This Old Dad… He Played One…

Yesterday while driving to school we sang that old nursery rhyme: This old man, he played one…He played knick-knack on my thumb… And so on. After a few verses Dani interrupted. The conversation went like this:

Daddy why is he old?
The man? I don’t know he is just old
Because he is older than me! He plays knick knack on a few things like your shoes, then he just rolls home. With his dog.
Is it his dog?
Yes. And he gives him a bone every day.
Daddy what’s a knick-knack?
It’s a, erm… thing!
Daddy, what’s a paddywhack?
It’s a… I don’t know darling. I think it’s just something the old man gives to his dog.
Like a bone?
Maybe, yes.
Why not?
Because I just don’t. I will find out.

Although this was a classic toddler “Why? Why? Why?” moment it did make me curious. I knew a lot of old nursery rhymes have some deep and often dark meaning. The most obvious example that springs to mind being “Ring a Ring of Roses” which is basically a medical list of symptoms for the bubonic plague (aka black death!).

There was only one option. I had to consult the all-knowing internet (yeah right!). He played knick knack? I can honestly say that I have never played knick knack. At least not knowingly. What the hell is it?

An Irish meaning?

The more I tried to find out about the song the more confusing it became. Nobody really claimed to know the answers online. There were some tales of it relating to Irish tinkers. In a nutshell here it is:

Paddy Whack supposedly meaning an Irish tinker fighting or being hit. Begging, and the man’s dog being given a bone rather than the man being given a few pennies -bla bla bla… Finally, the rolling home part either referring to living in a caravan or just getting home drunk.

Sexual Inuendo?

I even found a website where some people tried to explain the song was a mix of sexually suggestive phrases. Knick knack supposedly having some sexual meaning. Not very likely I think. Then there is the ”give the dog a bone” line. Probably the only line in the song that could possibly have a double meaning. However, this double entendre is a relatively modern phrase and would have originated much later than this old nursery rhyme. More on that below.

Animal Parts….

The best explanation I could find claims that playing knick knack is actually another expression for playing bones. Two bones (for example sheep’s ribs) held between the fingers. One between the index and middle finger and the other bone between the middle and ring finger. Then they are basically shaken so as to clatter together. The sound produced is not unlike the Spanish castanets interestingly.

To back up this anatomical explanation the same source defined the word paddywhack as being a strong elastic ligament in sheep (again) or cattle that supports the weight of their heads. So, the rhyming link to other animal body parts probably, kind of, just about, makes it fit? Well, sort of. Paddywhack is a genuine word defined in its own right so I can more or less agree with that description of the rhyme. It certainly seems a much better explanation that the Irish one – just because the letters “Paddy” appear somewhere. Yeah; the more I think about that one the less I am buying it.

Squeeze and giving the dog a bone

Then there is the dog. Anyone over 40 will probably know of the suggestive use of “give the dog a bone” in the classic 1979 Squeeze song “Cool for Cats”. But in this nursery rhyme I am sure it simply refers to giving away one of the bones that is being played.

Finally, there is the rolling home thing. Maybe this really does mean getting home drunk. After a hard day playing the bones and singing in rhyme, why not?

So my overall summary is that the song has little or no real meaning but refers to two parts of a sheep’s body and is just a series of rhymes based (very) loosely around that. All to form a song to help kids learn to count.

Simple really. Now to explain all that to Dani….

In Search of Snow – Again!

This weekend we tried again to see and touch some snow – again. This time there was going to be no doubt the snow would be there. We were heading for the ski area of Puerto de Navacerrada. This time we took Dani’s cousin Susana along.

Once again we knew that unless we got up very early driving up there would be almost impossible. So we decided to drive to Cercedilla, another lovely little town about 1200m up in the Sierra Guadarrama north of Madrid. From there a smaller gauge train runs up to the ski areas of Puerto de Navacerrada. Unfortunately we made the mistake of not booking. The trains were full. The main commuter train from Madrid stops at Cercedilla and many had already bought their tickets directly up to the ski areas. We had missed out again.

And so to the mountain trails…

Not to be put off we made our way to the mountain area outside the town. There, high above the town we found an information office where the lady kindly gave us maps and explained some easy routes. There are plenty of routes from easy (yet tiring enough for the kids) to very challenging. There were also plenty of people out walking and mountain biking. We walked a well marked path crossing small rivers and looking out for seven dwarfs and any other fairy tale characters the kids could think of. I think that kept them going until eventually they had to stop for a biscuit break.

aa-bridge        aa-green-dots

aa-cousins        aa-biscuit-break

Walking amongst the trees…

Just before we stopped to eat in one of the mountain restaurants we discovered a great tree top play area. It reminded me a little of the Ewok village from the Star Wars trilogy. The kids are still too young for this kind of adventure but there were plenty of older kids and adults taking up the challenge. In a few years’ time I can look forward to walking in the trees with Dani.

aa-ewoks aa-tree-adsAventura Amazonia Cercedilla 

A Well Earned Rest for the Cousins
A Well Earned Rest for the Cousins

Before heading back to Madrid we stopped in the town centre where there were several bell towers for Dani to see. The one at the town hall was the best as he could see the clappers striking the bells on the hour.

aa-church-tower           aa-old-church aa-old-folks-home-clock     aa-town-hall

A Town’s Famous Son…

Not only is the town famous for its proximity to the ski areas of Madrid but it is also famous for being the home of Spain’s first (and only) Winter Olympics gold medal winning skier. Fransisco Fernández Ochoa won the slalom gold at the 1972 Olympics in Sappora, Japan. He remains Spain’s only ever gold medal skier. Just before he died in 2006 the town erected a statue in his honour showing him in his Olympic victory salute. Dani paid homage by mimicking the salute (see phots below). Amazing to think that Fransisco (aka Paquito) learned to ski in the relatively small ski area outside the town and yet managed to scale such heights in the sport. His sister Blanca won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics in France. There is a ski museum in the town bearing his name.

 aa-homage-to-paqui               aa-homage aa-museum   aa-danis-homage

The town has many bars and restaurants. Some bars echoing the ski theme. And of course some classic mountain town architecture.

aa-ski-bar      aa-bar-mickey

aa-house-1         aa-house-2

So Close and Yet So Far..

From the town we could clearly see the radio masts and snow that mark the start of the snow covered ski areas which run down the other side of that peak. Almost touching distance yet so far away…


There’s always next time…Third time lucky maybe?

This Lack of Sleep Thing…

This lack of sleep thing every parent keeps going on about. What is it?

I don’t mean to brag or rub salt into other parents’ tired and sleepless wounds but really we have never experienced it. Dani has always been a great sleeper. I think I could keep my socks on to count the number of nights he has disturbed us. Even now he will sleep 10 hours solidly. He is getting a little the wiser however and talking about staying up later. But by 9pm he is just knackered. Zonked out.

Once he is out for the count it is hard to wake him for school in the morning. Even over 10 hours later.

His Mentor…

It is no coincidence he is such a good sleeper. His auntie Natalia is the sleep master. If it were an Olympic event she would sleep for Spain (1st team!). She has proven pedigree. Back in 1995 she was sharing a room with Dani’s mum at Dani’s grandmother’s house. There was an attempt to kill the then president, José Aznar, by the Basque separatist group ETA. At just past 8am on the morning of 19th April a large bomb exploded less than 500 metres from the house where the sisters were sleeping. Many people were already awake at that time but those that weren’t were all rudely awakened by that blast. Everyone in the area heard it. All except Dani’s auntie Natalia that is.


So you see it is in his genes. Dani can also sleep for Spain (Under-21s though) and is destined to become the next sleep master in his family. If he is not disturbed (like in the morning for school) he will easily sleep 12 hours. Blimey! That’s like a dog!

Good for him say I. Personally I don’t seem to need so much sleep. Most of the time I can manage quite well with only 6 hours a night. With maybe the odd lie-in every week or so.

For all the parents out there who are suffering from sleep deprivation, trust me, I do not want to gloat. We are very lucky and we know that. Incredibly lucky. It’s just that when I read things about the downsides of parenting this lack of sleep thing is always mentioned. I just can’t help but crack a little smile. Sorry, is that gloating?


The M&M’s Rock Stars – Not Exactly Sweet Music

Before they get completely destroyed I wanted to film some of Dani’s favourite toys. These are the M&M’s Rock Stars that were sold recently. They came with a pack of M&M’s sweets. I ate the sweets but that didn’t bother Dani as he loves these noisy little toys. I doubt he ever realised they came with sweets.

Did I say noisy? Well I meant too noisy. Especially when they are repeatedly played which Dani has a wont to do at times. I had to partially mute the sound by sticking plastic tape over the speakers. The technique worked well but they are still loud enough. Judge for yourselves…

Poor Mr. Sax…

As you can see the oldest one in the collection is the saxophone player. A real pain in the arse to set playing. Not his fault though. he has been royally battered to say the least. His M&M’s logo sticker long since gone. This one was a gift from my mum a while back and long before the other two band members joined the group. You could say he was the founding member.

I saw that all three are being sold as a group on Amazon (USA) for $69 so I thought I would check their UK site. Would you believe that the drummer is for sale on Amazon (UK) for over £100? One hundred quid! Right. That’s the last time Dani touches him. Pass me the bubble wrap. Oddly enough only the drummer was for sale on the UK site.

Not a good band…

Dani’s favourite trick is to set them all off simultaneously. Or as close together as possible. Not as easy as it sounds… Not while Mr. Sax is half way to the knacker’s yard.

Clearly there are band disagreements. We are talking Lennon and McCartney (in the Yoko years!) times 1000 here. Just listen to the total lack of harmony. Who at M&M’s thought it was a good idea to market them as a group and have them all playing different music? Some tone deaf bastard for sure. Again, you be the judge…


Crossing the Road – With Tufty and Darth Vader

One of the things I intended to do when I started this blog was to use it to highlight some of my fears for Dani growing up.

Well crossing the road is a very big fear of mine in Spain. You would think that it should be for anyone else – but you see it isn’t. The Spanish penchant for taking risks is never more evident that when crossing the road.

Why do you see so many people in Spain stepping out to cross the roads – admittedly at zebra crossings – without checking that the traffic has stopped.

It is worse these days with so many people completely engrossed on their mobile phones and worse still with earphones in listening to music.

They seem to consider it an extension of the pavement. It isn’t. And despite any arguments that the driver’s responsibility to stop the onus should always be on the pedestrian to put their own life first. It is really common sense. In a collision between a car and pedestrian which comes out worst? It’s obvious right? Not only that but it is always the case.

The Stats Surprise….

I really thought I had a great blog post idea with this one. Following on from a previous post about Spanish Driving (which you can see here) this was going to be a story about Spanish safety – or lack of it. Poking fun at how the Spanish have a complete disregard for road safety. Or so I thought… Then I did some quick research into the statistics and the results were surprising.

For example, according the “EuroTest Pedestrian crossing survey” (January 2008) the rate of pedestrian fatalities at crossings is almost the same: 1.3 per million people for Spain compared to 1.2 per million in the UK. However, the ratio of fatalities at pedestrian crossings compared to the overall pedestrian fatalities is higher for the UK (2.2% compared to 1.3%).

In other words even though there are less pedestrian fatalities overall in the UK, there is a greater likelihood of one of those poor pedestrians being killed at a crossing. Wow! Confusing and crazy statistics.

Excuses, Excuses…

“Hahaa you were wrong! It is worse in the UK” I hear you Spanish readers laughing. So it seems. At least specifically (and in certain statistical terms) at pedestrian crossings. But I have to at least try and make some excuses as to how the statistics for the UK appear worse than those for Spain. Firstly let me explain that Spain has more fatal road crashes not involving pedestrians. Many of the drivers involved in such accidents have their crashes out on the open road where there aren’t really any pedestrians.

Another difference is that in the UK you are far more likely to have a pedestrian crossing on a main road. In Spain – certainly in Madrid – there are huge numbers of crossings in lesser roads and even backstreets where most cars are not moving fast enough to kill you. So even if there are collisions involving pedestrians they should not be fatal.

Just a minor bump…

I know as much from experience (in the UK). I was once knocked over by a car slowly turning a corner. It was going fast enough to lift me onto the bonnet. I did a Starsky and Hutch style bonnet roll then landed on the road. Both the initial impact and the fall onto the road hurt; but nothing serious.

Getting figures on the number of non-fatal incidents is another story and proved impossible (in the hour or so I allotted to the task)….There is some data on non-fatal traffic incidents in general but not specific to pedestrian crossings. Probably such cases are less likely to be recorded or not even reported. Mine was not for example.

Surely the non-fatal figures will be much higher in Spain? If anyone has the time to find such data please let me know. Otherwise it’s a big slice of humble pie for me.

Forget the law, just use common sense…

In Spain (and probably in most countries) the law is on the side of the pedestrian, i.e. they have right of way. Many in Spain take the right of way thing too literally. The just step out onto a zebra often without even looking.

But think about it. Why would you step out onto a road expecting the car driver of an oncoming vehicle to stop just because the law says they should. Wouldn’t you think it better to wait and make sure they have actually seen you? That they have actually stopped first? Of course some do just that; but many, many do not.

And besides what good is that rule of law if you are six feet under nailed inside a wooden box?

It’s beyond crazy. It is incredible that there are not far more accidents – fatal ones. Are the Spanish just lucky or are the figures being buried (excuse the phrasing, no pun intended)? Who knows? Not me for sure.

Back in the day…

So on to my advice for my son. I will be teaching him to cross the road safely whichever country   he is in. Wait until you are sure the oncoming traffic has actually stopped before putting a foot on the road. Always! Not unlike the advice we were given. Not only by our parents but also by the authorities.

When I was a kid the TV used to show the Tufty the squirrel adverts – well they called them public information films actually. See these all the Tufty the squirrel short films here:

Poor Willie Weasel eh? I am willing to bet that he went on to a career as a stuntman.

A year or so later came the Green Cross Code man played by the actor David Prowse. He went on to play Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies. It just so happened that his voice was not at all scary enough so James Earl Ray voiced the evil lord Vader. Judge for yourselves by watching the videos.

Hilarious eh? Notice how few cars there are. That was the mid-70s.  Incredibly in those days we used to play ball games in the road and take turns watching out for traffic. A cry of “Bus!” or “Car!” stopped play, but only for a few seconds.

Those days are long gone of course. Roads everywhere are full of traffic now and crossing the road is more of a danger. Yet somehow such public safety films no longer appear on the TV. Why is that? Is it because most people do not let their kids out unsupervised anymore?

Too Many Bars and a Child’s Imagination.

One of the good things about Spain is the way the Spanish allow kids to enter bars at any age – provided they are accompanied by an adult. People in the UK think that this is why the kids on the continent grow up with more respect for alcohol. Well, I certainly can’t speak for all kids of both nationalities but the Spanish do seem to be a little more civilised when it comes to alcohol. That’s not to say there isn’t an increasing problem with teenagers drinking too much, but I digress…

For a three year old Dani has seen his fair share of drinking establishment interiors.

Pizza Anti-Squash thingies…

Now this is not a trick question. I genuinely would like to know. What do they call those little white plastic tripods that they put on top of pizzas to stop the boxes being squashed? There must be a name for them. Anyone know?

Dani does not know what they are called either but when we gave him a couple that came with a delivered pizza he immediately knew what to do with them. He obviously remembers the many bars he has been in with his old dad.

He used them just like the high tables you see in bars. The classic toddler’s creative small world play. He now has the perfect place for his Playmobil people to kick back and socialise. When they are not driving around in their vehicles of course. His very own Playmobil bar. How cute!

I wonder if the designers at Playmobil have thought about marketing a set based around a bar? They have sets for pretty much every other scenario. I might just write to them with the suggestion.

20170218_104749-1  20170218_105037-120170218_104823Dogs allowed in this bar it seems. theatre

Following a drink the Playmobil folk enjoyed a theatre performance with some of the toy animals. A very sociable and cultured bunch.

In Search of Snow

This weekend we took Dani into the mountains to find some snow to play in. Without checking the weather we knew there was snow in the ski areas. However, it was already mid Saturday morning so we also realised that those places would be full and probably and there would be traffic jams. So we decided instead to head for Miraflores de la Sierra. An easy enough little town to reach, some 1100m up with high peaks – and possibly some snow – further up the mountains. If there was no snow we could at least spend time in the town and grab something to eat there.

When we neared Miraflores it was quite clear that there was no snow worth mentioning. So we parked in the town and had a little walk in the vicinity. Miraflores is a fair-sized mountain town with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants. There are also several hotels catering for all budgets.

The Slaughter…

The town has just started a 24 day feria celebrating the gastronomic delights of the pig. This was the Matanza (literally slaughter) festival. The time of year when local pig farmers slaughter their animals so they can be turned into mouth-watering dishes. Not a good time for a huge Peppa Pig fan to be in town. Fortunately Dani is still at that age when he is oblivious to such things.

Black Pudding (Morcilla), Chorizo, Sausage, trotters and various cuts of meat will all be made from the slaughtered animals. Nothing will go to waste. Naturally all the local restaurants join in by adding their pig based speciality dishes to the menus. The Matanza will attract plenty of visitors from the nearby capital over the next 3 weeks.

Strolling around…

During our walk around the town we saw the church with the ubiquitous storks nesting at the top of the bell tower. As well as being a Peppa  Pig fan Dani has a thing for bell-towers (campanarios) and the bells themselves (campanas). Funny little boy. He was almost reduced to tears when we discovered that the church was closed and he could not enter the bell-tower. We kept the tears at bay by taking him to see the statue in a nearby square known as a perrero. It celebrates driving out the French in 1808.

After eating we headed back for Madrid. Dani fell asleep just after leaving the town. No doubt dreaming of the bell-tower that got away. Miraflores is just one of many towns in the sierras to the north of Madrid. Most reachable within an hour.

fuente      sno-in-distance

Only a dusting of snow on the nearby peaks.

statue stork-nest street


The Town Hall and a bar with a great name.


Looking for Diego…

No more than 5 days after publishing my Dinner List post I found myself wondering if I would ever get to meet any of the people on it. Then out of the blue an amazing turn of events. One of them came to me!

Let’s not get carried away…

Well not quite. I am getting a little carried away but this really is a bizarre coincidence. Apparently, tonight in Madrid there is an important football game (yes, I realise that those words are a contradiction in terms to many of you). Real Madrid are playing Napoli in the Champions League first knockout stage and it just so happens that Napoli was where Diego Maradona played his football at the height of his fame – and notoriety. I saw on the news last night that Maradona was in town for the football and I found out that he was staying in the same hotel as the Napoli team.

This morning I already had plans to visit a shop on that side of the city so I thought I would pop over to the Hotel Mirasierra on the off chance that I might bump into Maradona. I wasn’t the only one. When I arrived the media circus was assembling. Wherever Maradona goes the media also go. Imagine being that famous. He hasn’t played a competitive game of football for some 20 years and still everyone wants to see him. Wants a piece of him even.

The Anonymous Napoli team…

There were Napoli fans there and a fair number of Italian media but the majority were there for one man. The word on the street was that the Napoli team may leave the hotel to go for dinner about 1pm and Maradona may also go with them. I only had a small amount of change for the parking meter so unfortunately I was not going to hang around to find out. Pathetic I know, but just as well, as there was absolutely no sign of the legend that is Diego.

I did get to see the Napoli team bus return from their morning training session. I didn’t recognise any of them. Nor would I if they were introduced to me. I don’t know any of them and I don’t care. For me (and I dare say many others) there is only one player in that club’s history.

Stalking? Clearly not for me…

I did try to get into the hotel but the security stopped me. My excuses were feeble. “I want to use the café” I said, or something equally pathetic. When I tried a second time they threatened me with the police who bizarrely turned up only minutes later escorting the Napoli team bus. I may have had better luck if I had turned up with some luggage and said that I wanted to check-in. I am clearly not very good at this celebrity stalking lark.

Ironically Maradona was (and still is) one of four people on my dinner list that I genuinely think I have a chance of meeting. Just prior to hearing of his arrival in Madrid I was taking to Dani’s mother about “El Diego” being on my Dinner List, recalling how we once ate in a restaurant in the Boca district of Buenos Aires. Maradona was apparently a regular diner. The many photos of him eating in the place suggested this was true. I always intend to return to that restaurant if I am ever in Argentina again. Maybe it is easier to meet such people in their own backyards.

A little disappointing perhaps. However, it just goes to show how close you can be to making the seemingly impossible, possible. OK, even if I hd got inside the hotel it would never have been dinner and a long chat about the world. At best it may have been a coffee in the same bar and a quick hello – even a selfie (hate that word too). But with a little luck…next time…who knows?

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Valentine’s Day

Yesterday was Saint Valentine’s day and Dani brought home a Valentine’s card from school. The card was in English so it would have been the idea of Dani’s English teacher Miss Jenny – who is actually American.

It said quite simply, at the top: “Happy Valentine’s Day!” followed by a big picture of a heart.

The heart had been very badly crayoned in and mostly in brown so I am guessing it must have been coloured by Dani.

At the bottom of the card were the words “From: Claudia”

“To:” then a small photo of Dani.

“Claudia? Who is Claudia?” I asked him. He reached for the class photo we have on the table and pointed her out.

“What happened to Clara?” I asked.

“She was ill” he replied.

Phew! What a relief. I thought for a brief moment that his little heart would need mending. Imagine if Clara had “given” her Valentine’s card to someone else? World ending event.

The classes are evenly balanced. Half boys, half girls. I suppose the teachers just randomly matched boy-girl for the cards.

“Who did you give your card to Dani?” I asked.

“Nobody” he replied instantly. He is still not saying. He probably neither knows nor cares because for sure it is not Clara.

Then a thought occurred to me. Do they celebrate Saint Valentine’s day any more in mainstream schools in the UK? Would matching boys with girls for the cards be frowned upon? The state schools in the UK and (no doubt) here in Spain probably just don’t bother with the day at all and avoid such difficult decisions.

Should I call the gender police? Nah.

I am sure there are some in the UK who might do just that. But definitely not in Dani’s school.

Bucket List? Not Exactly.

Old Dad Fears

When I started this Blog I spoke about my hopes and fears for Dani. It’s a natural concern because of the age difference. When Dani reaches double figures I will be almost 60.

While I try not to dwell on things like the age difference too much, naturally things like that are always in the back of my mind. It’s what being an old dad is all about.

Bucket List

One thing I have never really had was a Bucket List. I have heard that term a lot in recent weeks oddly enough. It is something many people start to talk about when they reach a certain age (possibly 50). For most people a bucket list is made up mainly of places they want to see in the world. Maybe because I have already done a lot of travelling and seen most of the places I wanted to. There are a few places I still want to see – even some in the UK and Spain – but for me a bucket list of a few places to see is not very high on my list of priorities.

The Dinner List

However, I do have something similar. My equivalent is all about meeting people. I call it the Dinner List. It is just that. A list of people who I would like to sit and talk to over dinner. Not like a dinner date – although some on my list are women – but just a good old fashioned chin-wag over some fine cuisine.

Any average bucket list would probably contain the names of famous people that the list owner would like to meet. But mine is not just about meeting them. I am not an autograph hunter nor am I interested in taking a selfie with so called celebrities. It is about sitting down for dinner and talking. Having a meaningful conversation. About anything and everything.

So to the List…

Having such a list makes me more aware of the age difference between myself and Dani because of the simple but obvious fact that people have been dropping off my list. Nelson Mandela, Muhammed Ali, Fidel Castro and Lauren Bacall to name a few. The List changes from time to time as I realise that there are others I want to add or move up the ranking. Here are the main names on my list (at the moment and in no particular order):

George Foreman (ex-boxer – I could make a separate list of boxers alone)
Morgan Freeman (actor and ironically, star of the Bucket List movie)
Anthony Hopkins (actor)
Robert Mugabe (politician)
Steve Ovett (ex-athlete)
Katie Hopkins (journalist)
Diego Maradona (ex-footballer)
Her Majesty the Queen (of course)

How do you go about arranging to have dinner with these people? I will start with emails but won’t hold my breath. Actually I think four on that list are quite possible. Can you guess which ones?

Probably a more poignant question is this one:
How long before I am arrested for being a suspected stalker? Haha…