Sink or Swim – Valuable Life Skills

With all the talk about education we all tend to think of it being related to schools. Academic qualifications. The “right” school. A “good” school. Etc… However, some of the most important things we learn have little or nothing to do with going to school.

Take swimming for example. Not only is swimming a valuable life skill it is a skill that could actually save your life. Surprisingly there are many people – both children and adults – who cannot swim. Here are some interesting stats.

Amazing figures…

Incredibly one in five children in the UK cannot swim. More worrying than that is the fact that between the ages of 10 and 16 that figure rises to one in three. One third! The age range is significant. It is the age group that makes up the highest percentage of drownings in the UK.

While swimming is on the national curriculum in the UK (at least for now) there are other places where it is not. Some surveys suggest that in the USA almost half of the population cannot swim to a basic standard (see below). Yet other surveys suggest that things are even worse among certain ethnic groups. Amazingly almost 70% of black children in the USA cannot swim. That may seem crazy when we are so used to seeing the likes of Michael Phelps and his team mates winning so many Olympic medals. The USA has always dominated the sport. But separating the sport from the life skill is important.

In general, the main reason that these kids cannot swim is because their parents do not swim. The cost of lessons puts most parents off so the number of non-swimming children will probably grow.

Meanwhile, in Spain…

I was unable to find similar statistics on Spain. I would expect that given the climate and number of outdoor swimming pools open during the summer months that the number of non-swimmers for Spain would be much lower. If you know of a source for this information please let me know via a comment and the post will be updated.

Dani is now having swimming lessons. Not because his parents can’t swim because we both swim well . The problem is he does not listen to us when we try to teach him and talks non-stop. He needs a teacher he is less likely to answer back. Even with someone he recognises only as his swimming teacher he still does not shut up. Part of the classes are spent reminding him that talking and swimming are not compatible.

After only two lessons he is showing huge signs of improvement. As life skills go I think it is money well spent.

The five core swimming skills in the USA- also known as “water competency,” – include jumping or stepping into water over one’s head, returning to the surface to tread water or float for one minute, circling around and identifying an exit, swimming 25 yards to that point and then exiting the water.

Devastating Earthquake in Mexico

The dust has settled and more than 200 are known to have died. That number will rise as many more are missing presumed trapped or worse.

The centre of Mexico has just suffered its worst earthquake since 1985. On the exact same date as that disaster 32 years ago when thousands lost their lives and countless buildings were completely flattened. It was less than 8 months before the football world cup was due to start in Mexico. Yet the Mexican people managed to recover, repair their capital and stage a fantastic football tournament in 1986.

As a consequence of that 1985 tragedy the building regulations were changed but more importantly they were enforced. Probably the reason that this latest quake has not destroyed so many buildings. Despite those efforts some buildings have collapsed and in particular one school is in the news headlines. Many perished when the classrooms came tumbling down. Moving TV pictures show brave citizens helping the emergency services. Gallantly attempting to free those that they know to be trapped beneath the rubble and mangled structure that used to be their classrooms.

My son has relatives in Mexico City, including both of his Godparents. Thankfully they are all fine.

Our thoughts are with all the Mexican people who are once again fighting the forces of nature.

The Ryanair Shambles and the Lack of Pilots

I am no fan of the low budget “no-frills” airline Ryanair. I am no fan of that side of the airline business in general but of course like all of you I have used them a lot. So, naturally I was very interested to hear how Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary would explain the shambolic events that led to the company cancelling over 2000 flights over a six-week period.

Ryanair’s boss and founder is not someone most people instantly like. I admire him as a business man – of that there is no doubt – but if you are like me then you will have enjoyed seeing him squirm during his recent press conference. The real question is; who’s head is going to roll? If O’Leary is to be believed (for once) then someone is ‘for the high jump’. It is inconceivable that the person(s) responsible for this chaos will survive the wrath of a such a ruthlessly operated business.

Business models and problems…

These days O’Leary is only a minor shareholder (apparently only 4%) but his PR and marketing stories are the stuff of legend. The tales of having to pay for using the toilets and standing up (seat-less flights) are two that spring to mind. Complete nonsense and totally fabricated for the benefit of the press but evidence that O’Leary is from the old school of business promotion where the motto is; “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. They are consistently good at digging their way out of such seeming disasters. Write them off at your peril. But maybe, just maybe, this time, Ryanair has overstepped the mark…

We are told that the problem was too many pilots needing holidays over the same (few months) period. Yet paradoxically in the same speech Mr. O’Leary assured us that Ryanair does have enough pilots. But could there be more to it? Is there something else they are not telling us and do they really have enough pilots?

I fly a lot more than most. I have had to fly regularly for quite some time due to work commitments and now family ties. I remember the first “no-frills” flights well and even took one of the earliest EasyJet flights from Luton to Barcelona way back in the day. Since then I have often marvelled at the exponential rise in the numbers of such flights. One burning question never went away: Where do they get all the pilots from?

Time for some research…

Traditionally flying was a minority occupation for a tiny amount of people. Way back in the day when TWA was the biggest airline in the world and Pan-Am had a skyscraper in New York City becoming an airline pilot was a job almost exclusively for ex-servicemen. Leave the US Airforce and fly passengers. Retire from the RAF and join British Airways. You know the sort of thing right?

In more recent “no frills” flying times the numbers in the RAF in particular have been dropping. We now infamously have a Navy with only one new aircraft carrier and no aircraft to land on it. Reports suggest that by the end of the decade the RAF could be left with only 127 combat aircraft. That would be the lowest since 1918. That would also mean that the RAF would then have its lowest number of pilots. Why would they need so many with so few aircraft?

While the no-frills flights numbers have shot up at an incredible rate, the traditional source of pilots has been (and still is) decreasing. The problem is there for all to see.

Lack of Pilots…

So; I ask again: Where the hell are all the pilots coming from? Companies like Ryanair are certainly not training them. It is not in their business model and never could be. The one thing that does seem to attract newly qualified pilots to Ryanair is the chance to get in lots of flying hours soon after qualifying. Then, I believe, they tend to move on after only a few years. So Mr. O’Leary may not be correct when he insists that they have plenty of pilots.

A friend of mine did everything he could to help his son through flight training. He and his family would have had to make great sacrifices but it has paid off. His son consistently came top of the class and now flies for EasyJet. Stories like that are few and far between however and it is normally only wealthy families who are able to fund such sky-high career choices for the children. While the rewards may be there when you finally make the grade the training is generally not free.

In the case of Ryanair the pilots are also coming from lots of other European countries – which makes sense considering the number of flights made to and from most of those countries. But do they really have enough?

If Michael O’Leary had been around in Geronimo’s time I am sure the old Apache chief would say something like “man with iron birds speak with forked tongue”.

Choice of airlines…

To use the airline industry’s own phrase “we appreciate that you do have a choice of airlines”; and I do. In my case Ryanair would almost always be the last choice. Personally, if I had to choose between a cheaper Ryanair flight and a slightly more expensive alternative I would always choose the alternative. The difference between Ryanair and EasyJet (arguably its main competitor) is definitely worth paying the extra for.

When I fly with my son we fly EasyJet. If it is too expensive – and don’t ask me to define that exactly – we pick a different date. Ryanair is always the last resort. But let’s not forget that Ryanair are not the only company to cause such chaos. British Airways (formerly known as “the world’s favourite airline”) had similar problems when a computer system failed spectacularly last spring. Bizarrely, British Airways are now a Spanish run airline. Work that one out….

Memories – Why Can’t We Remember?

Do We Learn to Forget?

It’s a serious question. Why can’t we remember much from our early years? Why do we forget?

My first memories are very vague but are probably from when I was three years old. I can remember some of my first day at school (as a five year old) but not in much detail. Slightly worrying is the fact that in between the earliest memories and school I do not remember much at all in any detail. That’s about two years’ worth of growing and learning – and then forgetting it all. Never mind worrying about getting Alzheimer’s: That loss of memories from our early years has already happened to us all!!

Try for yourself. When were your first memories? How old were you? How much detailed information can you recall?

It is hard to say how old I was when I can remember most of what I did in a given day. These days the same is true but that’s more to do with being at the opposite end of the age spectrum.

What will my son remember?

Recently, whenever Dani has done something new or different, and especially when he has enjoyed himself, I find myself saying the same thing. “It’s a shame he won’t remember this when he is older.”

Yet there are times when he comes out with things that really take me by surprise. He will mention something that happened over 6 months ago. It may be someone he has not seen or a place he has not been to for that time but he is remembering things he did before he was three. When will he forget these things? More to the point how? Do we learn to forget? Or does it just happen?

Time for some research….

Scientists believe the average earliest memories are from when a person is 3.5 years old. As usual with these things girls do better and tend to be able to remember further back.

Naturally there are parts of the brain that deal with memory encoding that do not develop until 24 and 36 months. For example by 24 months, the number of synapses in the prefrontal cortex has reached adult levels.

Another idea suggests that language development helps a child retain memories. If a child can describe an event at the time it occurred then they are generally more able to recall the same things later in life.

This may explain why Dani can recall things from when he was around 2.5 years old as he was a very early speaker. Only time will tell if he retains these memories.

Then there are the warped ideas of Sigmund Freud who tried to explain that we forget anything before we are 3 due to sexual repression. What a dick that man was! (pardon the pun).

Nature versus Nurture…

Apart from nature there is also nurture. Parental influence on a child’s memory is probably just as important. If a parent repeatedly reminds a child of what they have done they are more likely to repeat the same or similar stories later in life.

Ultimately, I think we will never know the real answer – if there even is one. We all develop at different rates and we are all different individuals. Watching the kids play at that early age is enough to confirm as much.

This Blog…

One of the main reasons for doing this Blog is so that Dani can read it when he is older. Hopefully it may jog some memories. At least some of it should give him something to laugh at and wonder what his old dad was thinking. He already does that.

Meeting the PJ Masks

After the excitement of returning to school Dani and his cousin Susana were in for a treat.

The PJ Masks were in town. Well, a shopping centre to be precise. A cynical method of getting kids to bring their parents shopping? A clever bit of marketing if you ask me. It certainly seemed to work. The place was very busy. After introducing the PJ Masks the screaming front woman wound the kids up before they were allowed to queue for the privilege of having their photograph taken with their heroes. But they didn’t mind one bit. We waited in line with is cousin Susana and her dad.

No Fan Myself…

For those of you whose kids have grown up and flown the nest (or not), or those who have grandchildren who are not yet fans of the PJ Masks; let me enlighten you on what you are missing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This old dad is of the firm opinion that PJ Masks are garbage. I wrote about it in a previous post and since then it has gone down still further in my estimation. That’s not the grumpy old git in me either. I quite like a lot of other kids’ TV shows and that includes some aimed at the very young audience. This PJ Masks doesn’t quite make the grade with me. But what do I know? Just ask any 3 or 4 year-old what they think…

Having got that off my chest I must say that Dani loves it and that is what really matters. He stood next to his favourite, Gekko, while Susana stood next to her preferred PJ Mask, Owlette – the girl in the gang. No gender stereotyping there then. Good. Catboy looked on like a spare part.

Will they remember?

While typing this blog post I had a thought. The kids probably won’t remember this event. It is very rare that we remember things from that young age. At least they will be able to see the photos and read the blog when they are old enough. While they remember it now – only days after it happened – they will somehow forget it all later. Why is that? An interesting topic for a future post…

Back to School – Another First.

Back to school day has arrived. The last working day (and school day) of the week has been reserved for Dani’s age group. Easing them in gently before the first full week starting Monday. Their first return to school after the long hot summer holidays. And in Spain they are long (and hot). Three months long!

The babies had their first day yesterday. It hardly seems a month since Dani started school but it is of course one full year. When people talk about time flying I never really equated the saying to supersonic jets let alone warp speed. Star Trek seems like reality. It feels is as if we have leapt forward in time a full year Where the f*** did it go?

Yet Another Landmark Event…

Last year was a genuine landmark. But so too is today. This is the first time that Dani and his classmates will have experienced the return to school thing. Trust me kids; it never gets any easier.

Surprisingly he didn’t want to go. Despite saying he was OK with it all the night before. We spent a bit of time trying to remember the names of his classmates. I never really knew all of them to be honest but I still tried. Dani also struggled to name them all until we pulled out last years’ class photograph. That jogged his memory and he seemed a little more at ease.

When we arrived he was a little shy but managed to say hello to the assistants who recognised him. Some of them were busy consoling the babies who were now second day veterans.

We were a little late. When we found his classroom most (if not all) of his classmates were already there – playing (as they do). At first, he wondered around not knowing what to do or who to approach. I think they had all forgotten each other and they all seemed to be in their own little worlds. Then one of the boys – don’t expect me to name him; I am useless – recognised Dani and they embraced and started chattering away… A lovely thing to see. The perfect opportunity to slip away unnoticed.


Contrary to some expectations the huge Carlos did not return to school sporting a full beard. One year though; in the not too distant future… (You may need to read the previous post to understand this.)

A Bullying Conundrum?

In two days’ time Dani goes back to school. Just one day this week in what is their first return after the long summer holidays. Easing them into it.

I was not expecting to have a conversation about bullying with Dani for some time yet. I mean, three and four year olds don’t really bully do they? Sadly, I may have to. I touched on this subject in my post about the final day of Dani’s first school year (read here)

The Signs…

I knew something was wrong when I picked him up on the final day of his first school year a few months ago. Carlos, the biggest boy in the class by far came out about a minute before Dani.

Supposedly big friends, Dani refused to acknowledge him when he shouted out grinning. When I asked what was wrong and what had happened I got no reply. Later that night being tucked up in bed Dani told his mum that Carlos had punched him. He had told the teacher but it happened again later.

In any school in any year some kids can be almost 12 months older than others. That is a lot at any school age but for Dani and his classmates it is a big difference. Carlos is only about 8 months older than Dani but twice his size. Really; he is massive for a kid that age. I can see why the other kids are afraid to stand up to him. He gets it from his father who is a huge bloke.

Is it bullying?

I honestly do not think he is a bully or even knows what it means to be a bully. He is just so much bigger than the other boys that when he says or does something the others invariably listen. When he plays rough the other kids are simply not big enough to push him back with anything like the same amount of force. He probably thinks that is just normal.

Is it genuine vindictive bullying? I doubt it. However, if it is not nipped in the bud it can become exactly that.

The school play their part for sure but as with everything in life you cannot rely on the authorities to resolve such problems.

 I have told Dani not to be afraid and just hit him back. The only way to beat bullies is to stand up to them. If he stands his ground then he will get respect and it is important not to let the other kids know he is afraid. It is not Dani’s style though. He will only lash out when he is very upset.

 By this time next week we will know whether it was a passing phase or whether there is a budding bully in our midst. I hope Dani can deal with it himself. Apparently one or two other boys have stopped playing with Carlos. Poor Carlos. He is probably oblivious to it all. I do hope so.

Otherwise it’s poor me! I wouldn’t want to have to confront Carlos’ dad. I would then know exactly how Dani feels craning his neck to look up at Carlos.