Quick Review – Of Sorts

As promised in a post at the turn of the year here is a little review of sorts for 2017.

Last year saw the usual mix of sad, tragic and exciting news stories from around the world. One which was both sad and tragic (for me) was the story of Charlie Gard, a subject I dedicated a few posts to last year.

Dani’s Year…

For my young son 2017 saw the end of his first year of full time school and the start of his second. As a result of all this he is now displaying basic reading and writing skills. He still has a long way to go of course but it is great that he starting to pick it up having only just turned four years old.

Dani also had his first caravan holiday in 2017. That most British of holidays in a trailer home right on the British coastline. It was also the year that he became bored of flying. No longer a novelty, more of an inconvenience. Such is the life of a modern child. I never flew in a plane until I was 16.

On the subject of travel; he is on his third ID card. The police even let him sign it. He also needs his third passport. These are required to be renewed every two years at that age as the child’s appearance alters significantly over the first six years. Fortunately the cost of new passports is a lot less in Spain.

There was another year that was mentioned rather frequently during 2017. That year is 1967. Why? you may ask…

An incredible Year…

1967 was an incredible year for many reasons. I could easily write pages about what happened during that year but one thing in particular got me doing some research.

2017 was the 50th anniversary of two huge landmarks in British legal history. This past year was a cause for celebration in the gay community as it was way back in 1967 that homosexuality was de-criminalised. This event received a lot of media coverage throughout 2017.

Also, 1967 marked another huge landmark in society. In August 1967 the abortion act was brought into British law. This 50th anniversary received substantially less attention from the media. By the time you have read this post you may feel that you know why.

Before I go any further I need to point out that I am neither for nor against abortion and definitely do not want to get into a ‘rights and wrongs’ discussion. I sit on the fence when it comes to the abortion debate. Not something I do very often as I tend to see most things very much in black and white. However, that said, these facts will almost certainly surprise you – if not shock you.

The Least Safe Place in Britain

Since being made legal there have been over nine million abortions in Great Britain. That may seem an unfeasibly high figure, but it is true. You can easily check the statistics online yourselves if you find it hard to believe. Especially when you realise that over 50 years the numbers average out to about 180,000 per year – which do not seem unrealistic. Still the overall total is something that should be considered in more detail.

That figure becomes even more incredible the more you examine it. Nine million is higher than the populations of many countries such as Serbia, Austria, Switzerland, Paraguay and Denmark to name a few.

It all begs the question: Does anyone know where the least safe place in Britain is? The answer might scare you, but it is both obvious and very real. That place is a woman’s womb. That may not be an “official” government statement but it is an indisputable fact.

Catalonian Stalemate

Meanwhile the Catalan saga rolls on. December last year saw regional elections with some of the main players either being locked up or in self-imposed exile in Belgium. The election results basically left us exactly the same as before the unilateral declaration of independence with the Catalan parliament having more or less the same make up.

Fortunately Señor Puigdemont uses his trusty droid to communicate in meetings from his new home in Belgium, somewhere on the planet Tatooine.

Back to the Present…

Less than a month into 2018 and most of the UK news already this year has been about the collapse of a huge industrial giant – Carillion. This large company has collapsed despite having been awarded plenty of multi-million-pound government contracts. Hard to imagine isn’t it? Some 20,000+ employees are said to be now out of work as a result of the collapse. Although in reality most of the skilled workers will have already found other work.

I have a tale about Carillion and more specifically the managers of such companies which I will share with you in my next post.

The Work Attitude Conundrum….The (No) Work Centre

Question:
Do I file this under grumpy old dad or simply shrug my shoulders and compartmentalise it away in my mind under “This is Spain”?

Ever heard of a high street business called “Work Centre”? A place where you can go and print, photocopy or laminate drawings and documents. They also sell a range of stationery and provide a photo printing service so can be quite useful at times. Anyway, I am sure you will be familiar with such places whatever they may be called in your country. Work Centre is widespread in Spain with offices all over Madrid.

I have used the one nearest our house on a few occasions. Last Monday was one such day.

(No) Work Centre….

I only wanted a single page. It took me nearly 10 minutes. That may not seem like a long time so let me explain. When I walked in there were 4 employees in the “work centre” and only one other customer. The customer was being attended to while the three other employees were stood in one corner talking about…well nothing in particular, but certainly not about work. The “work centre” was more like a No Work Centre. Even when one of the three attempted to join the world of work it took him forever just to print my page. Continually stopping to join in the conversation with his co-workers. Or should that be no-workers? What’s that thing people say about multi-tasking? Well you get the picture I am sure. The whole thing should have taken no more than two minutes. By now a third customer had entered the work free zone and was only attended to because the first customer was just leaving.

This is classic Spain. Not only Spain of course but definitely classic Spain. One of the things that most pisses people off about the place is ironically one of the things that makes it such a fun country to be in. Some call it a care-free attitude. But it can also be interpreted as a ‘couldn’t give a shit’ attitude – especially when it comes to work.

Paying Bills into the Bank

Although the most recent and fresh in my mind, this is nowhere near the best example I can come up with. That prize goes to a bank close to where we lived when Dani was first born.

I can’t recall which bank but it hardly matters. All banks in Spain – as far as I am aware – have similar odd policies of only allowing you to pay certain bills on specific days and times.

OK. If you are not Spanish or do not live in Spain let me explain…

If you want to pay a gas or electric bill then banks will only take the money/cheque from you on (say) Tuesday mornings between 10am and 11am. If it is a bill related to the town hall then this may be during a different timeframe, say Wednesday mornings between 10amm and midday. I really do not have the exact details to hand and certainly not for every bank but that is more or less how it works.

This one particular day – several years ago – I had to pay something to the town hall. It was that long ago I cannot even remember what it was. I went into the bank about 2 minutes past 11 o’clock fully aware of the strange rules for making payments.

The Conversation – Real and Imagined

The bank clerk looked at me then looked at the paperwork I had slid under his nose. He looked at me again and pointed to a small notice just to my left (his right). It said that these bills could only be paid into the bank between 10 and 11am on Tuesdays. It was a Tuesday. I didn’t need to think about that one. I looked over my shoulder quickly at the bank’s wall clock and saw that it was just past 11am.

 I looked at the bank teller and questioned, “No?” – as if to shout “are you taking the f***ing piss or what?!”

“No” he replied calmly, again pointing to the sign to his right – no doubt implying “can’t you f***ing read?”

Again I turned to look around over my shoulder – slowly this time – scanning the empty bank behind me. The only other people in there were more bank employees. There were five of us in total.

I turned to face the bank clerk again almost in slow motion as if to emphasise the fact that time was standing still in this place and not a lot was happening.

En serio?” I pleaded (Really?) – meaning, “There is nobody else in here for f*** sake!”

Then I looked over – almost gesturing – towards his co-workers who were busy doing not a great deal and repeated my plea.

En serio ?!!” – by now in a tone which at the very least suggested, “are you really that much of a c**t?”

“No” he said again; probably thinking “I wish this foreign prick would f**k off and leave me in peace”.

So, defeated and deflated, I turned in despair muttering some profanities under my breath as I traipsed out of this pretend ‘bank’.

Any Conclusions?

Sometimes that is just the way it goes in Spain. The over-bearing weight of bureaucracy that some people pretend is a hangover from the Franco era is in fact ingrained in almost every aspect of business life whether it is public or private sector. Or to put it another way; simply trying to get basic things done in Spain can, at times, be a real pain in the arse.

This kind of thing is supposedly rife these days. And clearly not only in Spain. It has been well documented by newspaper columnists and several explanations offered. One of them is that there is real a sense of entitlement in the younger generations today.

I will buy into that one. Or is that just me getting old? You tell me.

New Bedtime Stories – with a few Old Names

Bedtime Stories with a new Twist

I have had to think fast when telling bedtime stories lately.

While the old favourites like the Elves and the Shoemaker, Jack and the Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood still work most of the time, the recent obsession with Star Wars and a new (for Dani) TV show have taken story-time to a new level.

Quick TV Show Premise

That TV show is called Zak Storm. Basically, the series goes like this:

While out surfing, teenager Zak Storm gets sucked into some kind of giant wave vortex (apparently ending up in the Bermuda Triangle) after “borrowing” (stealing) his father’s necklace, which is really some mythical “eye” of some mysterious sea. Still with me? Zak ends up as the captain of a ship called The Chaos, which has its own rag tag crew and a talking sword (Calabrass). He then has to try to find his way home while fighting off skeleton pirates who appear more like robots.

Yes. Exactly!

I am not a big fan and I haven’t really been paying much attention to this TV programme. I am definitely not yet familiar with all the members of Zak’s crew so I simply decided to make them up.

Introducing the Crew….

The other day I introduced them to my son. Please be aware that no copyright infringement is intended. You just might recognise some of the characters from elsewhere…Story-time went a bit like this:

“Daddy who is on the ship with Zak?”

“Well. Let me see. Blue Beard, Peg-leg Pete and One-eyed Jack.” Names that came instantly to mind but no idea from where.

“Who else daddy?”.

I was already struggling. Then a moment of inspiration…

“There was his second in command. Roger Mellie”

(Laughing) “Roger Mellie???”

“Yes. He used to be on the telly. Then there was Biffa Bacon.”

(Laughing) “Biffa Bacon? Biffa Bacon!!? Hahahaa. What?”

“Yes. He likes to eat bacon and he hits people for the captain”

“And Biffa Cheese?” laughing to himself. “He likes cheese sandwiches.”

“No. Not on this ship. Then there was Johnny Fartpants”

More laughter…Lots more…

“He was the cook. Then there was Jimmy Two-Times. They call him that because he says everything two times, two times”.

“Daddy. Daddy. He says everything two times? He says everything two times?” (Laughs.)

“Yes. And he also had a friend, Frankie the Wop.”

And that is how it goes… We now spend most of the time discussing the ship’s crew and their special (or not so special) abilities, while I try to weave a bit of a story in between. He loves it. Almost as much as his dad.

Educational?

Incidentally, I have only just discovered that the word “wop”, whilst sometimes being used as a kind of insult, is derived from ‘WithOut Papers’. Many Italian immigrants to the USA had no papers when they arrived so they were branded ‘wops’. At least that is what I read online. It’s hard to know the truth about some of these things but that explanation seems logical enough to me. So there you go… Story-time can be quite an education.

A Three Kings Day Event With a Difference

I have filed this one under ‘Grumpy Old Dad’ but maybe I am just right. You decide…

Three years ago on his first Three Kings day children’s event at a well-known company the children received a DVD of the Disney film Frozen. Not exactly my cup of tea but an undisputed classic nonetheless. The following year it was “Big Hero 6” another excellent and popular animated film. Last year it was basically some sweets and a piece of cake (or something similar).

This year there was nothing.

Well not quite.

This Year’s Show…

There was a short stage show with Christmas songs by a group of actors who had obviously been hired specially. Three employees played the kings – as in previous years. One of the actors played a little girl who was asked about her expectations on the big day. This included a not so subtle message that what the ‘little girl’ really wanted from the three kings was to spend that day with her parents. Gifts were not really needed. It was becoming obvious that the kids were not going to receive any presents this year.

The kings finally appeared. They walked in one door and down one side of the theatre to the stage. One of them made an announcement that they had received a lot of letters from children and so had a lot of work to be getting on with (or something like that). Then they trailed off up the other side of the theatre and out through the other door. Patting a few kids on the heads as they went and sharing high (and low) fives with others – including Dani and Susana.

OK. I know. The true meaning and spirit of Christmas and all that… but seriously?

Seriously? !

The Award Goes to…

And so; – drum roll please -the Ebenezer Scrooge award for 2017 goes to Repsol, the Spanish oil giant.

It was the biggest con since Paul Newman “shot” Robert Redford in “The Sting” (awesome film by the way). And we all thought it was the Grinch that stole Christmas. Wrong.

The company is the highest contributor to the Spanish Treasury. Put another way it pays more taxes than any other company, organisation or individual. Put yet another way that means that they make a sh1t load of profit – i.e. money. So, you would think that they could afford decent gifts for their Three Kings day event right? Or any gift (if last year was anything to go by).

Not All Bad – perhaps?

Admittedly, Dani only gets invited to these things because his auntie works for the company. None of this grumpy old dad moan is about Dani getting a gift. If I want him to have something I can probably get it. It’s just that I was there to see it all and it didn’t seem right. Because the nephews, nieces and even grandchildren of employees are able to attend these events there are thousands of kids in total. Maybe as many as five thousand in the case of the main office. Even so, that still would only amount to about €40k of spending on some good presents. Probably much less if buying in such bulk. It may sound a lot but it is the proverbial drop in the ocean to this huge company.

The one good thing was that the kids really did not miss getting a present. I don’t think they even realised that they had effectively been conned out of a gift this year. I suppose that says something about the message they were trying to give out. In a way that was nice to see. Oh, and they did get some sweets and a chocolate milk drink. Still; I think a company the size of Repsol should be able to put on a good show and still give their employees children a gift.

Don’t you?

Meanwhile…

And now the big day has passed and all the excitement has disappeared as reality has dawned on the children – mine included. They are back to school today. Welcome back to earth kids.

There Goes Another One

And so, another year passes by and we enter 2018. I wanted to do a quick round up of 2017 before it ended as it was quite a year in some odd ways. Due to being away from home for a few days either side of new year I will have to make that recap in a week or so…

First Time Skiers

For the New Year period we stayed in the small town of Riaza north of Madrid. One of the reasons was the close proximity of a ski resort called La Pinilla. Dani and his cousin had their first ski lesson on the beginner’s slope at the top of the first chair lift.

It would be an exaggeration to say that they enjoyed their first experience locked onto two planks but they went through the motions nonetheless. Meanwhile those who wanted to ski made a few trips down the mountain and back up again.

It is bad enough for adults with those super uncomfortable boots but for the kids it is seriously hard work. Just getting them to put that unnatural footwear on their feet was a challenge in itself.

At least it was sunny and just enough snow. Once they were with the instructor they were more or less fine. To try and teach your own kids something so different is near impossible. Leave them with a complete stranger and hey presto! they listen.

A few days later – and in another year – they tried again. This time the weather was not so good but amazingly the kids went through the booting ritual with no fuss and had a second lesson. Now they are making progress.

Riaza

New year came with a bang. Literally. This is Spain. In the town plaza at midnight the fireworks went off and as usual some were very loud – not to Dani’s liking.

Riaza is a nice little town with an old (very small) centre built around a sand covered circular plaza. Perfect for converting into a plaza de toros. And that’s exactly what they do on occasion during the summer. The town is well known for its cordero (lamb) dishes.

At this time of the year they place a Christmas tree in the centre and decorate it with recycled (or should that be reinvented?) decorations made from used plastic bottles etc… (see photo)

And so thoughts now turn to the Three Kings and more presents for the little ones. Three days and counting…

   Geared up and ready to go? It doesn’t look like.

On the slopes. Well you will have to take it from me; there was a slight incline

      

Lavadero just outside the centre of Riaza, where the people of the village would have once gathered to do their laundry.

   

A typical Riaza doorway complete with crest.

The Fun Goes On and On

 

Extended Christmas

It seems that Christmas time is never ending for kids these days. At least for those that can celebrate Christmas day and the three kings day (Los Reyes Magos) – both days with presents and with a new year’s celebration in between.

One lucky kid I know does just that. This is a classic example of getting best of cultures from two countries.

It was all over so quickly when I was a kid. New year was for adults – and still is of course. I can certainly testify to drinking a few too man on enough New Years Eve parties.

And the party goes on…

Today there was another visit to see the three kings. Basically like a visit to see Santa would be in the UK. The kids sit on the knees of their favourite king and discuss what presents they would like to receive. Not quite how it turned out and I may just write a post about that soon.

Just before Christmas Day there were two concerts. One was a song and dance show the other was advertised as an Opera Infantil with Peter Pan and Captain Hook on the poster. It could have been a Pantomime but was something strangely different.

The kids in the audience were probably expecting a children’s show (I know I was) but the idea was to introduce them to opera songs. Most bizarre. Dani was bored after only a few minutes once his curiosity wore off. Pretty soon after there were enough bored kids to fill a bus. After what seemed an age the characters changed tack.

Peter Pan asked for volunteers. Dani’s cousin Susana immediately raised her hand and moved to the front. Dani followed blindly. Unaware of what was in store. They were both selected. After a few silly moves on stage the kids were asked to stand aside while Captain Hook made his “Panto villain” entrance. I knew what was going to happen next.

Here it comes again…

Sure enough Dani started to get scared and his bottom lip quivered. One little girl – smaller than Dani – openly cried. That didn’t help. He looked towards me and held out his hand to go and help. Cruel dad left him to it. I genuinely thought that he would just hold his cousin’s hand and it would pass. She remained cool and unnerved under the pressure. In any case he needs to get over these kind of fears right?

One of the other cast members close at hand tried to console him and it worked – just enough. Meanwhile the little girl’s mother had come to the stage and called her over. She ran to relative safety. Dani was still uneasy but I wanted him to see it through and thankfully he did.

All part of character building and growing up right? Or should I have rescued him?

While Dani survived I am not sure that I did. I still think the whole thing was a bit weird.

More to Come…

Still to come is the visit by the three kings. Twelfth night or the 12th day of Christmas as it is known in the UK. More presents. More Lego Star Wars? We shall see.

Before all that there is new year. The plan is to take a trip just north of Madrid to a ski area. Hopefully the kids can play in the snow and even try skiing for the first time.

All in all, a long, an extended Christmas period. It’s exhausting. For the parents.

That leaves one important question: What date do they go back to school?…..

 

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

It’s already been a hectic Christmas schedule for my son. He went to his first “Panto” a week or two ago. He has had one appointment with Santa and has two meetings pencilled in his diary with the Three Kings (Los Reyes).

The other day Dani went to his first circus. It was called Circo Mágico. (Magic Circus) It was also the first circus I had been to in about 40 odd years!

Even His Old Dad Loved it!

I was more than a little sceptical as you can imagine. It turned out that I enjoyed it as much as Dani.

It didn’t start off too well as the people on the entrance to the “big top” made us queue for some time. When we finally got in we made our way to front row seats a there were no seat numbers on the tickets. Perfect view.

The overall theme (as the name of the circus suggests) was magic. Equal billing was given to various acrobatic acts which included a troop of Chinese acrobats. Just as exciting as those I had seen on TV. Excellent in close up.

Quick Change Artists

There was even a man and woman double act performing that quick change routine. Where they change clothes multiple times in a few seconds behind make-shift covers. I first saw that act on a Youtube video. Look up the “Quick Change Artists” and you will understand.

Here is a link to that performance:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7bVdRT20vI

This circus ‘quick change’ act was almost identical and even right next to the action it was impossible to see how it was all done.

Amazing Feats of Power and Dexterity

There were acts of extreme strength and dexterity. Including three young ladies whose strength I found totally baffling. Not the impish, growth stunted little gymnasts we are used to seeing on TV at the Olympic games; these looked like normal young women of at least average height and weight. Despite clearly being athletic looking there was no sign of overly developed muscles. Yet their arm strength would make most men blush. Incredible feats of power and balance.

The more adult performances were interspersed with a little bit of fooling around by two “clowns”. I have to admit that even those two were quite good. Even if they were more for the kids there were elements of balancing and trickery in their stage slots.

You may not hear this type of thing from myself very often, but this dad can definitely recommend the Circo Mágico.

Christmas Eve…

Now it’s Christmas Eve and tonight we will celebrate Noche Beuna at Dani’s grandmother’s house. But the poor boy has vomited twice already and still has a temperature. Let’s hope he recovers later.

It’s a great time of year for most people. It’s even better if you are four years old. Could this be the first Christmas time that Dani will remember? Time will tell…

Some Serious Star Wars Questions

OK so it’s Christmas time and the new Star Wars film is in the cinemas (A new Star Wars movie is now an annual event. I have not seen it yet incidentally). Naturally my son is just nuts about Star Wars already. So, buying presents should be easy this year. Even this old dad has been doing a spot of Christmas shopping.

Shopping for things for my boy. More specifically Lego shopping. Even more specifically Star Wars Lego shopping. In fact, it’s the only kind of shopping I enjoy.

There are plenty to choose from but you have to be careful otherwise your wallet could find itself much like most politicians’ heads. Glossy on the outside, empty on the inside.

What’s going on?

I am still struggling to come to terms with some of the places and characters in the first three episodes, so these new Star Wars movies have got me totally confused. I cannot honestly say which spaceship or fighter craft is which. I may need to go onto the training course with Dani’s Spanish grandmother (see here for that).

As I was browsing through the plethora of Star Wars Lego sets a few serious questions arose. These questions need answers so please help if you know something.

  1. Where do the rebel alliance have their spacecraft made?

Seriously! In every episode so far they have been driven out from one third world planet to another, sometimes via an uninhabitable ice planet here or there. Each time they are driven out of a base they invariably lose several fighter craft and sometimes one or more of their huge cruiser ships. The base planets the rebels have chosen thus far don’t even have the materiel or technology to do repairs never mind build new ships. The bigger spacecraft would take years to build so it is unlikely any manufacturer would take on such a contract with the likes of Darth Vader breathing slowly and menacingly (as he does) down their necks. Where are they replenishing their fleet? And who is making them? Probably Lego! They seem to make everything these days.

  1. What’s going on with robot technology?

OK let’s think this one through logically. Kylo Ren – he is the new lord of the dark side in case you didn’t know – has a cross guard style light sabre. Far more advanced than the basic model wielded by Mr. Vader: Right? The space ships now are clearly far superior to the earlier models some of which appeared to be made out of sieves and various kitchen based cartons (surely not!?). The weaponry in general has vastly improved; all the way from the humble stormtrooper blasters right up to the dreaded Death Stars (which we clearly saw improving just between episodes 4 and 6 right?). Even the stormtroopers seem to have been kitted out with improved suits! Courtesy of Hugo Boss I wonder  So why are the robots still so crap?

Back when R2 was the main “bot” the other, more human looking, droids were slow and cumbersome – or camp like C3PO. They certainly realised the concept of using robots to do the fighting all the way back to the first episode so what went wrong in the robot labs of that bloody galaxy? Was the robot advancement programme budget slashed? Surely not. Even back in the early episodes they had robots performing delicate bionic micro-surgery – like giving Luke and his dad new hands – so where did it all go wrong? Seriously?

Surely by now there should be some serious terminator style robots doing all the fighting. I don’t mean like those almost cute looking “battle droids” we saw in the first few episodes either. I mean full on Schwartzenegger Terminators. Hell, they could have even cloned Arnie himself with the help of those weird long necked cloners we saw in episode 2. It’s not like they have never cloned an army before is it?.

I am sure you can tell that this one really bothers me.

  1. What the hell is General Grievous supposed to be?

OK, I know he appears to be a four armed robo-villain of sorts, but the last time I saw him he seemed to have developed a serious smoker’s cough. How did that happen? Actually, that was the penultimate time I saw him. The last time was when Obi Wan decided to do the General some Grievous Bodily Harm (or GBH as the police like to call it).

I could go on but until I get answers to these hi-tech problems what’s the point? Answers on a postcard to…No; wait a moment! Just leave any thoughts in a comment on this post. Thanks.

P.S: I have just learned that there is a site full of information which may be a good starting point. It is called Wookiepedia Hahahaa… You’ve got to love that!

Catalans Go To The Polls….Again.

Here We Go Again

The sad saga of Catalonia had gone quiet for a short while. It has been nearly two months since I last wrote about it. No longer.

There is an election in the autonomous region in two days time where the central government are asking the Catalans to vote for a new bunch of idiots to run the region after the debacle of the UDI that never really was back in October.

If the central government think things are going to calm down they are sadly deluding themselves. The only possible outcome I can see is an even more polarised population in the region.

Roll Up, Roll Up. The Circus is in Town

The election campaigns are in full swing and if there is one thing to say about it all then this is it: The whole circus is beyond parody. We now have the bizarre situation where the separatists who have been jailed are being allowed to stand in these elections. They are even broadcasting their political messages from their jail cells on radio and TV. Even the former Catalan parliament leader and self styled leader of the republic, Sr. Carles Puigdemont, is being allowed to stand and is campaigning all the way from the “safety” of Brussels where he has been effectively hiding since the arrest warrant was issued at the end of October. The radio and TV channels have been broadcasting his messages to voters from his Belgian refuge.

It begs the question: How on earth could any self-respecting Catalan vote for such a person? Meanwhile one of the other independence party leaders – a certain Sr. Oriol Junqueras – who is now in a Spanish prison, is telling voters that at least he never ran off into hiding. I suppose if I was inclined to vote for one of those parties I would choose the one who stood his ground and chose to stay and ‘face the music’. But what the f**k do I know?

Even by the freaky standards of Spanish politics you really could not make this shit up!

On a slightly different subject…

I have been reading a book about Spain that I had intended reading for many years. You know the thing. You want to read a book but never quite got around to it? Well that is the way it is for me.

That book is “Spain is Different” and when it was first issued in 1992 it quickly became a go to read for anyone who was considering living or working in Spain.

The reason I mention it now is because the book was written by Helen Wattley-Ames, mostly about the time she spent living and working in Barcelona in the early 90s. In 1992 was a special year for Spain and Barcelona in particular. It marked the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus sailing to the Americas – from Barcelona. It was the year that the world fair was held in Sevilla. Above all that it was the year of the Barcelona Olympics and foreigners – particularly Americans – were flocking there.

I intend writing a review of the book when I have finished it but for now, because it is very relevant to this week’s events, I want to point out a few of the things the author had to say about regionalism; way back in 1992. She expresses concerns about “the degree to which local governments overdo regional nationalism.” She explains how this had led to cases of people from other Spanish regions not being hired, even if that meant hiring foreigners. She goes on to state how language has become a politicized issue in bilingual regions – namely Catalonia – and how that can lead to trouble. Wise and prophetic writing from a quarter of a century ago.

Back to the Election…

Well; by early Friday we will know if the Catalan farce is to continue. There can be no doubt can there? What will happen in the aftermath? Another attempt at UDI? Or will there be a new prison built to house the politicians? Above all, will Sr. Puigdemont return from his self-imposed exile in Belgium if he is re-elected?

Are we about to see a regional parliament being run from behind bars?

Whatever happens I want to wish everyone in Catalonia a Merry Christmas and a happy new year. They all deserve a break from the turmoil.

Dani’s First Panto…

“Panto”

It’s that time of year. The Christmas and new year period is also referred to as the Pantomime season in the UK. The Pantomime (or “panto” as it is mostly referred to) is as much part of the British Christmas as Turkey and cranberry sauce. In its modern form I would go as far as saying that it is uniquely British; but as with all things theatrical pantomime has its roots in ancient Greece. The word comes from the Latin pantomimus, which itself is derived from the Greek word παντόμιμος (pronounced pantomimos), consisting of παντο- (panto-) which means “all”, and μῖμος (mimos), meaning a dancer who acted all the roles or all the story.

Pantomima is also a Spanish word meaning mimed theatre or farce. Not too different from the British interpretation of old fairy stories

Despite all of the roots and definition similarities in other languages the modern pantomime  remains a uniquely British institution. Part of the Christmas celebrations performed everywhere from school Christmas productions & concerts to local amateur and community theatres, to large West End productions featuring well known TV and Film actors. (Also – it has to be said – some not so well known “celebrities” and assorted “Z-listers”.)

Fun for all the family…

We took Dani to see his first pantomime at a local amateur dramatics theatre with his nana. The theatre was small enough to be close to the action. The panto was “Dick Whittington and his Cat”. A story I can barely remember from my own childhood but that is not the point. This being panto the theatrical licence meant that the story switched seamlessly (well almost) from the streets of London to a desert island via a ‘Pirates of the Carribbean’ style act which included a rendition of The Village People’s “In the Navy”.

That is the essence of panto. Complete mayhem and slapstick which can twist and turn any way the director wants to take it. All with a basic storyline that all ages are familiar with. There are few rules, if any.

From Laughter to Tears…

It was all very well done and quite funny in parts. To keep the parents and grandparents interested they make sure there is as much adult humour in the production as things for the kids. Even Dani’s miserable old dad had a good laugh.

Dani was enjoying the whole thing until near the end when he went from laughing to crying in the space of a moment. When the inevitable confrontation came between the heroes and the pantomime’s villain – one King Rat – the ensuing commotion and audience screaming scared the little boy out of his wits. But it was what went on below the rows of seats that sent the action out into the audience.

Excellent production…

I will admit to adding to his shock and surprise because it caught me by surprise. A nice touch by the producers; blasting air through the plastic tubes they had laid out beneath the rows of seats causing tails to flutter like rats scurrying around your feet. When the older kids screamed – mostly in surprise and delight – Dani started to freeze up. Then when the line of “rats” shot under our feet and his own dad jumped it proved too much. He lost touch with reality and believed the “rats” under the seats were real. He was crying and very afraid. All I could do was keep hold of him and reassure him that it as not real and that the goodies were now beating the baddies in the on-stage “fight”.

The power of live panto on a 4-year-old child eh…Amazing.  When it all calmed down he still managed to walk up to the cast members for them to sign his panto programme. Even the King Rat himself, who as it turned out was a really nice guy. Dani left the theatre slightly bemused but still talking about the slapstick and action he had just witnessed. His first experience of the magic of Panto.