Elections and Homage

The weekend was one of those busy ones with plenty of things to write about. So, I will start where I left off in the last post. A quick review of George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’

Where do I start? It is hard to know. All I can really say is that it is a fantastic book that should be made compulsory reading in schools across the world. But then I do have a certain interest in the region and the subject.

Homage to Catalonia

Orwell went to Barcelona to join one of the mythical ‘International Brigades’, makeshift militia of idealistic young men who thought it was a good idea to go and fight a war in another country in the name of either socialism or anti-fascism or maybe pro-democracy. Take your pick. There were Marxist/Trotskyist, who considered themselves true workers socialists and consisted (among others) of various trade unions and the group Orwell joined. The communists had more than one faction and there were also the Anarchist groups. All supposedly fighting under the ‘Republican’ banner.

The Barcelona he describes when he arrives as some kind of workers/Marxist utopia. Then after a few months on the front line he returns injured to find things have changed. The various groups of ‘left-wing’  socialists, Trotskyist, Marxist, communists, anarchists, unions and government forces (believe me they are all there) are squabbling amongst themselves and fighting breaks out.

Orwell becomes disillusioned as he thought they all had a common enemy – Franco’s nationalist forces. But things get much worse. The militia he was a part of is rounded up and hunted down by the heavily communist influenced government (official) forces and police. In the end he is fortunate to survive and escape to France. While the idealist Marxists groups were fighting for revolution (in all its ‘glory’) the communists were really backing a more liberal left agenda.

End Results…

In the final chapters Orwell tries to understand if was right to rationalise all the different forces of the left. The thought being that the main aim should be to fight fascism and not each other. However, it is also clear that even had they beaten Franco’s side things would have got a lot worse shortly after.

Orwell manages to dissect a lot of what went on but was (and still is in some cases) incorrectly reported by the media outside of Spain. Most of the books I have read on the Spanish civil war tend to be Republican biased so Orwell’s first-hand account from the trenches (literally at times) of the Republican side is even more interesting as it tells some uncomfortable truths.

It is very interesting to read his initial excitement at the Marxist ‘paradise’ he finds on arrival. Very hard to equate the dullness of such a place to the vibrant tourist trap that is the Barcelona we have known for many decades. I cannot see how anyone would visit the place Orwell describes in in first chapter. Another interesting aspect is how some of the things he saw and wrote about inspired his later (and far more well-known) fictional works; Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” is one of his most famous lines and you can certainly see where this came from when you read ‘Homage to Catalonia’.

Elections…

This brings me nicely on to the Spanish elections on Sunday. I have to say there were a lot of people out and about. There usual are on Sundays especially if the weather is fine. This Sunday however places seemed to be very busy. It turns out that there had been an increase in voter turnout of 9.3%. Quite an increase.

In the end the (nominally) socialist PSOE won the most seats but not enough to form an outright majority. Basically this election that was forced by the opposition parties failed to make any change. As expected nothing changed in Catalonia so it will be interesting to see what the latest PSOE government does with that situation.

One notable difference is that on of the newer parties (Vox) made a breakthrough and won their first seats. Apart from that the congress is more or less the same as it was before the election. Such is political life these days eh?

Going to Vote…

Myself and Dani accompanied his mum when she went to vote. While I was in the school – internationally the building of choice for elections it seems – I picked up some leaflets for most of the parties I had never really heard about. The list is an interesting one as is normally the case.

Here are some of the more interesting examples:

Humanist – Part of the Humanist International movement (I think). It’s not that this lot are void of nice ideas. There are some. It’s just more like a fantasy of utopian ideals. Sadly, or naturally (depending on your views) there are more people who believe in unicorns than those who think such policies are workable.

Por un Mundo más Justo (a party ‘for a fairer world’) – No. Me neither. I guess it kind of speaks for itself (?)

Animalist Party against the mistreatment of Animals. (Partido Animalista Contra el Maltrato Animal; PACMA) Yes; the usual suspects. Once again, some nice ideas but this lot seem to focus almost exclusively on bull-fighting, which is not an issue that particularly bothers me. In fact, I should thank them for reminding me. I have been wanting to write a post about bull-fighting for some time. I wonder where they stand on Halal meat? These groups never seem to talk about that topic do they? Amazingly almost one third of a million voted for this lot but that failed to translate into any seats in Congress.

Two Communist parties! One calling itself the people’s communist party while the other goes by the name of the worker’s communist party. Message to Mr. Orwell: They are still at it, George!

Actúa (aka PACT) – this party was formed from what remained of the United Left party after it had joined forces with Podemos to be the new socialist option. Yes, really George! Not much has changed has it? They did not win any seats.

Curious Voting

What I still find odd, is how there can be regional parties in a nationwide election. Should that not be allowed? What is you wanted to vote for a Catalan party but lived in Madrid? Or you want to vote for a Basque party but live in Andalusia? As it is a general (national) election, should the parties all be obliged to stand on country-wide issues only? Afterall they already have their own regional governments. It is an odd thing but is certainly not peculiar to Spain. It is the same in most countries as far as I know.

It is certainly the same in most of the UK – albeit to a slightly lesser extent – with the Scottish National and Welsh Nationalist parties. And of course, the party divisions in Northern Ireland are (at least) as complicated as the Catalan situation.

Some famous (or should that be infamous) London based politician once said “If voting changed anything they would ban it.” Interesting quote if applied to this latest Spanish election. Even more interesting in the wider context…

Reading. Books worth the Effort.

Easter came and went. Dani spent a week in the village in Andalucia where his grandfather (abuelo) comes from – Benadalid. Meanwhile I worked and stayed in the UK. I did manage to acquire a few books to help Dani’s reading. We can work through them together this weekend. Which brings me nicely on to a subject that should be close to any parent’s heart…

Reading…

Reading is such a great skill that we can easily take it for granted. I know that I am guilty of not reading enough. So recently – probably spurred on by my son’s rapidly increasing reading ability – I have tried to make a start on some well known ‘classics’.

I am currently reading ‘Homage to Catalonia’ by George Orwell (review to follow in a future post) which is more than interesting given the number of posts I have mentioned that region in Spain. Even more so when you consider that there are general elections in Spain at the end of this week. Maybe I will include that in the same post.

A True Classic, Finished

I finished a book I have been meaning to read for some time. That book is The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. I think I read somewhere that this was one of those books you should read before you die. Maybe I am confusing it with several others? Who knows?

That said it was quite an interesting read. We all know the basic story right? Man gets shipwrecked as the only survivor. Lives on the island for several years then rescues a local native man from cannibals. That man – he names ‘Friday’ – remains his companion on the island until they are rescued by a passing ship.

Well. Not quite. There is a lot more to it than that: And not all of the adventures are on that island. I will not spoil it if you intend to read this classic, but I can certainly recommend the book. First published in 1719 it is a little difficult, even odd to read in places, still being in the original old English style. But it is worth the extra effort (in as much as there is any).

What I will say however is that he spent over twenty-eight years on the island. Far more than I had thought. I will probably read an abridged version to Dani some time soon.

Crusoe or Moby?

On reflection I may have been confusing Daniel Defoe’s classic with ‘Moby Dick’. There are ships and lots of sea in both. Moby Dick generally does appear in those ‘top 100 books you should read before you die’ lists.

So, I decided to do some quick research. Defoe’s book does appear in many lists – as you might expect. Here is a light-hearted look at just a few of them… with my comments. Some with links to the list.

  • Must read Classics : Defoe’s tale came in at 157.
  • Books That Everyone Should Read At Least Once : 187th out of 20,242 books — Clearly a long list but it had 92,525 voters
  • Best Books of the 18th Century :3rd out of 217 books — Was there that much competition?
  • 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 77th out of 1,325 books — In the top 100 in this list
  • Best Survival Stories: 16th out of 1,018 books — In a list with this title I would have expected it to be in the top 3 at least. Untill that is, I saw the list. Modern books such as the ‘Hunger Games’ series doing very well.
  • Books Set on Islands: 7th out of 656 books — Again a top 3 spot should have been expected in this one eh? Beaten by a few I had heard of including, incredibly; ‘Anne of Green Gables’! Really? Was that set on an island?
  • Stories Set On Remote Islands: 1st out of 59 books – now that’s more like it eh?
  • The Worst Books of All Time: 265th out of 6,969 books — Odd one, if not amazing.
  • Adventure, Fantasy, and Sci Fi Before 1923: 5th out of 158 books — About right.
  • The Guardian’s “1000 Novels Everyone Must Read”: 73rd out of 1,019 books — in the top 100 for this British newspaper
  • Desert Islands: 3rd out of 118 books — An obvious one
  • Best Wilderness Survival Books: 4th out of 156 books — obviously should be highly rated in this list
  • 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library: 18th out of 100 books – Would this list be considered sexist in this day and age? Who cares?

And then…. I found this one!

The Greatest Fiction of all Time  :  This list is generated scientifically from 107 “best of” book lists from a variety of sources. An algorithm is used to create a master list based on how many lists a particular book appears on. Some lists count more than others. Or so they say…

The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe comes in at 39th  place in this super-list; so I was not mistaken. And what do you know? Moby Dick appears in 37th place in the same list. Yet this tale of a whale does not appear on my imaginary (and ever changing) ‘must read’ list.

The Problem with Schools these days

Schools…and Indoctrination

Ok. This is actually a bit of fun on my part. However, there is a serious side to it as you will see. So; first the serious bit…

We live in an age where schools are becoming increasingly politicised. They are trying to teach kids certain things from a very early age that would never have been discussed when I was in school. Even at a school leaving age.

One recent example in the news concerned parents protesting and getting some of these so called “lessons” stopped. In this particular case it concerned “lessons” aimed at telling kids about trans-sexuality. Even I don’t know too much about that and neither do I want to really. It turns out that the parents were all of one particular religion and basically stuck to their principles. So far they appear to have won. I admire them for that.

Anyway, all that is a bit heavy for these pages so I will just finish the explanation by saying what teachers were allowed to tell us all them years ago when I was in school. The answer? Nothing. Nothing at all. If you ever asked them, they would not even tell you which party they voted for in the elections. They weren’t allowed to. Politics and anything politicised was out of bounds in those days. And I believe it still should be.

Collecting helps you learn.

Dani is as close to being interested in collecting something as he can be at his age. Collecting things like coins or stamps is great for kids.

He now has a fair collection of coins. I found a load of old money I had accumulated from years of visiting different countries and that was a good starting point for his collection. Occasionally he gets the coins out and we look at them and – obviously – he asks me about them. On this particular occasion he was separating them by country.

A Little bit of fun with old coins

Collecting coins and stamps is a great way for young kids to learn about the countries and geography in general. I actively encourage this. But after several coins had already been separated I decided to have some fun…

“Where is this one from dad?”

“Brazil.”

“This one?”

“That one is Belgium. You can put it in any pile you like because Belgium is not a real country.”

“What? It’s not a real country?”

“No. It is basically a made-up country really.”

“Where is this one from?”

“Portugal. Escudos. Before the Euro.”

“And this one?”

“Portugal again. Before Germany stole their money.”

“Germany stole their money?”

“Yes. Well, sort of. They made everyone use the Euro so the countries didn’t have their own money any more. Spain too. Spain used to have its own money, the Peseta.”

Enough… For now.

Counter-Indoctrination

Clearly I was having a little fun; for my own benefit. But there are two points to make here. Firstly some kind of balance is needed to counteract the continuous crap people get thrown at them. Even if it is half said in jest. Let’s call it counter-indoctrination.

Secondly; I would never tell him complete lies. There is a lot of truth in what I told him -albeit peppered with a little mischief.

There is another thing. And this is a combination of mischief and curiosity. I just wonder what they would tell him in school if he repeated any of these things. That could prove interesting. I may find out soon…If he ever tells me.

Chess, Judo and Oz

Games of Kings

Dani wanted to have a game of draughts with me yesterday. This was the first time I had played the game in years and the first time ever against Dani. Amazingly Dani did not know how to play properly. I thought he had played in school. I knew he was interested in chess. I knew that he knows how to play that more advanced game as I had helped him.

For some reason, and totally under my radar, he has skipped the draughts phase. Jumping straight up to the trickier, real game of kings. It was quite odd trying to play draughts while also teaching him. Knowing all the time he was just waiting to beat his mum at chess. Smart-arse kid….

Not only is he playing chess: Apparently he is the best in his class now. That honour used to belong to his best friend Jaime who goes to after-school chess classes. Now Dani has been told that he is the best chess player in the class. Or so he tells us

After school Judo

When Jaime goes to chess classes Dani goes to Judo – after school, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He had been moaning a little in recent weeks about not progressing. Meaning he knows that he still has the beginner’s white belt. Then out of the blue – for me at least – he announced that they had done their first grading. From white to a yellow and white (striped) belt. Next step (full) yellow belt. Then yellow and orange. Then… Well let’s see how it goes for the rest of this school year.

Either it crept up on him too or he kept it quiet. He has been doing it now for over 6 months; so that is slow but steady progress. I think it gives them the time to really learn the techniques to the point where they become second nature. I also think this half belt grading step is a better way for the young kids. Going for a full yellow belt would take too long and they might lose interest. It’s a great way of doing it.

When did they bring that in? Does anyone know?

Dani doing his belt grading. About to throw his much bigger classmate Jacobo.

From what little Dani tells me about his judo classes I get the impression that he does listen carefully to his ‘sensei’, who just happens to be a 7th Dan. That’s a lot of Dans! I think if he told me to do something, I might just do it.

Down Under a Step Closer?

Meanwhile… Dani’s mum returned from another trip to Australia and he was a very excited little boy.

This next week could determine whether or not the Australian adventure becomes reality. I get the impression that Dani wants to go. It certainly seems that he is not against the idea. The thing is, what of his parents? Will the deal be right? Does it even need to be? When will it begin? So many questions still to answer…

And finally…

I have written about these little parrot like birds some time ago (see here). But this weekend I got closer than ever to them. The monk parrakeets were too busy to bother about me although they are usually quite shy.