School Experience Days

Korea, Over and Out!

Last week I returned from Korea with the job up and running. At least from my side of things. Despite this I have become persona non grata with the company that employed me. My “crime”? Getting the job done ahead of schedule it seems. More on this later however…

One reason I wanted to get back to the UK is that I had (kind of) planned to spend the week in a local school. It was, dare I say it; educational.

Career Changer

I have been looking at the possibility of a complete career change and the chosen path could not be more different from what I have been used to for the past 30 odd years. Teaching.

I can still recall how certain topics of my ‘O’ Level Physics course had inspired me to go into engineering. Surely, I thought, I could inspire kids to follow a similar path after their schooling?

There are also selfish reasons of course – aren’t there always? If I become a teacher it means that I can have the same holidays as Dani. It means I could even try for a job in one of the so called “international schools” in Madrid which all teach through the medium of English. (Apparently, they prefer someone with a British teaching qualification – Post Graduate Certificate of Education or PGCE. That remains to be seen.)

The long path to Teaching begins here…

It is a complicated process and there are many hurdles to cross. For me the first one was completing the “school experience days”. You need to complete 10 days in school(s) observing – and when possible assisting – the science classes. Finding out if this is something you genuinely believe you can do. It is compulsory and the colleges will not allow you to apply for the one year teacher training course (PGCE) unless you have completed these experience days. The theory being (I guess) that if this is really not for you then after two or three such days you will probably know it. You will probably not bother completing the rest of the required days. On the other hand, if you still think it is the right career for you then you will happily complete the rest of your experience days and move on with your application.

This works both ways. First of all, it should tell a person who is honest with themselves whether or not this is something that they really want. It also means that the colleges are not wasting valuable time and resource (i.e. money) on a person who is not 100% sure they can or even want to do it.  After that first week of school I can tell you that I saw nothing to put me off. I still think I can do it and I still want to do it.

What’s in a Name?

I often hear it said how children today grow up or mature faster than when we were in school. How much more aware they are at an earlier age etc… Well; if ever there was an example of how kids today are definitely slower than when I was in school it is this little tale…

I soon discovered that within the school database each child is registered not only with their given name but also with their preferred name. This means they can be called whatever they want. Incredible right? Even more incredible is that the school (i.e. the teachers) are obliged to call them by that name. Seriously! They have to use that ‘preferred’ name.

There were only a few examples of this that I came across. A few preferring to be called what seemed more like a nickname or alternative (real?) name. There was also one gender identity related name change – something like a boy called Robert preferring to be known as Natasha (not the real names).

I will not name the school but it hardly matters. It is my understanding that this is now official policy in all state run schools in the UK. I could not believe how this system has not been totally abused by the kids. Where were these smart-arse street-wise kids? Where are the jokers? The class clowns? Have they really become so dumbed down?

Oh what fun WE would have had….

If you are of a certain age then this will be easy to understand. Cast your mind back to school. Imagine the headmaster announcing in morning assembly (the usual start to every day back then) that pupils can now be referred to by their chosen and preferred names.

Myself and everyone I hung out with would have looked at each other with eyes widening. Grins growing into huge smiles until we could barely stifle the laughter. And then, after assembly, the fun would really begin….

“Right. I am going to be Ozzy Osborne”
“I will be Floyd. Pink Floyd”
“OK. I will be Johnny Rotten.”

“I ‘m Batman and you can be Robin.”

“I can’t decide if I want to be Bruce Lee or Jimi Hendrix.”
“Steve is already gonna be Hendrix so you will have to be Bruce Lee.”

“You can be Cassius Clay. But if you want to change your name again later to something like Muhammad Ali then that’s fine. And there will be nothing to stop you doing that cos it’s already been done.”

“Excuse me Sir. I am Darth Vader and this is my friend Chewbacca.” (Laughter)

The possibilities are endless. The scope for schoolboy pranks enormous. A school kid’s dream. We would have got it immediately. And yet, right here, right now, they just don’t seem to be able to see it. It’s right there in front of their noses. An ideal opportunity to completely take the piss and they are not doing it. “Why?” you may ask. Are they really that well behaved now? Clearly this is not the case from some of the other things I heard last week.

No: I honestly believe it is because they are so used to being pandered to like this. It is all part of the ‘new normal’ for these kids. They have come to expect this sort of thing too easily and in so doing they now more or less ignore it. It is as if they have been so over indulged that it has killed part of their sense of fun. That mischievous gene – once present in most school kids – is on the verge of extinction. That is only my take on it; but whatever the reason, it isn’t good.

A Typical Day in Class?

“Ziggy Stardust! What are you doing?”
“Sir. Bob Marley and Tina Turner are throwing things at me.”

Then – and this has to be the best one – a blonde girl (probably Marilyn Monroe) enters class with a message from the Head.

“Sir. The Headmaster wants to see Spartacus.”

Then, right on cue…

“I’m Spartacus.”
“I’m Spartacus.”
“No. I’m Spartacus.”

And so on…

That little social experiment would not have lasted a single day.


First Proper Bike

The weekend before flying out to Korea we stayed at the house owned by Dani’s abuelos (grandparents). On the way we stopped at one of those large supermarket sports stores Decathlon to buy his first proper bike. Not long after arriving he was keen to get pedalling. We found a quiet area for him to try out his new mode of transport where the road was just like a small circuit. Perfect. He took to it immediately.

Candaleda is not very famous in Spain. In the UK most people will not have heard of it. Despite this there is one reason that some in the UK will know about the town.

British Connection…

Its biggest claim to fame in the UK is that one of the main roads leading in to the town is named after a former Prime Minister of Great Britain. A certain John Major. Yes there is street called Avenida de John Major!

At the time he was arguably the worst elected Prime Minister ever. He has since dropped to 4th worst ever due to the three subsequent PMs since his time in Government. How on earth did this come about you may be wondering?

Well it is because of a man called Tristan Garel-Jones. A close friend and former colleague of Major who owns a house near the town. Major made regular visits to the town and the mayor obviously thought this was great publicity for the relatively little known place. Amazingly in his (or her) wisdom the town council decided to name a street after the former PM.

Starman and another Major…

Lately Dani can be heard singing to himself. It happened the weekend in Candaleda.

“There’s a Starman waiting in the sky,
He’d like to come and meet us…bla bla bla… ”

Cleary he doesn’t know the words yet. Then a little later:

“Ground control to Major Tom.
Ground control to Major Tom.”

How many four year olds sing David Bowie I wonder? He did not get it from me although once I hear him singing such songs I naturally join in. Encouraging him and teaching him the lyrics. If I know them.

I think it will be a while still before I can introduce him to the likes of Hawkwind, Led Zeppelin ….


I am packing my bags to leave Korea. More anon…

Korean Unity?

And so back to Korea….

I flew back to the Korean peninsula at an incredibly historic time. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has become the first leader of his country to visit the south in over 65 years. Along with his wife Ri Sol Ju, North Korean leader Kim has been spending a lot of time with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his wife Kim Jung-sook (I am not making these names up. Really.). The two leaders have even been seen holding hands listening to some trashy K-pop music. Scenes almost unthinkable only a few months ago.

While the war between north and south was never officially declared over it seems that we may now be on the brink of that huge step. The North has even reset their clocks to line up with the South – who incidentally do not alter their clocks like we do in the UK/Spain. That means this time around I am only 8 hours ahead of the UK and 7 ahead of Spain.

Odd Coincidences…

On my first visit to Korea the President of the USA Donald Trump was in the country. Much sabre rattling followed with Trump and Kim trying to show who was the toughest. Well, all that seems to have been a charade now. Time will tell of course. Suffice to say that President Trump is not getting any credit from the main stream media (in the UK at least) for these historic events. Despite his firm stance, visible support of his allies in South Korea and Japan; plus of course his visit to China (almost immediately after he was elected). No surprises though. Heaven forbid the media suggest that he may have had a hand in any of this.

My second visit coincided with the winter Olympics in South Korea where the two countries put out a joint North/South team.

This visit I will be here with North Korea’s leader. Or at least just after; and who knows?….

And even more…

Since I arrived the powers that be have organised a meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Supposedly set for Singapore. An even bigger surprise was the release of U.S. prisoners form North Korea. Is this the first step to a unified Korea? If it is the end result will be a long way off.

The North Koreans have even synchronised their clocks with the South. Who knew they were ever an hour different? Possibly the North wanted to be in synch with their one ally in Beijing. It’s a little like Spain. Why is Spain an hour ahead of UK time. The Greenwich meridian passes through part of Spain and Portugal and the Canary Islands are on UK time. Admittedly that pat of Spain is Catalunya. Maybe the Catalans could do the opposite of North Korea and un-synch their clocks with the rest of Spain to follow Greenwich Mean Time. Now there’s a thought…

New Book

Another little coincidence: I bought a new book to read on the long journey and while over in the far east. It is “The Korean War” by Bruce Cumings. It is almost a forgotten war for us in the West due in no small part being over-shadowed by the war in Vietnam just over a decade later. I shall be reading it with one eye on the current news. And naturally there will be a quick review in a future post.

This is NOT Engineering…

I had only been here a few days when disaster struck. The sole of one of my site safety boots came off. It was raining heavily as well. How typical!

Fortunately I was able to make a quick repair using some blue tape I found on the ship. Hardly good engineering eh? Still, it did the job until I made it back to the support centre where I managed to acquire a set of partly worn boots that fitted perfectly. They are mine now.     

Back to Korea

UK and Madrid. In Limbo.

After a week of hanging around in the UK waiting for news of another imminent trip to Korea I decided to take the bull by the horns. I flew to Madrid so that I could spentd a few days with Dani while waiting for confirmation of the next work assignment.

As a small surprise I bought a small Lego set featuring D.C. Comics characters Nightwing and Batman’s nemesis The Joker.

“Right” I said. “You already have Batman so now you have The Joker. Plus, this Nightwing dude”

“Did you bring me anything else?” came the almost immediate response.

Once kids get a taste for you bringing so called surprise presents there is no end to it. Unfortunately, the cat is out of the bag. Pandora’s box has been opened. The dam has burst. (Anyone know any similarly appropriate sayings?)

As most people know there are hundreds if not thousands of Lego characters and a four-year-old can never have too many. The way they are churning out the superhero and Star Wars films that number is only going to grow. Exponentially. This is what happens when you expose them to something that you yourself like and show an interest in. But it is great fun.

Banana Splits…

Speaking of Great Fun…. We intended watching one of his favourite DVDs at the moment (Small Soldiers) but could not find the disc. Then I saw the Banana Splits complete season 1 DVD. I had bought it some time ago when he was too small to appreciate it. Not any more I am glad to say. He is just the right age to be captivated by that late 1960s show with cartoons and those four lunatics in animal suits. Older readers will know exactly what I mean. For everyone else please check it out on Youtube. Nuts!

More on the Banana Splits later. I feel an in depth report coming on….

More Tears…

I braced myself for more tears from my little boy. The one thing that will console me (if not him) is that I intend to make this my last trip so far away.

As it was he was not so bad this time. I am not sure that is such a good thing but it did make it slightly easier for me. Finally after a few days back on the East Asian peninsula I have time to write about it.

Before I left we spent a weekend in the small town of Candeleda about 200km from the centre of Madrid in the province of Ávila. Dani’s abuelo (Spanish granddad – my dad passed away before Dani was born) has a lovely little house there with a decent sized garden. I also bought him his new bike which he loves. More on that weekend to follow….

All Birthdays in Korea…

Just as I predicted in a previous post from Korea it is now certain that I will spend my own birthday there. Dani’s birthday was during my first trip. His mum’s during my second trip. Now my 54th birthday will slip by during a third trip to the far east ship-builders.

Bicycles. No Stabilisers Required – Ever!

About 10 months ago I wrote a post about buying Dani’s first bicycle. A huge landmark in any child’s life and equally emotional for the child’s dad I might add.

It really didn’t take long for him to get the hang of his “training bike” and much to my surprise he was zipping along fairly rapidly after only a few attempts. After only a few visits to the park he was confidently pushing himself up to a suitable speed and lifting his feet while maintaining balance. Even managing to steer around some slower kids on stabiliser supported bikes.

Fast forward to last weekend…

He has decided it was time for a proper bicycle. Pedals and all… And he has spotted the one that he wants.

To prove that he was ready he decided to showcase his cycling skills. Using his cousin Susana’s pink-ish bike he promptly demonstrated that he now has all the necessary skill and balance to ride a normal bicycle – see video.

Sceptical? Me?

Now as regular readers will be aware, as an old dad, I reserve the right to be sceptical of any new fangled ideas when it comes to raising kids. “It wasn’t like that when I was a lad” – well actually you are very unlikely to hear me say that phrase but you can surely put yourself in my shoes for a moment. This scepticism extends to children’s toys and even their bicycles.

Hardly a new idea I know. I believe the scoot-along, pedal-free training bikes have been around for some 20 years now. Still it was new to me because of course I had learnt to ride a bicycle the old fashioned way. Tricycle followed by bicycle with stabilisers. Then finally my dad removing the stabilisers and being on hand while I wobbled into some form of free cycling.

Dani managed to skip the stabilisers stage with the help of his training bike. Am I proud? Absolutely. Amazed? Yes. And not only by his rapid, and more or less self learning. It is also because my sceptical view of these pedal-less bikes has now been destroyed. And I am glad it has. Once I have bought him a new all bells, whistles and pedals bicycle I will be passing his balance-mastering,  training bike to his little cousin Stan. So hopefully he too can learn to ride  without needing stabilisers.

There is a bit of a down-side to this however. I feel as though Dani’s rapidly rising cycling career has deprived me of something every parent surely looks forward to. Holding on to the bicycle seat then releasing it while your son or daughter still thinks you are there holding them upright. Then; Hey Presto! They are riding!

The World Awaits…

There will be no stopping him now.

I can vividly remember how learning to ride a bike opened up a whole new world. First it was riding around the neighbourhood in an out of alleys and over man-made (or should that be child-made) ramps. Venturing further and faster as the size of bicycle increased with age.

Later when I had my first adult sized bicycle it meant freedom. Freedom to roam miles during those long summer holidays looking for fishing spots. Stretches of river or any farmland that had a pond that might contain fish. Mobility. Not forgetting a quick getaway if you didn’t have the farmer’s permission.

Oh, those halcyon days of mid-adolescence. Still a long way off for young Daniel. But for a child, being able to ride a bicycle is most definitely the gateway to some of life’s great adventures.

Now to spend some cash.

I have managed to find a great second hand bicycle in the UK for only £40. Forty quid! Bargain. I may need to spend a little more than that in Spain. He has seen one costing €100 and that seems reasonable… Watch this space.