Pride and Parenting

All parents are proud of their kids. Every parent thinks their kid is the best, the cutest, the funniest. We all like to think our children are that bit more special – unique even – in some way (or many ways). Of course we know that most of the time it is not really true but it doesn’t hurt to think that way.

Well here is a genuine tale of parental pride and a child’s uniqueness. What’s more it happens most days.

It goes like this…

One of the best times of the day for me is picking Dani up from school. It’s a happy time for the kids. It’s not just my little lad; it’s the joy on the faces of all the little ones as they are released from the building and spot their mums, dads or grandparents waiting for them.

It is a chaotic time. The door sits atop eight steps. Not a particularly steep set of stairs but for a gang of excited 3, 4 and 5 year olds trying to escape it can get pretty scary. When the door bursts open at 5pm the kids are first ushered out by three of the “ladies in white” (aka assistants). They then form a chain to pass the kids one by one down the steps to the awaiting parents. Usually there are also two or three teachers at the top of stairs acting as crowd control and passing the kids down from the top step. The first link in the chain effectively. As I am sure you can imagine it is often manic.

Time for a Lovely Gesture…

Naturally all the kids are looking for their parents or grandparents and the last thing on their minds is saying anything to the teachers and helpers. Not so Dani. He stops at the top of the stairs scanning around until he sees me. Then makes his way down saying his goodbyes as he is passed down the chain. He makes a determined point of saying “Adios” to each one of them and even adds their names: Adios Julieta. Adios Maria etc…He refuses to budge until they acknowledge him and reply back “Adios Dani”.

He is the only one that bothers to do this. The only one. Not even the kids a year or two older do it. I have observed for some time now and he really is the only one who does this.

I think it is so sweet. It always makes me smile. It also makes the teachers and helpers smile. They still get taken aback slightly when he does it. Maybe it makes them feel appreciated but more probably because none of the other kids do it.  I definitely feel very proud of him when he puts that broad smile on my face.

Why so unique?

I am not sure why he does it though. It is not as if he has been taught specifically to do that. Maybe it’s just a natural reaction from a naturally friendly and chatty little boy. It is just very odd that none of the other kids do it. Surely Dani cannot be the only naturally friendly child in a group of over 100? So why only him?

I am not complaining nor am I concerned. I am however genuinely puzzled why he should be the only one. Is he really that unique? Well, yes! Every other parent seems to think so for their little ones, so why not?

Have your kids ever been the only one to do something like this? If so, why do you think that is? I would love to know.

Crazy Animal Creations

The other day while Dani was playing with some of his animal toys I saw him putting finger puppets over the head of a Playmobil giraffe.

He had two finger puppets; a frog and a pig. He covered both of his Playmobil (Noah’s ark) giraffes. I thought they looked great. The creative mind of a child. Who else but a child would cross animals to make their own hybrid creatures in this way?

Well actually….

It made me think of an old story by H.G. Wells called the “Island of Dr. Moreau.” The book has been made into a film on more than one occasion. I can recall going to the cinema to see the movie starring But Lancaster and Michael York back in 1977. Like all good stories it has since been remade – as in 1996 starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Back in the 70s the cinemas used to show a double bill. There would be the main feature plus a support film (B-movie). I can even remember the B-movie that was showing. It was called Clones (made in 1973). Another moral dilemma that was often discussed at that time – some 20 years before Dolly the sheep.

Dolly – The Result of Animal Experiments

The book…

The novel is about one Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat and left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, The doctor creates human like creatures from animals by performing various surgical procedures. It’s a tale with a number of disturbing issues including pain, suffering and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and humans interfering with nature. All in a day’s work for some no doubt.

What a great science fiction writer H.G. Wells was. That book wasn’t even written last century. It was the end of the century before that; way back in 1896!

I must start collecting some of his books for Dani to read when he is old enough.

Dani’s Beastly Creations

Dani’s ideas for hybrid beasts were quite clever because the last letter and first letter of the two animals coincides. So, we have two new species; a Frogiraffe and a Pigiraffe. He thought it was funny anyway.

The Frogiraffe and Pigiraffe – the results of Dani’s experiments

Wonder Woman – There Can Be Only One

With all this talk about male superheroes lately I think it is only fair to bring some kind of balance to the subject. This morning while having breakfast Dani asked me if we could watch Wonder Woman on my computer. We had seen a few short clips in the recent past while searching for Batman and other superheroes so he knew the character.

The Dilemma…

I could have said: “Well the storylines are a bit weak in those 70s TV shows”. That would have been an understatement.

Or, I could have said: ”You know what? The action scenes are a little bit unrealistic” – which of course they were but I didn’t want to disappoint the lad.

Alternatively, I could have said: “Well, she is more for girls” – which would have been an out and out lie! She was definitely and primarily for dads.

Instead I just said “Well. OK then. If you really want to watch Wonder Woman…” I then did a quick search on Youtube for Wonder Woman. Not forgetting to add the “TV show” bit so as not to get confused with the modern WW films. In other words, we wanted to watch the real Wonder Woman. The one and only Lynda Carter.

Does my bum look big in this?

As expected there were plenty to choose from but I picked a 7-minute montage of so called “best bits”. It included several swimsuit scenes and enough slow motion jogging scenes to keep any old dad interested. It was more Baywatch than superheroes. But still I soldiered on for Dani’s sake. He seemed to be enjoying it.

“I like the part where she turns and changes into Wonder Woman” he said.

“Funnily enough I do too” I replied.

Interestingly those blue hot-pants she wore seemed to accentuate her already curvy shape. It begs the question that became famous some 10 or 15 years later thanks to the Fast Show: “Does my bum look big in this?”. Well yes actually Wonder Woman, it does (a bit). But don’t worry. It’s really not that bad either.

There are so many superheroes to watch and Dani likes them all. It can all get more than a little confusing. Fortunately, there is something simple about this 70s show that makes it so easy to watch.

In Case You Didn’t Know….

Lynda Carter played Wonder Woman in the TV series from 1975 to 1979. She was a former Miss USA and this role brought her international fame and fortune – quite rightly so in my opinion. I am sure there will be other old dads out there who agree.

As usual I did a little research on the subject and was surprised to discover that there was a spin-off character in a few episodes of the series called Wonder Girl (aka Wonder Woman’s little sister, Drusilla) in which Debra Winger made her acting breakthrough. I certainly don’t recall that character. The producers wanted her to appear in more shows but she declined fearing that it might hurt her budding career and that she may be stereotyped in that role. I suppose that is the difference between a good looking ex-Miss USA and a rather more ordinary looking aspiring actress. Lynda Carter knew that the show has forever cast her as Wonder Woman and has admitted as much in interviews. She has said many times that she does not mind. It has given her the chance to further her singer-songwriter career. She actually started off singing in a band years before the beauty contests and she still tours with several shows planned for 2017.

The real Wonder Woman

 

Father’s Day – In Spain

Last year I wrote a little piece about Father’s Day in Spain (read it again here – Día del Padre). How time flies. Father’s day arrived again at the weekend.

This year Dani got his dad a collection of Iron Man comics in the form of a little book. Excellent – and thoughtful eh? We can read the stories together. ‘Wow. It doesn’t get much better than that’ I told him. Actually kids, it really doesn’t get much better than reading Marvel comics. One of life’s great pleasures. Genuine escapism.

He also made me a fridge magnet in school. Exactly what I needed. At least that is what I told him. Like most kids his age he genuinely loves fridge magnets. Why do kids of that age have such a fascination for them? I have to admit I have no idea what are they for?

Two Great Father’s Day Presents

Carnival Time – Again!

Yesterday was carnival time at school. OK, it was a little later this year. Normally the day is celebrated at the start of Lent. This year the school decided to do it on the 16th of March because today is a holiday. I have no idea why, but in the Madrid autonomous region the 17th March – which happens to be Saint Patrick’s day – is a bank holiday for schools.

Super Heroes all the way…

For the past two years Dani has been dressed as Superman and Clark Kent (allegedly one and the same person not that you would ever know with such a great disguise.) This year, continuing the super hero theme, it could only be Iron Man.

Sure enough the rest of the crew were also there; Batman, Spiderman, Captain America. Even a Batgirl. I felt weak and powerless in the presence of such heroes; yet strangely very safe. Definitely one of those days where you want to be a fly on the school wall.

Iron Man meets Batman – In The Playground

A bit like Toy Story….

It really is a great age to be dressing up and playing as superheroes. My own memories of such times are extremely vague. Hardly helped by the onset of some 50 years. I wonder if Dani will remember this day or if it will become just a blur of excitement?

With so many heroes in so many shows it must be difficult to remember them all. Despite the hi-tech films such as Ironman Dani still loves his other heroes like Thomas the tank engine just as much. That is why I love having a son this age. It reminds me of Toy Story where the young boy Andy plays with his new hi-tech Buzz Lightyear but also plays with the baby toys like Slinky Dog and Mr. Potato Head. Dani is at that stage now and I hope it lasts for a few more years to come.

I am Iron Man – The Great Marvel Awakening

I am Iron Man

Great news. Dani is now officially into the Marvel comics superheroes. Also, but obviously to a lesser extent, the DC comics characters like Batman and Superman. I say ‘obviously’ because it is probably true to say that most men prefer Marvel. I certainly know some who prefer Wonder Woman – and she is DC comics – but that’s a slightly different topic.

So how do you get “officially” into the Marvel comics? It just happens suddenly and without warning but when it does it becomes all consuming. Dani and some of the other boys in his class are now always playing superheroes. One is always Spiderman, another always Batman. One little lad is Captain America. Also some other boy makes the odd appearance as the incredible Hulk. This is what I am told.

Dani is Iron Man! He takes great delight in telling me while imitating some of the actions…”I am Iron Man”.

This is a proud time in any dad’s life. I can now walk into a shop and buy Marvel comics again with my head held high.

Old School TV Superheroes

I used to collect them when I was younger. Who didn’t? Like most teenager boys I was still reading them up until I was about 15. Back in those days when I had my Spiderman Comics Weekly delivered with the newspaper the best we could hope for was the Spiderman cartoons on TV. Several years later came the Hulk played by Lou Ferrigno (a real-life nemesis of Arnold Schwarzenegger). At that time I would have been about 14 years old and those Hulk TV shows seemed just about OK to me. Looking back, and of course comparing to today’s Marvel productions, they now seem very poor.

During the late 70s there were a couple of sad attempts at making Spiderman movies. These were at best pathetic. Spidey looked like some drunken fool who, having stumbled across a fancy dress shop on New Year’s Eve, decided to hire the suit and try to make his friends laugh by jumping off the wall in the pub carpark. Attempts to make Marvel comic characters come to life on the big screen were almost non-existent for two decades.

The New Age…

That did not mean that there was no planning behind the scenes. In all that seemingly lost time technological advances in computer generated graphics were rising faster than the Hulk’s blood pressure.

We had to wait until 2000 and Marvel comics hit the screens in a big way with X-Men. A realistic Spiderman movie followed in 2002. There was no turning back now. Technology now allowed all the comic books to come to life. All of those crazy action scenes in other worldly settings could now be transformed on the big screen even better than in any of the old cartoons. The audiences lapped it up. One after another the comic book characters came to life. Even sequels. And more sequels… It has almost gotten out of hand and I personally think they need to slow down. No chance of that happening though. This is a money-making machine and it shows no signs of slowing.

Back to Iron Man…

Meanwhile despite the plethora of action heroes Iron Man remains one of my favourites. He was in fact one of the earliest Marvel creations. I am glad Dani likes him. It gives me the chance to watch the movies with him as well as reading the comics. Who knows he may well decide he likes the AC/DC tracks in the first two movies. Oh, and it also gives me the chance to introduce him to Black Sabbath.

Best Toy Ever – For Toddlers of a Certain Age

What is the best toy ever? Lego? Meccano? Wooden Blocks? No. None of the above. I guarantee that if your toddler were given the choice between any of those famous toys that they would make a bee-line for this set of cheap tat…

Amazingly kids of a certain age prefer these to any other “toy”

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I give you a set of plastic coasters! Vintage early 1980s. Made from tough non-flexible plastic. The kind of “gift” you might have picked up after getting a full house in a seaside bingo hall when you were a kid. Trust me. All the kids love these coasters and they prefer them to any other so called toy. Is it the way they stack (and unstack)? Is it the loud noise they make when you drop them? It is difficult to say but whatever the fascination there seems to be something unique about this set of coasters. Because between the ages of being able to walk and talk this is the one ‘gift’ that the toddler would prefer over the box that it comes in. Seriously. It is that good.

Here’s exactly what they would think:

“What’s this box? Hmm…no.”
“Wait a minute. What’s this inside?
“A tough plastic set of stackable coasters? Yeeeees!!! Now we are talking. Awesome!”

Well tested…

I am sure there are plenty of similar sets available in the various pound shops and discount bargain stores. This particular set of fine coasters was a Christmas present given to my mum by an ex-girlfriend of mine way back in the early 80s. At least that is the closest my mum can come to remembering. Well done mum. I certainly would never have remembered that.

This set of coasters has been played with by so many kids who have passed through my mum’s house. The toy test has been well proven over the years. From my many younger cousins and nephews right through to more recent times; the kids of my younger cousins and nephews. Two generations of kids have loved these coasters.

Still doing their original job…

They have also fulfilled their original purpose of protecting the wooden coffee tables from a hot cup of tea. They have provided protection from many a hot brew vessel including at least one 100% original “I Shot J.R.” mug.

How many sets of coasters have that claim to fame?

 

Yes! We Have No Bananas.

The other day I set off on foot to pick Dani up from school. No sooner had I left our street when I realised that I had forgotten to go and buy bananas. When we get back from school Dani has his afternoon fruit snack (merienda in Spanish) and bananas feature highly on the list of likes. We were out of bananas (plátanos).

No problem I thought. There will be a shop en route where I can buy some bananas.

At this point I must explain that the school is about 3.5km away (that’s 2 miles in old money). I like to walk there – as I can go at my own relatively fast pace – but we take the bus back. That is 2 miles taking the direct route. Mostly along main roads. If I bought bananas on the way there I would not have to drag Dani shopping when we got off the bus. Now how many shops selling bananas would you expect on a two mile walk across part of a capital city? At least a few right?

Local shops…

Well only a few blocks away there are two shops selling all sorts of general groceries and provisions including bread and vegetables. Bananas? No. The first one I went into was run by a Spanish chap. “Tienes plátanos?” (Do you have bananas?) I asked. “No. Plátanos, no.” came the reply. OK. Two doors down, the second shop.

The lady behind the counter appeared Chinese although with so much make-up on it was a little difficult to tell. “Hola. Tienes plátanos?”. She looked puzzled.

Now here is the point where I could go off at a tangent and rant about the merits of my Spanish pronunciation. But I won’t. Plátanos is a simple word and very difficult (I would say virtually impossible) to mispronounce. So, I tried again. “Tienes plátanos?”. She looked even more confused.

Things Start to go Downhill…

I then did something I would laugh at others for doing. I went into “Johnny Foreigner speak”. You know the one. Where you think that if you say something louder and slower with greater emphasis on each syllable then the other person has to understand. There is no way that they cannot.

Plá – ta – nos” I half shouted.

Now she looked completely baffled.

I should have cut my losses there and then and left, but I didn’t. For some crazy reason I decided to try a different approach and did something very, very stupid. I started miming peeling a banana. Saying the words slowly as I did so, in English as well as Spanish. “Plá – ta – no?”. “Ba – na – na?” That classic peeling back the skin from four sides and pretending to take a bite. I really did it!

To my surprise however the lady seemed to understand. The look of confusion replaced by a look of hope. She turned slightly, looking above her head and pointed to the bottles of whisky, gin and vodka. Maybe she thought I was drunk and needed a op-up. Ah well…

Time to leave. I had to get out. Would I even be able to find the door after that episode? I did. It was right behind me. Off I shot down the road faster than normal.

Anything you like. As long as it’s not bananas…

Then it dawned on me. I couldn’t think of another shop that might sell bananas between there and the school. Not one. I thought to myself; there are all kinds of other things I could buy on the walk to school. There was a laminate/wooden flooring showroom, packaging materials and children’s bedroom furniture. I could even buy a motorbike along that road.

I could have my pet examined by a vet (if I had one; pet that is), my teeth inspected by dentists and even stop off and do a quick session in a gym. Failing all that I could get blind drunk by having just one beer in each of the bars and restaurants along that route (there are so many). But could I buy bananas? This was crazy. Nuts! – there were a few places I could have bought them too.

I was starting to panic – well kind of. Racking my brain. Where? Where oh where? This was not happening. I continued walking.

bananas

Bananas. Not as easy to find as you may think.

Saved…

Having basically given up and only a block from the school, I saw a small supermarket under an apartment block. The block was set back off the main road but this place was hiding in plain sight. In all the times that I had passed this way I had never noticed it. That of course is typical and very easily done. I went straight in and there they were. Ahhh…Bananas.

The moral of this story? If at first you don’t succeed… Or; learn to mime properly… You decide.

In case you were wondering…
“Yes! We Have No Bananas” is a novelty song written in 1922 for a Broadway show. It has been covered many times since. I used to hear it a lot when I was around Dani’s age. The most popular version of its origin is that it was written about a local grocer – a Greek man – who’s English was not quite fluent. He would answer every question in the positive, followed by the real answer. Hence when asked if there were any bananas he would answer “Yes” followed by “We have no bananas”. It became a common catchphrase as far back as the 2nd world war when banana imports were banned for five years. Shop keepers would show great war time spirit – and typically British “gallows humour” – by putting up signs saying “Yes We have no bananas”

Yet Another Kids’ TV Show Review

Another light-hearted look at toddler TV with the Old Dad…

The Octonauts

I was surprised to discover that this series has been running since 2010. It certainly slipped under our radar until recently. From what I have read this show has been extremely well received among toddlers and older kids alike, winning several awards.

While the animation style is clearly aimed at toddlers the concepts are really out there and possibly beyond such young minds. It is as if it was devised by those two great geniuses Gene Rodenberry – the man who brought us Star Trek – and Gerry Anderson, of Thunderbirds fame (amongst many others). The Octonauts has already been described as a combination of Star Trek meets Thunderbirds.

Based on American books this series was made in the UK and Ireland for the BBC. It follows the adventures of the Octonauts – basically humanized animals – who explore the undersea world from their base called the Octopod. From the base they go on oceanic adventures using a fantastic series of sub-sea vehicles (very Gerry Anderson and possibly more Stingray than Thunderbirds in that sense). Boldly going where no other humanized animals have gone before perhaps?

To an old dad like myself the mere concept of shows like Star Trek and Thunderbirds are unrivalled. Without these there would never have been any Star Wars. Now here we have a toddler’s TV show which comes close. The array of characters is fantastic. Here are the eight Octonauts:

Captain Barnacles (polar bear), Lieutenant Kwazii (cat with a cockney accent), Peso the medic (penguin), Professor Inkling  the founder (octopus), Dr. Shellington the marine biologist (sea otter), Tweak the engineer (Rabbit) and Dashi the IT expert (a dachshund dog). The eighth Octonaut is Tunip who is actually a Vegimal – see below.

Then there are the Vegimals. These creatures are half animal, half vegetable. They speak a nonsense gibberish language called vegimalese but the best part is their names. Check these out:

Tunip (half tuna half turnip, Vegimal leader and ship’s cook)
Barrot, half-bass, half-carrot
Grouber, half-grouper, half-tuber
Tominnow, half-tomato half-minnow
Codish, half-cod, half-radish.

This is inspired stuff. Awesome and, dare I say, FAB!?

Noddy, Toyland Detective.

Another series using the detective theme is the new Noddy show.

An old favourite recently brought back by the DreamWorks company. This is quite different from the world of Noddy written by Enid Blyton back in the 1950s. He still has a great little car and still has Bumpy the pet dog but gone are the golliwogs (as I am sure we all know). Yet somehow Big Ears is still there. I seem to recall that he was also considered too un-PC. Am I imagining that? Anyway to all you people out there with big ears I say this: Hahaa!

The two friends no longer seem to share the same bed though. Strange don’t you think? considering that sort of thing is now actually quite acceptable and certainly seems to qualify as “PC”.

Instead of living in a fluffy little toy-town this new Noddy inhabits something resembling a technological theme park. I suppose all the new computerised toys need to be on display as well as the old ones. Each episode Noddy has to solve some “crime” or other. It is hardly Columbo but not such a bad show. But it is not that good either. It falls somewhere in between for me. Dani is not so keen on it. At the moment he only watches it for a short while then loses interest. “Noddy is a tit” he said the other day when it started. No idea where he got that from.

Typical Weekend Diary of a Toddler

Another Busy Weekend

The life of a toddler usually means a full diary. Especially at weekends. This last weekend was no exception.

Saturday Morning…

I remain unconvinced that Dani is going to the right school. So we went to visit another school mainly because it had an open day. Also from what I had seen on their website it seemed interesting. It was well organised but this “open day” seemed to be aimed more at older kids. It was a chance to have a good look around and check out the facilities but not to see the classes in action as you can during a school day. For me that is the most important thing at Dani’s age. The science labs etc. can wait for now. Still, Dani had lots of fun playing with robots and building with Lego. There was also a magician show and bouncy castles. And what self-respecting toddler doesn’t love a bouncy castle?. I may have to revisit and make a personal appointment on a school day.

Saturday Afternoon…

In the afternoon we went to a two year old’s birthday party. Catherine is the daughter of a friend of mine, Colin. He met Catherine’s mother Evelyn while on a stag do over in Madrid several years ago when I was working here on some old project. I took Colin to the disco where they met. The rest, as they say, is history. They live in England but Catherine (and her mum) has family in Madrid so they all come over from time to time.

Despite only having a short siesta Dani managed to stay awake till very late. We left after 11pm and he managed to stay awake all the way home by talking to himself in the back of the car like some old drunk. Hilarious to listen to. He practically recited a full episode of Ben & Holly.

Speaking of drunk; myself and Colin had a few beers. Maybe a few too many? I am just not used to that sort of drinking any more. But it was great to catch up.

Sunday Morning…

On Sunday morning we met with Dani’s cousin Susana again and visited a park known to have a large number of almond trees. At this time of year those trees are in full pink and white blossom so it was very popular. Apart from the usual suspects like joggers, cyclists and dog walkers there were hundreds if not thousands of people simply there to see and photograph the trees. The park is called Quinta de los Molinos and used to be someone’s garden. It once belonged to the Count of Torre Arias, and in 1920 became part of the estate of one César Cort Boti; a famous engineer and architect in Madrid’s history. It was designated a historical park in 1997. We even managed to find a tree for the two cousins to sit in. After the park a quick aperitivo – which in my case was a couple of small beers – then off home to eat.

Sunday Afternoon…

In the afternoon there was another birthday party. Carlos, a classmate of Dani had his 4th birthday. I call him Carlos the giant. This kid is only 8 months older than Dani and while that may be quite significant at that age he is almost twice the size of my boy.

Sadly, Dani’s favourite classmate Clara M was a no-show! Dani didn’t seem to notice though as he was busy playing super-heroes in the padded cell with Carlos and buddies. He almost hadn’t realised at all until we were leaving. Whilst making our exit we briefly spoke to Clara’s friend Paula and that was when it hit him. He left the party place in tears. Fortunately, like most things at that age the tears didn’t last very long.

Thankfully it was almost time for bed. Dani was tired but his old dad was completely knackered.