Return to the Zoo

Just shy of two weeks off a year ago we visited Chester Zoo. This week we were back again. Dani almost a year older and ever so slightly wiser. This time we went with his nana and younger cousin Stan. How would the two youngsters get on?

Regulars.

Stan and the boys’ nana have annual zoo passes – which were Christmas presents. So they have already been to the zoo several times this year. If we lived near enough it would be a great thing to buy. Visit as many times as you want in a year. Just pop in for a late afternoon just to visit a few of the animals? No problem. Turn up one morning for feeding time with the penguins? Easy! You only need to make a few visits and the pass pays for itself. Anyway, enough of the free advertising…

Call that a MAP ?

Of course the zoo is as great as we remembered it from last year but I do have one big gripe. The so called ‘map’ they give you has to be the worst I have ever seen. Totally confusing in places. Add to that the fact that the main stars of the show  are not always well sign-posted it is actually easy to go the wrong way. Not a problem when the weather is fine you might think. Also the zoo is really not that huge. But when you have two young primates jogging along between animal attractions, going a hundred yards out of your way a few times can start to add up. Now I am not saying this because I could not always figure it out. Everybody I spoke to about it said the same thing. How can (arguably) the best zoo in the country and one of the top such venues on the planet have such a crappy map? Beats me. Come on Chester Zoo. Please sort this out eh…

In search of Painted Dogs.

OK. Off the soap box and back onto the map reading… It was Dani’s mission to see the painted dogs this time. They had escaped us last year so this time we were both determined to see them. Meanwhile they were also on Stan’s list. Painted dogs, crocodiles and hyenas in fact. I had to explain to him that there are no hyenas at this zoo. I also couldn’t remember whether there were any crocodiles although I thought so. He kept repeating that he wanted to see the crocodiles. I would have to find them.

We found the painted dogs so a photo was needed. Getting two small boys to keep still for a photo is hard enough. The dogs obliged way in the background but the photo is still very poor. But not as poor as the map of the zoo. Did I mention how bad the map is?

Almost Everything. Including the Crocodiles…

An almost useless map never stopped us seeing just about every animal there was to see. At least those that graced us with their presence. The only animal we tried and failed to see was the Sumatran tiger. There’s always next time. We even found the crocodiles. They were the small Caiman type rather than the large man eating beasts you may find in the swampy Australian outback. It wasn’t their size that bothered little Stan however. It was their lack of movement. Ah well you can’t win them all…

The crocodiles lived in the ‘Tropical Realm’ building which also housed a fair number of tiny colourful – and lethal – frogs. For me they were as interesting as any of the other creatures at the zoo.

 Even the Extinct

This year there was a new feature. The Predators area. Basically no animals to be seen only models of extinct dinosaurs and similar Jurassic Park-like attractions. Very odd I thought that this section was so popular when it really belongs in a theme park rather than a real zoo with live animals. Naturally the youngsters like it. Dani was no exception. And it was OK – I suppose.

Even more bizarre was the fact that in the dinosaur area there was actually one glassed off enclosure which is supposedly home to Komodo dragons. Real life, large lizards. I looked for them. On the way in and on the way out. But I never spotted them. Amazingly nobody else seemed to even bother looking. They were only there for the models of the extinct.

Dani with one of the extinct models
No live tiger but we did spot this Sabre Toothed version

Giraffes and Chimps

While it is usually best to see the animals wandering around outside their ‘houses’ it can also be great to get right up close to some of the bigger animals. None more so than the giraffes. We were lucky enough to catch them at feeding time – indoors.

We also managed to see the boys’ close cousins wandering around outside. The chimps are always one of the most popular. For a reason.

Dani with some close relatives in the background

Finally. I have to ask again…

How can an establishment that is ranked so highly on the “zoo scale” (let’s call it) have such a crap map? It doesn’t add up. I can’t get my head around it. Enough…

 

Flying Semi Economy?

This one will definitely be filed under ‘Grumpy Old Dad’. I thought about it for a few days and cannot see how this one doesn’t fit the bill. That said, I am sure many you will agree with me. This topic is a problem. This could equally qualify under the heading ‘Angry Old Dad’.

Flying to UK 

It is that time of year again. Dani and myself have flown over to the UK so he can visit his family there. It all started well with an on time flight. We boarded. Dani sat in the window seat I had the middle seat. Then our row sharing passenger boarded. Some enormous fat bloke. Really. Far too big for one seat. He sat down next to me and I immediately had to lean towards Dani. This man was far too big for a single budget airline seat whose space is already limited. While most men my age are struggling to keep their midriffs in the 30s (inches that is) this fat man must have been over 100 inches in circumference.

It’s just not on….

This is not the first time. It has happened before and I have seen other unfortunate, normal sized passengers suffering the same space invasion. And there is no need nor excuse for it. Why don’t airlines insist on them buying a pair of seats so that they can spill into their own (paid for) space only?

I paid for two seats and got one and a half. This fat f***er paid for one and got the same. How is that fair? Instead of me leaning into Dani’s space you might expect such people to be the one to make the move. I would have been within my rights to say “Hey fat man. It’s your lard arse spilling out of your allotted space. Why the hell am I leaning out of the way?  You lean over (into the aisle) for most of the flight.” But I didn’t. I suffered in silence as people tend to do. But this will not be the end of it. I intend to make a formal complaint to the airline.

New Seat Class

So: Should there now be a new class of airline seating? The bigger airlines offer first and business class seating- both usually too expensive for most people. Many also offer something a little more affordable – usually called something like ‘premium economy’ or ‘economy plus’. I propose that these budget airlines offer a new service/seating Semi Economy or  Economy Minus ! You pay less but only get half the seating space. Why not? They are already selling limited space seats at full price for crying out loud!

Then when you arrive…

I have been using the relatively efficient Gatwick airport for months. For this trip we returned to the UK landing at the much smaller Liverpool airport. That disastrous combination that is Liverpool airport and the (ironically named) “UK border force” produced the predictable results of long, slow queues. The miserable and useless “border force”  dossers are the first impression many people get of the country when they arrive at the airport. It’s a real embarrassment.

Final thought…

Despite the seating situation  I actually ended up watching the ‘Shaun the Sheep’ movie with Dani. So in the end I probably would have spent most of the flight leaning over into my son’s space. But that’s not the point. Is it?

Am I over-reacting or do you agree? Has something like this happen to you? Please let me know.

San Juan and a Funny Cover Version

She was a fast machine she kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman that I ever seen

I almost forgot. Last weekend was San Juan. The midsummer festival. The summer solstice, longest day celebrations and all that…. Most places on the coast of Spain celebrate this late into the night on the beach. Lighting bonfires and jumping over them. Classic “where’s the health and safety?” Spain.

Meanwhile in Madrid, where ‘no hay playa’, some neighbourhoods (barrios) make an effort put on some kind of day and night San Juan fair. We went for a look at the feria in the nearby – and aptly named – barrio of San Juan Bautista. There wasn’t much going on while we were there. It was not yet night so things were only just getting busy. But there was a kind of “open mic” event on a stage. Anyone who could put a band together seemed to be getting their ‘5 minutes of fame’. Most were fairly good. But more surprising was the fact that most (while we were there) seemed to be young school kids.

She had the sightless eyes telling me no lies
Knocking me out with those American thighs

As we were leaving one such act took to the stage. The guitarists and drummer could not have been over 12 years old. The singer almost certainly younger.

There was something quite funny about it. Listening to a pre-pubescent boy of about 11 years old (I’d say), whose voice clearly had not yet broken, singing AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All night Long”. I suppose the original version is sung with that screeching – typical AC/DC style – voice. So maybe not that odd? But funny? Definitely. The boy’s command of the English lyrics was fantastic, but I wonder… How much of it does he actually understand?

Taking more than her share
Had me fighting for air
She told me to come but I was already there

What? No socks?

Dani – although he knows the song – was not that interested. He was having one of those moments. Moaning about not being allowed on one of those bouncy castle things. Actually, an inflatable double decker bus. The reason? He had no socks on! Really. He had sandals. And as anyone in Spain will tell you, wearing socks with open sandals is a serious fashion faux pas! Dani just suffered one of life’s paradoxes. How many kids will now wear socks with their sandals just in case? Hmm…

Back to the Song…

When that kid is older and he does understand the lyrics to that song he will definitely want to perform it more often. A classic AC/DC song taken from their Back in Black album. Maybe when his voice has broken it may not sound quite as funny? I am really not making fun. The boy and his band really were good. But it was hard not to see the funny side.

Cause the walls start shaking
The earth was quaking
My mind was aching
And we were making it
And you shook me all night long
Yeah you shook me all night long

And Finally…

 A quick word to AC/DC…

No copyright infringement intended guys. This was just a comical observation on your great lyrics.

School’s Out – for 3rd time

And so to this weekend…

Now to get bang up to date. This week Dani finished school for the summer. The end of his third year in full time school. Wow! Where did those three years go? Here is a link to a post about his first day back in September 2016. (Click here for that post)

While it is almost impossible to tell what he got up in his final week I do know that his class had a graduation ceremony the previous week. Hilarious I know. They all donned the cap and gown and were presented with graduation certificates.

Sadly I missed all this. If I knew it was going to happen then I would probably have made the effort. It coincided with the day of his school play where he played a snowflake. Just for the record that’s an actual snowflake that falls from the sky rather than the modern meaning of being from the “snowflake generation”.  I realise you cannot be at every single one of your kids’ activities and special days but the odd ones (like this one) are a little different. I feel bad that I missed this one.

I think they were celebrating graduating from the nursery classes (A, B and C). So next September they will be part of the normal school? That is to say primary (primaria) school. In my day we had infants and junior schools. I am really not sure. I know that sounds bad but here’s the thing…

Reading, (W)Riting and (A)Rithmetic

Traditionally (and oddly) referred to in the UK as “the three Rs”. Reading writing and arithmetic were always considered the basic cornerstones of any education. I believe that they still are. While I am still confused by the school system in Spain, I do know that Dani is gaining a good understanding of the Three ‘R’s. And that is all that matters to me right now.

In fact his command of the Three ‘R’s is enough to truly impress me. He even read a book to me last weekend. The Three Billy-goats Gruff. That classic Ladybird book.

Complete with “Trip-trap. Trip-trap”, “Out popped the Troll’s ugly head” and “…to eat the sweet grass” quotes. Fantastic. It should be mentioned in the same conversations as anything by Shakespeare. At least as far as kids are concerned.

What impressed me so much is that English is still very much a second language to him. Add to that the fact that English is a lot more difficult to read (certainly than Spanish) and you have a very proud old dad. His concentration was intense and I loved every second of it.

Still Top Secret?

I can get up to speed with the school system – and his school in particular – as and when he decides to talk to me about it. Maybe his recent graduation means that he is no longer bound by some kind of ‘official secrets act’. I am sure he will speak to me about school when he is good and ready.

When will that be though? Anyone?….

Who Knew?

Doing these blog posts encourages me to do a little research into some weird and wonderful things…. This one is no different. I found out the following:

“Three Billy Goats Gruff” is a Norwegian fairy tale first published around 1841. The first version of the story in English appeared in a translation of Norwegian tales by a George Webbe Dasent’s in 1859 ; He called his bookPopular Tales from the Norse in 1859.

And so here we are at the end of Dani’s third school year. A long hot summer ahead…

 

 

Weekend Catch-up – Football.

More catching up on previous weekends’ events. A few weeks back it was the last game of the football season in Europe, culminating in what used to be called the European Cup final. These days it goes by the name of the Champions League final. I know. It gets more boring each year as Europe’s top clubs – that is to say richest clubs – chase this ‘holy grail’. This year however it was a little different as the final was held in the Metropolitano stadium, the (relatively new) home of Atletico Madrid football club. To make it more interesting the final was contested by two English teams, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur (aka Spurs).

Flights and Hotels Rocket…

With so many English football fans coming to Madrid the price of flights and hotel accommodation sky-rocketed. Luckily I had bought my weekend flights to and from Madrid in advance of the semi final games. Of course I did not have to pay for a place to sleep. In hindsight I could have probably sold my seats for a tidy sum and used that money to fly to New York to watch what turned out to be an exciting world heavyweight boxing contest. Ah…real sport. Well at least those guys earn their money which is more than can be said for many ‘footballers’.

Madrid was once again host to tens of thousands of visiting football fans. Thankfully they behaved themselves.

Winners and Losers

Liverpool won the cup after a fairly boring game. We watched it in local bar. Dani takes a keen interest in such things. He knows who the big teams are and some of the top players. His favourite has just been sold by Atletico Madrid. One Antoine Griezmann. A big loss for the Madrid club. He has been bought by Barcelona and so Dani is now considering following him… by supporting Barcelona. Not the most obvious thing to do in Madrid eh? He is still learning…

World Cup Football Again? So Soon?

While on the subject of football…. The women’s world cup is now in full swing (so to speak). I’m sorry but it just does nothing for me. And female commentators even less. And that’s not just me. Every man I speak to says female football commentators annoy them. I make no excuses. You either like something or you don’t. And I do not like women’s football and never will.

I will not go into the detail but I will refer you to an old blog post on the subject…Click  here for that one. And rest my case. But of course, it is never going to be that easy…

So, for the record I think that if you really believe that women’s football is good – and you are a woman – then play it by all means. There is nothing wrong with that. A bit of sport never did anyone any harm. But don’t watch it! And please don’t try to put it on an equal footing with real (men’s) football. Partaking in sport and pretending to make it into something that it is not are two different things.

What’s in a Name?

Before Dani was born we pondered over a name. When we looked at the most popular names for boys over recent year Daniel was consistently in the top 10. (Although that was not the reason we named him Daniel.) Yet amazingly he is the only Daniel in four classes of his age at his school. A little odd I thought. So I decided to look up my own name. Christopher.

Everywhere I have worked – and there have been quite a few places – there is always a ‘Chris’. Usually more than one. I knew it was popular around my age group as I knew many from my schooldays. In the year I was born (1964) I found that it was the 11th most popular boy’s name. On further investigation I found that it was even higher up the rankings a decade later. Then in 1984 it topped the list. No wonder there is always a Chris around. I am sure Dani will experience the same thing when he is older. That said my name has fallen out of popularity in more recent times. By the early 2000s it had fallen out of the top 50 and almost instantly afterwards fell out of the top 100. A clear case of over exposure perhaps. Maybe when Dani has a child it may make a return. Fashion? Probably. It’s funny how these things come around years later. Just check the latest lists of popular names and you will see many that would have been thought old fashioned not too many years ago.

Boys Will be Boys (more catching up)

This one is another catch-up post. It was the weekend after Roberto’s Christening. A group of my friends had been planning a trip to Spain for months. The reason was a 50th birthday celebration.  The last one of the group to reach the 5-0 mark in fact. Any excuse eh? And why not? 

Another First for the boy…

As Dani’s mum was supposed to be going on another business trip to Australia it left me with two choices. One was to stay in Madrid for the weekend with Dani. The other was to take him down south to Torremolinos and a weekend with the boys. I know which one I preferred but I wasn’t sure about Dani. A weekend away with the boys. A lads weekend. Dani’s first.

We couldn’t get a return train journey to Malaga so we booked an early internal flight. A turboprop plane much smaller than the other aeroplanes Dani was used to. A bit of a roller-coaster ride on the approach to landing at Malaga airport too. A short taxi ride to the hotel and we were there before the main party arrived. It was a few hours before they arrived so we went for a walk to the seafront for some breakfast then had a dip in the hotel pool.

“All Inclusive” 

The hotel deal was “all-inclusive” so there was sure to be some steady poolside drinking during the day. Plus the odd dip in the pool of course. I was concerned that Dani might get bored or worse still that he might bother some of the lads . But I needn’t have worried. He enjoyed himself and never really made a nuisance of himself. All of the lads were used to dealing with young kids like Dani. Some are even grandads. Blimey!

There was even a group of hotel entertainers doing their best to ensure the kids and adults alike had fun.

Having fun with the hotel employees

There was never any danger of myself and the lads not getting value for money with either the “free” drinks or the extensive spread of food on offer at meal times. I never really got value for money for Dani’s stay though. He still eats like a . Practically living on just air. Still he ate enough.

     

Above: Neil (doing a good impersonation of Willie Nelson) looks like he is trying to form the Torremolinos chapter of the Hell’s Grandads. Meanwhile Dani tries to get in an early application for membership.

Dani takes a ride on Ady’s shoulders

Inclusive Hangover?

One good thing about taking Dani on a trip like this is that my responsibilities trumped any urge to stay out late in the evening. While the rest of the lads were sure to make the most of their short holiday and be out late, I would be fast asleep. Some would stay out very late. I have done it myself many times in the past. Not getting back to the hotel until the early hours of the morning. Hangovers were guaranteed. But not me this time.

We did go for a couple of early evening drinks but soon returned to the hotel. The little fella soon tired.

Another free ride. This time on Phil’s shoulders.

Time to leave…

We had to return to Madrid on the Sunday afternoon but the lads were there for one more night. After we said our goodbyes by the pool we went to collect our bags and order a taxi. Dani was noticeably upset. “I don’t want to go dad” he said, just about holding back the tears. He had really enjoyed his first lads trip. I am glad he did. There will be others.

Poolside before saying our goodbyes

One of the older chaps is 60 in the not too distant future. A 60th to celebrate? Why not? Any excuse for a get together and the ensuing piss up. Then one of the lads joked; “Then there is always Dani’s 7th!” Any excuse…

And 8th, and so on….

Roberto’s Christening

It has been very busy these past few weeks. For myself work has been busy – and not before time. Weekends are even busier as Dani is always doing something. I will try to capture what’s been going on in the next few blog posts. Here is the start of a quick catch-up of the last few weeks that I either didn’t have time to write about or forgot. (Probably the latter. It’s an age thing I think.)

Bautismo – Roberto’s Christening

A few weeks ago it was the Christening of Dani’s little cousin Roberto. His parents asked myself and Dani’s mum if we would be god-parents. Not being religious and also not being catholic I was not overly keen. I thought it might be a bit hypocritical as I know very little about the workings of the catholic church and am sure to hardly ever go into a church unless I really have to. But then I thought about it.

Firstly, the priest had said it was OK for a non catholic to be one of the godparents. Secondly, and more importantly, if Roberto ever needed me, it would not matter that I was not particularly religious. It would not even matter whether I was his godfather or not. I would be there for him. No questions asked. So; yes I thought; why can’t I be his “official” godparent?

What to wear….

After struggling to find a decent shirt I decided to try on an old sports jacket. It still fitted. It had been hanging in the wardrobe for years and I really do not recall the last time I wore it. What I do know is the year I bought it. I also remember clearly that I first wore it when I was godfather to my friend’s daughter Emily. That was over 20 years ago in 1997.

I thought I would have put on a few pounds since then. And I have of course. But the jacket is a good fit. Maybe it buried me back in 1997. That, I honestly do not remember.

Dani & Susana Read in Church

The kids did themselves proud. They took turns in reading out lines for the service. I, and everyone present, was very impressed. With Susana’s dad holding the microphone for them they took turns reading out in public. Susana had even written (OK, copied) the lines so she was reading her own handwriting. Very impressive for five year olds.

Celebration & Tall Tales

After church there was a celebration in a nearby hotel which had a garden area for the kids to play in. Not only that but Roberto’s parents had organised something for the many kids in attendance. None other than Superman and Supergirl. The kids’ entertainers.

Not all of the kids were completely impressed but the super-heroes they did manage to keep most of them occupied – most of the time.

At one point they all sat in a circle and Supergirl asked them to tell a story. Moving round the circle each child would tell a few lines. Each one following on from the previous kid. Not an easy thing for a youngster but someone had to start. It was Susana.

After a little pause she came out with it: “There was a unicorn and it had a long tail”. I really don’t remember the exact words but as she loves unicorns it was both funny and predictable. As was the next child’s input. The boy – probably a year or so older than Susana – turned this loveable unicorn into a flesh-eating zombie who went on some kind of rampage. Typical boys versus girls stuff.

After that there were several girls who somehow managed to turn the story around again. It was just about back to a fairy-tale complete with castle when it was Dani’s turn.

What do you know? The castle miraculously grew wings. Flew off and exploded. At that point even though I was laughing I noticed Supergirl grabbing Superman’s arm and checking his watch. As if to say, “how much longer do we have to do this?” Her face said it all. That was as funny as the kids.

And they all lived happily ever after…

Swim, Judo, Chess – A Modern Triathlon?

This weekend was even busier than normal. Saturday certainly. Sunday was busy again in the streets of Madrid. Yet more elections. This time there were two things to vote for; the local Madrid townhall and of course the European wide EU elections. So many elections yet nothing ever seems to change. Odd that eh? But I digress (as I tend to do) …

Swim, Judo and Chess

We usually start Saturday morning with a swimming lesson. I am sure I have written about this before so thought nothing of it and so took no photos. Anyway the swimming lesson went well. Dani is improving as is his cousin Susana.

In the changing rooms after the swim, instead of changing into his usual daytime attire, I dressed him in his judo outfit. We headed straight off to his school for a judo exhibition. Yes. No need to read that again. Dani took part in a judo exhibition. It was actually to show the parents what their kids were learning and also an excuse for an awards ceremony. It ended when the kids were handed their judo diplomas for the year by the three senseis (‘martial arts teachers’ in Japonese for the uninitiated). Sensei Fran (apparently a 7th Dan),  Sensei Maria and Sensei Cristina.

All the time I was thinking that there was something familiar about that Sensei Fran… Hmm…?  It will come to me.

I have to admit that I was expecting to need a needle and thread to stitch up my sides. The expectation was that it would be hilarious. But as usual these little kids proved me wrong. Ok, there was some funny things. They are only 5 and 6 years old. In the main however it was quite impressive. The photo above shows that there is a disciplined side to judo as well as the physical aspect.

This video shows Dani executing a basic judo throw. Koshi guruma – so Dani tells me.

At the end of the exhibition a proud old dad watched his little boy walk proudly up to collect his diploma.
  Wait a moment. I have seen that man before. Has anyone seen Breaking Bad?

When the kids had all received their diplomas they celebrated with a team photograph shoot. Plus all the usual antics you would expect from a group their age.

Then I realised.. That bloke; the 7th Dan sensei. It is definitely Hank. The DEA agent from Breaking Bad. Dopplegänger if ever there was one.

Chess Tournament

After all this physical effort it was time for some lunch. Then after a short rest we were off again. This time to another school for a chess tournament. It was held at the “sister” school to the one Dani attends, and in a different part of Madrid. The tournament was split up into age (school year). There were only 5 in Dani’s age group but there were plenty just a little older. It was organised by the lady who teaches chess to the children in after-school activities.

As the start of the chess tournament drew near the excitement levels rose. The noise levels rose even more. It all started well but descended into chaos as the kids in Dani’s age group started receiving help from older brothers and sisters. The adults had to remind them it was a competition. Kids being removed from the board area. In one of Dani’s games his opponent was winning but was clearly being helped by his older sister. Dani reacted as his old dad would have. He pushed over his pieces in frustration; effectively conceding the game. Not so much a ‘bad loser’ though. To his credit he had been cheated but even that was not the fault of his opponent. Over-enthusiastic siblings eh… I would have probably thrown the pieces if something similar had happened to me at that age.


Dani won his first and last game but lost the other two. He finished 4th but all five received a medal – as is the way these days. However to be fair they did announce the winners as such and everyone knew them. The winner in Dani’s age was quite an impressive player I have to say. In fact I was amazed how good they all were. I do not recall anyone playing chess at age five and six.

A Modern Triathlon?

Physical exertion against one of Mother Nature’s elements followed by hand to hand combat,  then finally a good dose of cerebral exercise. This could become a modern triathlon. It was certainly a great combination.

At this point I have to make a mental note plus one on this Blog… I must remember to write something for the previous few weekends. I know I still need to write about Roberto’s baptism. Also last weekend Dani came with me on a trip to Torremolinos with my friends. More on both of those to come…

Return to the Tree. San Isidro Weekend

This time of year is the Feria de San Isidro in Madrid. This year there was a slightly different kind of event for the kids. More on that below But first a return to an old post for Dani…

Return to the Tree…

Way back in March 2016 I wrote a post called Plant a Tree, Have a Son, Write a Book. This weekend – over three years later we returned to the Parque Felipe Sexto (the park named after King Philip 6th) where Dani planted his tree.

Amazingly, three years ago we never took note of the exact location of his tree. In these days of GPS coordinates we did nothing. When we planted the tree in 2016 I remember that the weather was awful. Wind and rain. At least that accounts partly for us not making a proper note of the tree’s location.

So it turned out to more of a guess than anything. We found two possible suspects but probably neither was his tree. Still he seemed happy enough to pose beside both. Judge for yourselves below…

     

The first one seems a little big for three years old while the second seems too small. Not to worry. We decided it was the first one. I am sure he will see the funny side when he is old enough to read this.

Interestingly there were plenty of new trees with names and dates written on the supports, planted last January. It gave me the idea that maybe we should do this again – properly this time – with his cousin Susana.

Speaking of whom….

Susana joined us in the park slightly later. There is an area with large kids slides built into the natural contours of the park and  zipwire (tirolina in Spanish). That part of the park was packed with families as you might expect. The cousins enjoyed the slides and burned a fair bit of energy.

Inner City Agriculture – Huertos Urbanos

The Spanish call them huertos. In the UK they are called allotments and are as British as tea and biscuits. However, they are a relatively new phenomena in Madrid. I had noticed a few some years back but now it seems wherever there is enough space between recently constructed apartment blocks the town hall is allowing these places to spring up. During San Isidro this year the town hall has advertised events for kids at selected huertos. So off we went.

The kids learn to recognise what the plants they eat actually look like. They get to water the plants; or at least are allowed to believe that they are watering them. They even prepare some simple snacks with some of the produce.

The day was hot just like the one in the park. It looks like summer is finally here.



A Load of Bull – Bullfighting: Part Two

In part one of this double bill I summarised some of the basics of bullfighting and made the widespread arguments for those against it. Here I will make the case for the other side of the argument. So stand by your beds. This will be no-holds-barred…

But first another Hemmingway Quote…

“The chances are that the first bullfight any spectator attends may not be a good one artistically; for that to happen there must be good bullfighters and good bulls; artistic bullfighters and poor bulls do not make interesting fights, for the bullfighter who has ability to do extraordinary things with the bull which are capable of producing the intensest degree of emotion in the spectator but will not attempt them with a bull which he cannot depend on to charge…” — Ernest Hemingway, from Death in the Afternoon.

It is more than likely that any bullfights seen by tourists will fall into the “poor” category in Hemmingway’s explanation. On that basis it is no wonder most (if not all) tourists will leave with a negative opinion of the subject. Most foreigners will almost certainly not have experienced what Hemmingway describes as a great spectacle. Of course he was a big fan and there are many who do not like to see blood.

What I do like.

I am not a bullfighting aficionado. I am not even an avid fan and I hardly ever go to a corredor. Therefore, it is hard to say exactly what I like about it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say why I do not object to this ‘sport’. Here goes:

The artistic side of it is one that surely cannot be questioned. The ritualistic ceremony, the wildly over the top suits, the colours, the sounds of the crowd and the bands all combine to create a true spectacle. It is a traditional Spanish event. If we are to celebrate so many cultures and traditions from around the world then why not this one?

Most of us still eat meat; although admittedly that could be a whole other debate. The bulls are killed and are eaten. Overall these bulls live a much better life than almost every other animal that ends up on your plate. A short bloody end could be considered insignificant to its full life. All other animals bred for your plate definitely do not have such a grand life. One could almost sum it up by saying that unless you are a vegetarian (who refuses to wear leather shoes) you are not really in a position to criticise. I can agree – to an extent – with the anti bullfighting arguments of a vegan. Or at least see their point of view.

Perhaps the anti bullfighting brigade should be protesting halal slaughter or slaughter houses in general. All equally as bloody as bullfighting.

Art and Danger Combined

Another pro bullfighting argument is that the whole thing is an artform. Once again Hemmingway summed it up quite well in Death in the Afternoon: “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

I challenge any of those who think it is a cowardly spectacle to get in there and do it. I certainly would not.

A quick note is probably needed here: Despite quoting him in these posts I am not at all a fan of Hemmingway’s books. I read one once and did not think much of it. I possibly picked the wrong one; which just happened to be about the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

But here’s the real reason…

The main reason I would not like to see it banned? Quite simple and it has nothing to do with cruelty or eating meat (or not) or even traditions.

Above all I do not like it when people say that it should be banned because they do not agree with it. Despite their arguments (some of which I can agree with) this is where many of them stand.

I cannot stand TV soap operas (telenovelas) and I liken them to giving the masses some kind of lobotomy. But I do not call for them to be banned. I just choose not to watch them. I eat meat but I do not call for vegetarians to be banned from restaurants. It is up to them.

What is certainly true is that you cannot have a fair debate (or indeed any debate at all) when the two sides do not agree on a common end goal. Bullfighting is one such subject.

It is not like war for example. Pacifists and military men alike can agree that war is horrible and possibly crazy but they will disagree on how to make the world safer. A pacifist may say certain weapons should be banned or at least controlled but a soldier will appreciate the classic Tszu Ghun quote: “If you want peace then prepare for war”.

There are those who oppose bullfighting bitterly and those who like it; love it even. There are also a large number who do not care much either way. Of this last group there are probably two camps. Those who would not care if it was banned and those (like me) who think it should not be banned.

Recortes anyone?

Recortes is a form of bloodless bullfighting and increasing in popularity. Basically it is a  style of “fighting” in which the fighter gymnastically dodges the bull’s charges. This is the kind of bullfighting you might see in Portugal and France but it is also widely practiced in the Basque area of Spain. The main difference between recortes and (normal) bullfighting, is the most obvious. The animal lives. There is no blood shed – unless the “bullfighter” is unlucky. After the “fight” the bull goes back to whatever field he was in. Great eh?

However, if you believe that this same bull’s meat does not end up on the plate and its skin does not end up in some market stall as a bag or jacket then you are probably deluding yourself.

Your comments on bullfighting are more than welcome. Tell us what you think.