A Great Day in Madrid with My Best Friend

This weekend I spent a great day in Madrid with my best friend. I had decided in advance to plan a busy day but it didn’t quite turn out as planned. Funny how that happens. It was busy, but there was no outdoor activity or anything resembling site seeing. 
Shopping?
The morning started off with a swim at a local indoor pool. Oddly enough we both decided that we needed some new clothes so I thought we should visit a shopping centre. That sounds more like something two girls would do on a weekend eh? But in the end we never bought anything apart from food. For some odd reason my friend decided he wanted to buy a particular Italian cheese. I thought it might be too hard but my friend insisted it was not a hard cheese. It’s not one I had tried before but it turned out to be delicious. Gran Biraghi; now one of my favourites.
As it was Mother’s Day in the UK this Sunday, we decided it was a good idea to look at buying Mother’s Day cards for our mothers. Not much luck however as Día de la Madre in Spain is not until May. Anyway, the shopping was done in the morning leaving the rest of the day free for more fun things.
Crazy Coffee 
The shopping centre had all the usual food and drink outlets. I decided to check inside the McDonalds where they now advertise the ‘McCafe’. A cup costs about €1.65. I am sure it tastes fine otherwise they would not get repeat custom, but I wasn’t having one. Right opposite was a Starbucks where the cheapest cup of coffee was €4.30. How on earth does that work? You might think it would be empty but no. It was very busy. What is wrong with people; willing to pay extortionate amounts for a coffee?
Even the McCafe is overpriced on this one. In Spain (even Madrid) you can get a good coffee for just over one Euro in any bar, cafeteria or restaurant. And there were plenty of those on offer close by. Crazy!
Films and games…
Checking out the cinema in the shopping centre there was not much of interest. However I let my friend choose and we returned after eating to watch a film. More on that later (maybe?)
We even spent some time in a games arcade. Not my favourite pastime. I did spend a little time in these places during the early eighties – about the time when Pacman and Donkey Kong were the new kids on the block. But my mate loves these gaming zones. So I played along.
Before too long it was time to eat again. Where had the day gone?
At the end of the day we were both completely knackered (exhausted). We both agreed it had been a great day. I was too tired to watch TV or even read a book. It was definitely time to sleep…
“Ok that’s it” I said. “I am so tired. I need to sleep”. 
“Goodnight” I said. “See you in the morning mate”.
Then my best friend replied; “Goodnight dad.”
And today….
What a little shit! You couldn’t make this stuff up.
I may see the funny side of this in a few days but right now…

The Joy of Travel (again)

I could probably file this one under Grumpy Old Dad. You decide…

At the moment I am working in Kent and travelling back to Madrid on Fridays. Returning to work Monday on the early morning red-eye flight.

Like most others on the early flights I try to get some sleep. I normally have a window seat so that obviously helps. Sometimes I manage to get some shut-eye, sometimes I just doze. Other times I find it difficult to sleep because of the passenger sat next to me. One such occasion the other day needs to be told…

The Importance of Being… Well; Important?

The middle seat was occupied by a young woman who managed to wake me up every time I was close to dreamland. No sooner had I settled down with my eyes closed than this woman took out a laptop PC and started typing. Every now and again, and almost always just as I was dropping off, her elbows would nudge into my side. When it first happened I naturally lifted my eye mask and opened my eyes to look what she was doing.

Was she working for MI5 and trying to intercept a Russian nuclear missile strike?

Was she checking the plane’s engines and ensuring they were going to make it to Gatwick?

Was she working on some chemical equation that would save us all from a new virus that was about to wipe out half the population? Genuine race against time stuff.

No. It was probably none of the above.

How important was this woman I wondered? Come to think of it how important can anyone be who has to fly with Easyjet?

It was clearly work related. Some spreadsheet or other. She was probably just on her way to a meeting in London. Even better than that; I am sure that the people she was going to see in her meeting were still tucked up in bed snoring. A few minutes of work on a plane was never going to make much of a difference was it? If you are not prepared for a meeting when you are on the first plane out – and should be trying to relax – then you are never going to be prepared.

Why on earth do people do things like this?

Maybe the real question is: Why do people like that stop people like me from sleeping?

Arrival

Before I knew it the crew were preparing the plane for landing. I had to wake up now anyway. We landed and the lane was parked. Then the usual semi-panic of everyone rushing out of their seats to grab their baggage/ things from the overhead storage bins.

When we were allowed to disembark this woman couldn’t get off quick enough. I have usually had enough by that point and like to get away quickly, but she was almost running. Then it happened. No sooner had she got onto the airport floor than she fell on it. Those high heeled boots are no good for rushing around girl! I was close behind her.

So, what did I do? I stepped over her of course.

OK. OK. I know what you’re thinking….

Not my finest moment I must admit. But this is a woman who needs to calm down. Maybe that was a wake-up call – pardon the pun. In any case the man behind me offered to help her up. I have to say at this point, that if it was an old lady or a woman with a small child I would have helped. If it had been probably anyone else on the flight I may have helped. But this woman had kept me awake all through the flight and for no apparent reason or gain.

Should I have helped her? What do you think?

It’s a big dilemma weighing me down.

Then again… Now I have typed it up I have forgotten all about it. I don’t do fools. By the time my son is old enough to read this post he will probably already know as much and see the funny side of this tale.

The Catalan Coincidence

When I wrote the previous post about the classic Catalan calçotada a few days ago I had no idea what was taking place in Madrid this weekend.

What a Coincidence!

There was a rally by Catalan independence movement in the capital. The capital of Spain that is. They wouldn’t really call it that. Not their capital at least. What a bizarre coincidence. Well I thought so.

Actually, there are all kinds of rallies in the capital. All the time. Most of them I have no idea about nor interest in. I did not see any news yesterday and I only knew about this Catalan rally when I tweeted the calçotada post. I was looking for hashtags. Yes, I really did just type that! I can hardly believe it myself. Anyway, I noticed the hashtag #CatalansMarchOnMadrid. It immediately caught my eye, so I had to look into it. It seems aggressive at first sight eh? But there were no reports of trouble. At least not so far.

It seems almost inconceivable doesn’t it? How could such a protest take place with so many people in Madrid opposed to the Catalan separatists. Or is that pro-Spanish unity? I guess it depends on how you view it. The rally, it is said, was organised by more than 60 civil society groups from all over Spain. Many of those will be left wing groups who actually support the Catalan separatists. At least in that they both equally oppose the government(s). What’s that old saying? ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’?

The Aim of the Rally…

I believe the main aim of the rally was to protest against the upcoming trial of Señor Oriol Junqueras (and several others). Mr. Junqueras is the highest-ranking pro-independence leader after his superior, Carles Puigdemont, fled the country. It will come as no surprise that Mr. Puigdemont was not spotted in yesterday’s rally. I have already written my thoughts on that one (See previous posts.)

The banner at the head of the march read “Self determination is a right not a crime”. Indeed; it is not a crime. But I am fairly sure that Mr. Junqueras is not going to trial for believing in self-determination. Or even striving for it. He is on trial because he broke the law. Simple as that.

Breaking the Law?

Allegedly he broke more than one law. The charges include sedition and the misuse of public funds (but there are others). It was those public funds which were used to organise the “illegal” referendum over a year ago. The one which led to scenes of violence seen across the world on TV. One could argue that those scenes created a false version of events in the eyes of those outside of Spain. On the one hand people are sick of politicians getting away with things while us common folk never escape breaking the law. On the other hand, there is a large amount of political idealism and some sympathy for the Catalans. If these people really did break the law(s) then justice must be seen to be done.

Things are never simple these days. Were they ever? Probably not. Whatever happens it will be a fine line for the Spanish government to walk.

Meanwhile, Oz beckons…

This weekend Dani’s mum has left for another business trip to Australia. Meanwhile, I have been getting in touch with some old (Australian) colleagues and an old friend who has lived there for many years. If the move goes ahead their advice will be highly valued.

There is still a lot of uncertainty so right now so any move down under still seems a long way off. More on that one is sure to follow…

Calçotada

If you have read all my posts about Catalonia then you may be of the impression that I am anti Catalan. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is only the fanatical Catalan separatists I do not like.

I spent a fantastic 2 years in that part of the world and came to know and love some of the local traditions and customs. One of these is the calçotada.

Dani’s favourite auntie books the Calçotada

It was the birthday of Dani’s “favourite auntie” Natalia and she had booked a table in a Catalan restaurant just around the corner from Real Madrid’s stadium.

It had been a long time since I had eaten calçots. What almost seems like a lifetime ago when I worked in Valls the Catalan town where the calçot was made famous.

A calçot (pronounced cal zot) is part of the onion family. If you have never seen one, I can best describe it as looking somewhere between a spring onion and a leek. They are traditionally flame grilled so that the outer layers burn while the inside stays soft, moist and almost sweet tasting.

March is typically the time of year for the “calçotada” – the name given to the festive meal where the calçot is the main dish.

The meal – which may vary slightly from place to place – traditionally consists of tomato (and garlic) on toast as a starter, meats including butifarra and morcilla, salt cod and then finally the calçots. Finally, some postres or other. By that time however I am usually too full to bother. This particular meal was served with a very nice Catalan red wine – of which I had my fair share.

Eating the things…

I recall from my time in Valls that there is an odd technique whereby you slide the burnt outer skin off the vegetable with 2 fingers. They even gave us plastic gloves for the task. In this particular establishment they suggested simply peeling the outer layer off which was in fact very easy. Then the calçot is dunked into the special salsa (apparently called “salvitxada”), but basically a “romesco” sauce. The only way to then get it in your mouth is to tilt your head right back and raise it high then finally lowering it in. A bit like hand feeding fish to dolphins. They even give you bibs to wear as it is easy to splash yourself with the sauce eating in this style.

It all sounds bizarre and not very appetising. But I can assure you that once you start these things are very “more-ish”. Some say it’s the sauce, but I could eat them on their own. (As I can with any onion)

A final thought…

As we sat just yards from the Santiago Bernabéu stadium eating a very Catalan meal I wondered…

What if the boot was on the other foot? What are the chances of a typical Madrileño restaurant surviving so close to the what can be described as one of the homes and symbols of Catalan spirit – the Camp Nou stadium? The home of Barcelona football club. I seriously doubt that such a restaurant would survive. Not only because of a lack of customers. Does anyone think that it would not be repeatedly vandalised as to render it totally uneconomical? Sadly I think we all know that this would happen. That is not to say however that everyone who saw such a place would be that way inclined. But there are more than enough of them for sure.

Incidentally – and in the interests of neutrality – the typical Madrid equivalent to the calçotada is cocido. Generally called Cocido Madrileño. It consists of… Well; maybe in another post.

Doctor Dani?

In a recent post I questioned the wisdom that we may impart to our kids about the wonderful world of work…

While I said that my boy was probably too young to be asking for careers advice, he did recently come up with something surprising on that very topic.

This is me.

This year each member of his class has been giving presentations on themselves. Simply called “This is me.” They make a poster and describe themselves, their families and what the like. Even what they might like to do when they leave school and enter the workplace. Recently it was Dani’s turn.

There is the bottom right hand corner of his poster he had drawn his own development. Growing into a doctor. I had no idea. He had never mentioned it. Although he does show a keen interest in the human body including the detailed bits like bones and muscles.

He could choose a worse career for sure. But it’s very early days still and I am sure his career wish-list will change more times than his pyjamas.

If he does become a doctor however I think it would be great for him. And not too bad for me either. He can look after and repair his old dad.

Kids’ Art…

Isn’t the artwork great at that age? Here’s another funny example. Why do young kids draw animals with smiling faces? I really do not know but I can clearly rememebr my youngest sibling – Dani’s auntie – doing the very same thing. I love it.

 

Dan and Stan in Madrid

Last weekend my sister came over with one of Dani’s two younger cousins. Before Roberto was born Stanley was the only one of the cousins younger than Dani. Stan is fast approaching his fourth birthday and this was his first trip on a plane with his new (first) passport.

 The weather was unseasonably warm which meant we were able to spend a lot of time outdoors. Stan’s mum wanted to go around the city centre. And Stan? Well: He neither knew nor cared. But there was bound to be plenty to see in the centre. So off we went.

Plaza del Sol

The Puerta del Sol – or simply “Sol”, as any Madrileño would say – was where we headed. The epicentre of the city and as usual it was crowded. There are usually some costumed entertainers trying to make some money by dressing up as famous characters and getting tips for posing for photographs. Not only with tourists. Some are quite good. Some are funny. Worth the money they make. You can usually tell these from a distance as they tend to be surrounded by people taking selfies or being photographed.

Child’s Play???

But wait. Hello! Who was this guy? Moving around the busy plaza with everyone giving him a wide berth. I wonder why?

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This freaking nut job was none other than Chucky, the demonic doll from the Child’s Play series of horror movies. Complete with a frickin knife !!

Does scaring the kids with a (fake) knife really make this crazy psycho money? Probably it’s the teenagers that go for that insane selfie with a possessed knife-wielding toy. ‘Each to their own’ as the saying goes…

Shades…

As it was so sunny my sister decided to buy the boys a new pair of sunglasses. Looking cool boys.

Looking cool in their new shades with their Nana – who is also looking cool.

After a fairly long walk around the centre we made it back home via the metro. Before we got there Stan was already asleep.

A Day at the Races

Sunday was the first day of the horse racing season so we headed for the Hipódromo de la Zarzuela – the race track just outside Madrid. From now until December 1st these events will take place once a week (usually a Sunday) – with a short break in August.

The kids were excited to be going to see the horses. But we were running late.

In fact we had missed at least half of the races by the time we were pulling off the motorway junction. Yet for some odd reason so was everyone else. It seemed that there were lots of others making it just in time for the last half of the races. That’s a peculiar thing in Spain that I still do not understand. In the UK people would never do that. They would get there early to ensure seeing all the races or not bother. In Spain people do not seem to mind turning up late. One day I may get it…

The main thing was that the kids enjoyed the event and even managed to get close to the action.

Now I know gambling is illegal for kids – and of course we did not allow it – but they did try to study the form in the paddock. It got them close to the horses. Neither of them picked a winner though but both had enjoyed the day out.

Two cousins carefully studying the horses before a race.

The races finished but we hung around a while. As did many others. Maybe that’s why so many turned up “late”? It was really just an afternoon outdoors with a couple of races beforehand. Ok, maybe I get it a little now…

Nah.

Telling your kids about the Working World

What should we tell our kids when they want to talk about their future career?

It’s not something I am expecting any time soon with my son, but I do have a wealth of advice on the (surprisingly) large number of crazy companies that are out there. But where to start?…

The Crazy World of Engineering Projects

Seriously. These jobs get crazier every time. I could write a book about the daft things and even more ridiculous people involved on all the work sites I have been on. The problem is that book would be bigger than the complete works of Shakespeare. Too big to pack for a little light holiday reading.

Take this latest one. No names will be used as I don’t fancy going to court. Not for this lot of idiots anyway. Not that I should have anything to fear. I think I would win. The evidence in my favour stacks up daily. But who needs the hassle?

Here’s where it started…

Several months ago, not long after I started on the project, I had the pleasure of sitting in a meeting about how the electrical installation would go down. I was expecting a lot of questions form the main contract company as I knew they had nowhere near enough information to install the system I was working on. But there was silence.

That’s when I knew it was not going to end well. But it got better when I asked about cable numbering. I suggested they start by allocating a block of numbers to each subcontract company and let them get on with the design for their own parts of the job. Quite normal practice. Or so I thought.

The impressively titled person in charge of the meeting jumped straight in with; “What if we run out of numbers?”

Yes, he actually said that. Worse than that he meant it. I was temporarily stunned. Like a rabbit caught the headlights of a car. I glanced at some of my colleagues as if to say, “Please tell me he never actually said that.” But they looked equally stunned.

Is Libel still a crime?

That’s a serious question. If it is then some of these so-called engineering companies would be in deep trouble if anyone of a legal persuasion read their websites. Take this lot for example. Among their many jumped up claims is that they bring over 70 years of experience to the table. In another page they say they have been providing their services for 80 years. It’s the numbers thing again. They can’t even decide how long they have been in the game. Did they spend the first 10 years just deciding on a company name or what? Maybe they didn’t gain any worthwhile ‘experience’ in their first decade.

Anyway, I wasn’t holding my breath waiting to find a ninety-year-old engineer who I could seek advice from. You will not be surprised to hear that I have yet to bump into any nonagenarians on this site.

How can anyone claim to have that many years of experience when they think they may run out of numbers? The mind boggles.

It’s not getting any better…

It gets harder with each year for people like me. Having been brought up in an age where things were done properly. Also, I have had the privilege of working with some bloody good engineers who I have been able to learn from. It is quite alarming that so many seemingly reputable companies do not actually know how to do a job properly.

I am (just about) old enough to remember when projects ran on time and on budget. In these days of PCs, internet and mobile phones they always run late and over budget. Always.

The businesses may be over 80 years old but the people in charge of running the project barely have any experience. And none of it doing the job properly. Sometimes they don’t even understand that numbers are infinite.

Where will it all end son? I wish I could tell you.