See How They Grow

Having returned to the world of work I have missed picking Dani up from school. This past week – let’s just say, being in between jobs right now – I have been able to.

When the door flies open at 5pm the first kids to emerge are the youngest. One school year below Dani. Now; my boy is one of the youngest in his school year so there was always the chance he was going to look one of the youngest and smallest in his class/year. In fact, he is neither, but he still seems so small to me.

Best way to gauge their growth…

The thing that caught me by surprise this week was just how small and young the first-year children are. Some of the poor things look like babies in uniforms.

It is easy to think that Dani is hardly growing until you see how he must have looked only a year ago. The best way to see how they grow is comparing them to the following school year not just their own classmates.

Still making me proud…

I was told that he had stopped saying goodbye to all the teachers and assistants when they feed the kids down the steps in a relay pattern to the safety of the waiting parents/grandparents. Fortunately, that was a one-off (maybe a two-off – if there is such a thing).

I am glad to report that he still makes a determined point of bidding them all goodbye and he is still the only one to do it. It makes me smile and immensely proud. In fact, he even made a point of telling the last assistant at the bottom of the steps that I was his papi (dad). As if  he thought they may have forgotten me.

He even made a point of making me look at one of his classmates while he told him ‘es mi padre’ (this is my dad). It seems that Dani misses me picking him up from school as much if not more than I do.

Catalan Separatists Roll the Dice

More Catalan Farce than Greek Tragedy

The central government blinked first in the game of poker. But nobody expected the exciting sprint finish. OK, maybe we did.

With the finish line in sight and the Spanish government about to vote in the Senate the Catalan separatists sprint through on the inside to take it by a nose. No, this was not a photo-finish in a horserace. Although it might have been.

Finally. Just before the central government were to announce the implementation of Article 155 the Catalans unsuspended what they had suspended. The insuspendable (is that even a word?) that was suspended has now been unsuspended. Does that make sense? OK. I am trying to make light of it all. I can’t help myself because it is such nonsense. Almost laughable. Sadly, the reality – out there on the streets – hardly makes any sense either.

Party Now – Pay Later

The Catalan separatists took to the streets and partied like it was 1999 last night. Today many will wake up with sore heads.

They had better get used to that feeling because soon heads could be cracked hard in bitter conflicts on those same streets. The government has been backed into a corner now and has to act to defend the country’s constitution. There is no other option but to arrest certain characters in this drama. The Catalan parliament has already been dissolved so the next few days will see some serious manoeuvres by both sides. Things will get violent – at least in the short term. But once that kind of thing starts how do you stop it? It can soon become a runaway train.

Why did the Catalan separatists officially declare independence just before the central government vote on Article 155? What do they think this will achieve? Do they think that any intervention now by the Spanish authorities will somehow be seen by the international community as an invasion of a separate state? Will they expect UN peace-keeping forces to come in and save the day when (for it now when not if) the violence starts? I am serious. I have been around long enough to know that these politicians may actually believe such rubbish.

Lies, damn lies and statistics….

Some interesting statistics: I got these figures from the BBC’s website incidentally, but I am sure other sources could verify them. If you disagree and have some other source please; do let me know.

Catalonia has 16% of the population and accounts for 19% of the country’s GDP. In other words their GDP contribution is not much more than their population percentage – which would seem about right (I suppose). A prosperous enough area but perhaps not quite the economic powerhouse many have been led to believe. The way the region has been talked about one might expect figures like 15% of the population and 30% of the GDP. But that is not the real picture. And most of that 19% contribution to the national GDP is made up of foreign companies and investment.

Worse than that the region is supposedly some €52 billion in debt to the central government, having been bailed out following over-spending and the financial crash in 2008. Should an honest new state first look at paying off such debts? What do you think?

It’s coming….

With violent clashes just around the corner here are a few thoughts…

Spokespersons are advocating non-violence but the reality will prove to be quite different. There is talk of forming a human chain around the Catalan parliament building to prevent the arrest of their leader Mr. Puigdemont. If anyone thinks that will end without violence from both sides then they are sadly deluding themselves.

Already, intimidation has been on display in colleges and the youth always has a tendency to be hot headed on issues they believe in passionately. Will those opposed to independence remain silent and be cowed by intimidation?

Meanwhile Mr. Puigdemont has seen fit to send his family out of the country. I hope people bear this in mind when the violence begins.

What’s that old saying? One rule for them, one for us…

The Clock is Ticking in Catalonia

And so it continues…

Things are heating up. Some of the Catalan separatists say the government is backing them into a corner and they will have no choice but to declare independence. Well why haven’t they done so already? Why didn’t they do so when they first signed the paper?

It seems the game of cat and mouse is being stretched out to the point where the central government have no option but to invoke (the now famous) Article 155 and reinstate the law.

Meanwhile the more bolshie types are starting to get agitated. There are calls for widespread disruption. For this we can read – for now at least – student protests and strikes by council workers.

Who benefits from such actions? Nobody.

Workers and students…

It is a widely accepted that Catalonia is one of the most prosperous regions in Spain. A large part of that wealth comes from the investment of private companies – and many of those are foreign.

It is very unlikely that those working for such companies will take part in any strike. They could be sacked. Probably quite rightly so. And so, the disruption will be caused by those employed either directly or indirectly by the Catalan regional government. Meanwhile the private company employees continue to (largely) pay for it all. This, sadly, is the way these things tend to work out.

Slightly more worrying is the student actions. Already as part of a planned “strike action” the independence supporters have been blocking entry to colleges and disrupting classes for those who want to continue as normal. Who knew students even did anything that could justify a “strike”?

Joking aside however it is clear that some form of intimidation is already occurring and when that happens violence usually follows.

Predictable? Dangerous?

Kids (for that is what they are) who were not even born when the constitution was signed are wielding placards and banners equating the present government and present monarch with Franco. Yes; they are playing the ‘Franco card’ and it is both sad and pathetic in equal measure. It may be a last throw of the dice to garner some sort of international support. Any foreigner who knows little of the current situation (and possibly less of the history) will certainly jump to some conclusion when confronted with the faces of Prime Minister Rajoy, King Felipe and Franco on the same poster.  It was both predictable and dangerous.

So what now?

Bizarrely with all the pleading for more “dialogue” (from all sides) the Catalan president Mr. Puigdemont is not taking up the offer to address the county’s senate and state his case for independence.

Tomorrow’s senate vote on implementing Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution could prove a catalyst for the end of this crisis. Or maybe the beginning of the end. Right now it is on a knife-edge and nobody knows what will happen for sure.

Plastic Fantastic?

What should we tell our kids about plastics and recycling? It has been in the news a lot recently. Quite rightly. Discarded plastics – now referred to as ‘single use plastic’ – are causing all kinds of problems for the sea-life. Worse than that they are getting into the food chain. There are two things. One is the use and even the need for single use plastics (more on this at a later date). The other is recycling plastics. But is recycling the answer?

Governments are finally getting around to the subject of return deposits on containers and bottles. Not just of plastic it seems. That may seem like a novel idea to the kids but it is in fact a very old one. Although nothing has actually been done yet.

”Do not re-use”

Why do plastic bottled drinks come with a ‘do not re-use’ warning? I am sure they also used to have a “sell by” date. There used to be an old joke about mineral water filtering through the mountain rock over thousands of years and then being bottled with a ‘sell by’ date.

Keeping the stale air and germs off our food is one thing but what about all the unknown side effects of using plastics? What about the (more or less) known side effects. I say “known” because otherwise why do they put those use-by dates on bottles of water. And why do they say on the same bottles “do not re-use”? I am certainly no supporter of the “green” agenda but these are questions you wonder about more when you have a small child growing up in an increasingly polluted environment.

The Tupperware Generation *

We are indeed the Tupperware generation. I can still remember the Tupperware parties back in the early 70s. Since then many companies have produced plastic sealable containers specially made to keep our food fresh.

Back in the days of my grandparents everything was stored in glass jars and bottles. Even when I was very young this was the case. Then along came plastics. Nowadays all our food and drink is either packaged, stored, wrapped or bottled in some form of plastic. Even our milk now comes almost exclusively in either plastic bottles or plastic-coated cartons. We should all find that scary.

Why Can’t We Reuse?

It makes me wonder why we are told not to reuse plastic bottles and yet we always use the same old tupperware (or similar brand) containers to store our food or packed lunches. What is so different about the types of plastics used?

The official answer for not reusing the plastic bottles – the one they want to tell you – is that tiny cracks that may appear on the inside surface can harbour bacteria and even washing will not necessarily remove all of it. Such bacteria can make you ill, much like food poisoning. This may well be true but surely the inside of our old Tupperware containers must be scratched to hell! How many of you still use them for your packed lunches or to store food? Pretty much everyone I would think.

Better than Recycling

Glass is about as natural is it gets. It is can be reused many times if care is taken and the raw materials to make it are in such abundance. Also, the glass industry is going all out to tell us just how recyclable glass is. The energy saving benefits etc… That is fine for old bottles that have lost their shine but what about new bottles?

Forget recycling bottles – both glass and plastic! Let’s go back to re-using glass bottles. Back when I was a kid we used to collect any empty bottles we found lying around and take them to the nearest off-licence (liquor store) where they would give us a few pennies for each bottle. It was a great way to make a bit of pocket money and one reason why there was far less broken glass on the streets and pavements in those days.

It makes perfect sense yet none of the politicians pushing the green, recycling agenda ever make the case for it. Until now. Maybe….

Now why is that? Makes you think eh?

*NOTE: I realise that Tupperware is a registered name but I am using the word very loosely to describe any plastic container. As Tupperware were the first ones to make such household containers the name is now synonymous with all plastic storage vessels. Incidentally how many of you knew that it was the creation of a man called Earl Tupper?

Cruella – Life Immitating Art

Time for a change I thought. The Catalan saga rolls on and I am sure I will feel the need to report more on that one. But for now, a change of mood…

Classic Disney Animation

One of Dani’s favourite classic Disney cartoons is 101 Dalmatians. I liked it myself when I was a kid but recently having seen it far too many times I am growing a little tired of it. Then one day recently I became very intrigued by it. Out of the blue. I suddenly found myself wondering where I had seen that Cruella de Vil woman. Seriously. Then it hit me. She is exact image of Cherie Blair the wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. An animated doppelganger no less.

Now it is fair to say that Cherie has been the butt of many a joke and has been called her fair share of names in the media. In today’s digital social media age you could call it trolling. With names such as The Blair Witch, the Wicked Witch etc… but never, as far as I am aware, has anyone spotted the likeness to Cruella. Look at the following pictures and judge for yourselves.

                   

          

    

Don’t try to tell me you can’t see the likeness. Come on! A little red lipstick and a little bleach one side of her hair and voilá! It is as if she was made for the part.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is a film being made for release next year (2018) called ‘Cruella’: A live-action feature film following the evil exploits of Ms. de Vil, and the lead role has been given to actress Emma Stone. I am sure the make-up department will do a sterling job on miss Stone but surely the part should go to Mrs. Blair?

Law and Lawlessness in Catalonia

What is going on?

It looks like the Catalan separatists have lost their nerve. Appearing to declare independence and then immediately “suspending” it. Maybe they have made a deliberate move to force the government’s hand.

Despite being seen on TV signing the UDI document the leading Catalan party never put it through the correct channels in their own regional parliament. They have a majority so getting it passed should be a formality but even so… For a party shouting about the Catalans’ democratic right to vote in a referendum it looks decidedly undemocratic.

One would assume that such a document is not even valid (‘legal’ does not seem to be the right word just yet) as it has not been presented to their own parliament. The central government have given them until Monday 16th October to say clearly whether or not they are declaring independence. But based on what I have heard the obvious answer has to be a resounding “No”.

So, was it all bluff for the cameras? It appears that way. Far from looking like a game of high stakes poker this is in danger of turning into a farce.

Who Will Blink First?

Mr Puigdemont’s decision to suspend the declaration of independence is both tactical and understandable. There is no clear scenario for secession and no obvious legal path offered by Spanish constitution. Right near the beginning of the 1978 constitution, Section 2 proclaims Spain’s “indissoluble unity”. Section (Article) 155 considers the consequences of breaking section 2. (see below)

If UDI goes ahead then Señor Puigdemont could well be considered guilty of sedition, the punishment for which in Spain is 8 to 10 years of prison.

He knows all this. He is either actively encouraging the government to make a move or simply trying to push the boundaries as much as possible. He may become a martyr (albeit behind bars) or the central government looks like it is beaten. Either way it seems, he wins.

Meanwhile there are stories that some businesses and banks in Catalonia oppose independence. Some are already moving head offices out of the region. Independence could be a recipe for economic disruption.

A little History…

In 1934, a man called Lluís Companys led a Catalan nationalist uprising, which was not supported by all Catalan representatives, against the republican government. He proclaimed the Catalan State (Estat Català) which led to him being arrested and sentenced to thirty years in prison. His actions were seen as an attempted Coup d’État as Companys had acted against the newly democratically elected centre-right republican government.

After colluding with the Soviet Union during the civil war and ending up on the losing side he fled to France but was arrested there when the German forces occupied France. He was sent back to Spain where he was jailed, humiliated and shot.

Apart from the ending it is easy to see parallels with what is happening now. The words “coup d’etat” (golpe de estado in Spanish) have already been used in reference to Mr. Puigdemont’s actions and inciteful stance.

He is safe in the knowledge that in this day and age the chances of being shot are zero. However, jail-time is a distinct possibility and some kind of martyrdom awaits.

It is too easy to make reference to Franco and his regime at times like this. The Catalans do not miss a chance to do so. However, señor Companys was arrested for his attempted coup d’etat by a ‘democratically elected republic’. Ironically, that is exactly what the Catalan separatists would like to declare themselves.

The Law is the Law…

Here’s the thing…There are going to be a lot of Catalans who are not going to like this section but it has to be stated. In 1978 all sides from all the region in Spain signed up to the Spanish constitution.

I am an engineer so unlike a scientist who can deal in the theoretical I am used to dealing in reality. Either something works or it fails. In other words I like to deal in the facts only. And the facts are as follows:

It is quite clear that Mr. Puigdemont is breaking the law and is guilty of sedition – as are all who signed that UDI paper.

That may come as a shock to pro-independence Catalans. It may even anger them. But consider this. It is a law of the land and quite clear and unambiguous. Should someone not be prosecuted by the law if they rob your house at gunpoint? Should someone not be found guilty of breaking the law if they drive a van up onto a pavement and run over and kill innocent pedestrians? The latter example actually happened in Barcelona recently of course.

The point being this: Either there is a list of laws to be followed or there is not. You cannot pick and choose just because you like the idea of being an independent state.

Therefore Mr. Puigdemont and indeed all those that signed that paper calling for UDI should be prosecuted under the law of sedition. Unlike the UK sedition is a still against the law in Spain.

I am genuinely trying not to take sides here but can any lawyer please explain how these people can stay out of jail?

I cannot see it.

Spanish Constitution 1978

Section 2

The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all.

Section 155

  1. If a Self-governing Community does not fulfil the obligations imposed upon it by the Constitution or other laws, or acts in a way that is seriously prejudicial to the general interest of Spain, the Government, after having lodged a complaint with the President of the Self-governing Community and failed to receive satisfaction therefore, may, following approval granted by the overall majority of the Senate, take all measures necessary to compel the Community to meet said obligations, or to protect the abovementioned general interest.
  2. With a view to implementing the measures provided for in the foregoing paragraph, the Government may issue instructions to all the authorities of the Self-governing Communities.

 

The Curious Case of Catalonia

As promised here is my take on the Catalan saga.

Even the spelling is contentious. Cataluña; the Spanish spelling – the “ñ” character being unique to the Spanish alphabet. The Catalan alternative spelling is Catalunya. For simplicity I will use the name Catalonia (the anglicised version, as in Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’).

I am just trying to play devil’s advocate here but I do think that there are two sides to the story. Sides we may not even be hearing as the media and politicians play out their usual games.

My Catalonia…

Firstly, let me say that it was while living and working in Catalonia that I fell in love with Spain. It is the reason I made the effort to learn Spanish (well, sort of) and ultimately, I suppose, why my son is Spanish. That was only a couple of years before the new millennium. Even at that time it was easy to see that the recent and ongoing events were inevitable.

Possibly my favourite place in all of Spain is in Catalonia. So, I have no axe to grind with Catalonia as a place or the people I have met there. Unfortunately, it is always the people you do not meet who can complicate things . The politicians.

Economics and UDI

Much of the wealth and employment in the region is due to foreign companies who have chosen Catalonia to base their Spanish (European) operations. It is easy to see why. The area is one of the more attractive parts of Spain with its cities and beaches and mountains (which include the ski area favoured by the Spanish monarchs.) Some of those companies while enjoying the benefits of the Catalan location also clearly need easy access to the rest of Spain. They want to be able to attract the best talent form across the whole country and it is possibly this that is making them nervous – if the media are to be believed. On the other hand, can the media be trusted in such cases?

In 2015 there was a “referendum” that the central government allowed although they called for non-separatists to boycott it. And they did, in their droves. Just over 40% of voters turned out and only 80 % of those voted for independence. That means less than one third of those eligible to vote actually wanted independence. So why all the fuss now? And why do the nationalists want to go through such humiliation again? All that is unclear.

So now there is talk of Unilaterally Declared Independence (UDI). Wow! UDI would be an incredibly brave move. History has shown this to be the case.

Personally – and this is purely my opinion based on what I know from living and working in the region and what I have heard in the media this past few weeks – I believe it is the usual megalomaniacs who have power in the Catalan regional government. And sadly, they are playing to their audience.

Where are the EU?

To add to the circus the Catalans have asked the EU to get involved. Or have they? It is unclear to me and the EU appear to be uninterested; apart saying that Catalonia should be part of a multicultural Spain. It is not difficult to see why. Think about it…

Spain – having been mainly a net receiver – has always been a staunch EU supporter. It was the first country to vote on the Lisbon treaty and voted overwhelmingly in support it. No other country voted in favour of it – unless they were asked to vote again. In the case of the UK (and others) the people were never asked to vote on it. You would be right to think that the EU have no interest whatsoever in allowing or assisting in breaking up a fully pliable Spain.

When my son is old enough to read these things and understand them I wonder what the political landscape will look like in Spain, Europe and everywhere else?

UDI Put on Hold…

The weekend’s promised UDI never materialised. The Catalonia regional government have put off calls for UDI – for the moment at least. What a shame. I was quite looking forward to where it might lead – but that’s the mischievous boy still in me.

I watched the events unfold this weekend and there were two notable events. One was the march by Catalan nationalists who turned out in white as a gesture of peace (following the clashes with police the previous weekend). An interesting angle.

The second – and perhaps more telling event -was a large anti-independence (united Spain) march In Barcelona. It is easy to forget that anti-independent voters are still in the majority in Catalonia. They simply choose not to have their voice heard on the streets in the same way that the separatists choose to. At least not until this weekend. Both sides it seems are becoming increasingly more vocal and the situation is becoming completely polarised.

Confused…

I watched news of The anti-independence rally with interest, But then amongst the Spanish and Catalan flags I noticed a smattering of EU flags. It is almost as if they are were pro-Spain and pro-EU as part of the same argument.

But what about the Catalan nationalist’s? What is their view on EU membership? I am finding it hard to fathom. If anyone can tell me then please let me know.

If they really want to go it alone (so to speak) and have full independence then I cannot help but have some sympathy for their cause. I would have a sneaking admiration for them. If however their intention is to declare independence from the Spanish government in Madrid yet somehow seek to re-join (or stay in) the EU -as the Scots proposed -and be ruled from Brussels, then I only have one question for them:

What is your definition of independence?

One of Those Weeks

This week has been one of those unforgettable weeks in the news – despite many wishing they could actually forget.

There was the mass shooting in Las Vegas (a place I particularly like visiting) and the so called “illegal” referendum in Cataluña – something that being in Spain (and Cataluña is still in Spain) could have some impact on my son’s future. There was even mention of something that most people my age hadn’t heard for a very long time; UDI (Unilaterally Declared Independence). But more about this in a future post to follow soon…

There is a saying that a week is a long time in politics. Well it’s a very long time in a kid’s life. Meanwhile back in 3-year-old land…

When you’re ill, you’re ill…

Last week Dani vomited in school. I never got the full story as his mum forgot to ask. That chance disappeared in an instant of course as there is no way the lad will disclose any sensitive top secret school information.

All we know is that he never made it into one of the courses in the school canteen before boffing all over himself, mostly his trousers.

After school that day he and all his classmates were off to celebrate one of their friends’ birthdays. It was none other than his favourite girl – Clara M. Yes, the wonderful Clara was 4 years old last week. Ok: Possibly his 3rd favourite girl after his mum and his cousin Susana naturally. But that’s only because he spends so much time with those two. Now that school is back no doubt we will start to hear Clara’s name a lot more.

Anyway, I digress slightly. By the time his mum picked him up all the other kids were walking the short distance to the party location. When asked if he felt OK to go all he could say was “No. I want to go home”. Now it’s times like that when you truly know you are ill.

Fortunately, he made it to his swimming class the following day. As they say; “It was probably just a virus”.

Where is small Iron Man?

Speaking of viruses….

Small Iron Man has gone missing and he has been gone for a couple of weeks now. All hope is lost we think. He was part of a box set of (classic-toy-soldier-sized) superheroes, supervillains and accompanying book. I tried to help look for him and asked all the right questions.

“Where did you last see him”

“I don’t remember”

“Who is that one over there?” (pointing to a small figure close to disappearing under the sofa)

“Nick Fury”

“What’s Nick Fury doing there?”

“I don’t know.”

“Right; there’s Captain America, Loki, the Might Thor, Hulk…..Where’s Abomination?”

“I don’t know. I can’t find Abomination either”.

“Ahaa… Maybe the two of them were fighting and fell. Out of the window, maybe, eh?”

“I don’t know”.

Neither have been found. I have been asked to buy a “big” Iron Man – that’s about 12 inches or 30 centimetres by the way.

I seem to recall that those Iron Man suits can be flown independently. Maybe this one took off on its own due to some computer virus infecting the suit’s homing programme. Marvel Malware perhaps? You might think that such hi-tech armour came with a full set of anti-virus software.

It begs the question: Who is in charge of cyber security at Stark Enterprises anyway?