Lunar Day in Korea

Spam hampers hit the shops.

Whilst wandering the supermarket near the hotel the other day I was approached by women in traditional dress – at least I think that’s what it was. (I wouldn’t really know would I?). They were pushing the special presentation sets of Spam, everyone’s favourite tinned meat…. They were especially keen to show me the reduced prices. all the while speaking to me in Korean seemingly oblivious to the fact that – just by looking at me – anyone could tell I hadn’t the faintest idea what they were talking about. Spam! Yes, I understood that bit. But all the other stuff? All I could do was smile and take the special offer leaflet and continue walking.

As I have written previously during my first visit here, Koreans have a particular liking for the tinned spiced ham.

Korean New Year

All this special offer gourmet food must mean one thing. The Korean new year – also known as Lunar new year, falling on the day of the second new moon after the winter solstice.

In the west we naturally refer to Chinese new year which we all know comes around this time of year – end of Jan early Feb. I never gave it any thought, that the same thing is also celebrated in Korea. And of course, Japan and Vietnam…and possibly more. This whole corner of the planet basically celebrates the same new year. This year falls on Feb 15th. All Koreans will celebrate over the next four days. Mainly by spending time with their families.

Spam Gift Sets…

It is an almost uniquely British thing to laugh about Spam. Due to the classic Monty Python sketch of course. It is also a generational thing. I doubt many youngsters in the UK would find it as funny as my generation. Even if they seen the Python sketch they have probably never eaten Spam. As kids we definitely ate a fair amount of it.

At the shipyard everyone has been presented with some kind of gift hamper (cesta) and many of them have a special Spam Gift Set. Just like this…

It makes me laugh anyway….

Unfortunately, we ex-pats will be working right through this period. Well, we are here for a short time so every day counts…Doesn’t it?

For those too young to remember here is a link to that sketch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_eYSuPKP3Y

Personally I don’t find it at all funny these days. It has clearly dated. The sight of Koreans walking out of the shipyard clutching their Spam gifts in special presentation bags however did have us British ex-pats giggling.

A Weekend In Busan – Part One

Part One…

An unexpected change in work schedule meant that I was unable to work the weekend. What a shame! It gave me the chance to see something other than the immediate area.

So, early Saturday morning I took the bus in to Busan. South Korea’s second largest city; only Seoul the capital is larger. It is the busiest port in Korea (9th busiest in the world)

Busan is pronounced Pusan in Korean and this was its former (western) name. No idea why it has changed but I am sure it matters not to the 3.5 million people who call it home.

In any case it is a big place. Built on the sea and a thriving port it is built on any available flat land in the area and some not so flat. Due to the mountainous terrain straight off the coast Busan’s development spreads like tentacles rather than emanating equally in most direction from an epicentre (like many large cities do). The geography of the area makes for an odd layout. Check it out on google earth to see what I mean. There is, more or less, a city centre but many areas seem almost isolated from it as the hills/mountains more or less separate whole neighbourhoods.

Despite being spread over a large area getting around is easy thanks to the underground trains. The Metro system has 4 lines each reaching out in two directions from the “centre” (such as there is a discernible centre) like an octopus thrown at the ground.

Gamcheon Cultural Village

In the south-west of the city lies a curious little area that has grown from a slum neighbourhood into a big tourist attraction. Gamcheon village is built on hills and was a former shanty town set up by mainly war refugees fleeing the north Koreans in the early 1950s. (Busan was the only area to remain free of fighting).

In 2009 the government set up a project oddly called “Dreaming of Machu Pichu in Busan” and students and artists were encouraged to paint the houses and the results are clear to see today. Since then, many a wall or open space has become an artist’s canvass and the tourists flock to see it. Even concrete steps have been transformed into works of art.

Pretty. Quirky. Funky. All of these words apply. But it is also now commercial and there are still thousands of residents living there. Not exactly a Machu Pichu I would say it resembles a Brazilian favela.

See for yourself….

            

Art brings walls to life…

   

Some call it art. I call it spooky!

I love this next photo. I am sure it is a parody of the place and not a serious attempt at “art” but I just love it.. I like to call this work “Underpinning with the best bricks money can buy”…

Café Street

Next stop the ‘centre’. A bustling area of modern shops restaurants and bars. Just off the crowded and extremely noisy area is a place known as Café Street.

     

It is actually a small grid of several blocks full of trendy restaurants, bars and of course cafes. The area is well advertised by those brown tourist road signs guiding people into the area. It is pleasant enough space to spend an hour or two and the Koreans enjoying their café were certainly dressed up for the occasion.

I had done so much walking and I was hungry; it was time for a well-earned rest. The perfect place for it.

To be continued…

The All Korean Olympics?

These type of jobs can go on and on. At least I have been told that. It occurred to me today that if there is to be a third working trip to Korea then it just may fall on my own birthday. Ironic considering that on the first trip I missed Dani’s and now am about to miss his mum’s

The ship I am working on is now surrounded by five FPSO (floating production storage and offloading) vessels. When the oil price is low the first thing the oil companies cut back on exploration. Some ship owners pay to moor their vessels and keep them ship-shape (so to speak). Ready for that inevitable rise in oil prices.

Even the new builds have been put on hold. The client refuses to take delivery so they do not have to pay the final instalments.

Someone always pays in the end though. Usually you and me 😉

Name that Face…

Here’s an interesting photo taken outside a place called the Tapas Disco. Seemingly pretending to be some kind of Spanish themed restaurant. I am yet to try it but will report on it as and when I do. It remains a mystery as to where the disco comes into it but I will endeavour to find out.

This is a large window to the side of the restaurant. There are famous faces – some historical, others from the world of show-business.

In the meantime see how many of these characters you recognise. Just in case you don’t know some of the historical figures their names are included. Zoom in and test your knowledge.

Olympic Fever?

The winter Olympics come to South Korea with the opening ceremony tomorrow. Not that you would notice around here. I am yet to see as much a s a souvenir T-shirt. I am sure it will be all over the TV but I will only see the highlights after work just the same as everyone in Europe. I am sure once it starts people will get into it. Personally I am only interested in the men’s downhill skiing. The rest is of little interest.

The winter games is always the poor relation of the summer Olympics. This time around is no different except for one big story. There is a Korean team. All well and good you may say. Personally I think that once the games have finished the cold war will resume. Probably with a vengeance. Speaking to some of the Korean lads at work it is clear that the South Koreans now see their northern neighbours as a completely different country. Apart from that being an obvious statement it has deeper meaning. The South Koreans no longer see the North Koreans as being the same as themselves. Perhaps that’s understandable after nearly 65 years of separation.

A Final Thought…

It has been sunny but cold here this week. With the added wind-chill factor, very cold. Especially first thing in the morning when the sun is just rising.

The ship is docked in the final quay on the yard before the open sea. When I stand with my back to the heavy industry and look out I see tree covered mountains, open seas and bright blue sky. It really is quite a beautiful place.

Then I turn around to walk to the ship. Which only goes to show; you can’t win them all….

Korean Adventure – Part 2.

Back to Korea

After a long wait I got the call to go back to Korea. Same job different month.

My little boy cried his eyes out when I left him at the airport. It broke my heart. Sometimes we have to do things for a reason. In this case I am telling myself that at least I will be able to spend all of his school holidays over Easter and take him to the UK to visit his family there. Not all dads can be with their kids all through their school holidays. I am certainly looking forward to that. I miss him though and it hurts.

Last time I missed Dani’s birthday. This time I will miss his mum’s. Timing eh?

The Long Haul…

This time my flight took me via Tokyo Narita airport. I hadn’t noticed when it was booked but I had 9 hours between flights at this airport. Too ling I thought Especially after already having spent the previous 16 hours travelling. I decided to take advantage of that long stop-over and leave the airport. Tokyo would have been too far and too big to try and see or do anything in such a short time so Narita city – only 10 minutes on the train – was the obvious choice.

As it turns out Narita has something worth seeing that be done in such a short time. There is the Naritasan temple. The official name is Naritasan Kongo-o-in Shinshuji temple and it was founded way back in the year 940 by Shingon Buddhists. Well more a precinct of temples and halls set in picturesque park area. These include a three-storied pagoda, the 58 metre high Great Pagoda of Peace and many others.

There were all sorts of spiritual rituals going on around me and I had no idea what it was all about. Everything in the reception buildings was in Japanese.

Great Pagoda of Peace

The old road that leads from the station to the temple is itself pat of the old world experience with many shops and restaurants in building that would once have been typical in all Japanese cities.

Much better than staying in an airport this was a great first experience of Japan. Although I had heard it many times I was still amazed how clean the streets are. Not one spot of litter.

Another thing I had heard, and read, was that they drive on the right side of the road. ‘Right’ as in correct. Yes; they drive on the left just as in the UK. Now I have seen it with my own eyes.

 

Meanwhile Back in Korea

That little Japan experience is now three days behind me and despite the jetlag and lack of sleep catching up with me I am settling back into the Korea

I had forgotten how hot & spicy the food is here. Even many of the cold dishes that could be part of a salad are red hot. After a couple of days though the body adjusts.

The weather is not hot though. Colder than the last visit. That does not stop the Koreans at the shipyard having an ice cream after dinner. The shop below the canteen does a great trade in a wide variety of frozen treats.

Maybe that has something to do with the spicy food. Maybe I should join them.

Peace and Hostilities

Meanwhile the eyes of the world will be on South Korea. The winter Olympics is due to start in a week. Not that I will see any of it as I will be working.

There appears to be a big love-in with North and South Korea fielding a joint “team”. But what after? What are the chances of hostilities resuming once the games are over? Watch this space…

Bad Luck or Just Bad Management?

Following on from the previous post here is a slightly closer look at the Carillion debacle.

Barely into the new year and the news broke that a large company handling many multi-million-pound government contracts had gone bust. That company is (or was) Carillion and included in their remit were several large hospital and school construction projects.

Everyone has a Carillion Story… Don’t They?

Now the name Carillion is in the news and everyone has a story to tell. OK, maybe not everyone; but I do. I once worked for a company when they (like many others) were taken over by Carillion. That company was known as Mowlem and their management was equally poor. And that is being kind. Back then Carillion was evolving into an industrial behemoth taking over many well-established engineering companies and dealing with an increasingly large number of important projects being handed out by the government.

In most engineering projects acronyms are used in documents and drawings for all kinds of things. One particular project more or less had its own acronym dictionary there were so many. An acronym by definition is an abbreviation formed by the initial letters from a group of words or phrase. One of those acronyms we used was for what was called the Southern Operations Building – literally an operations building at the southern end of the construction site– hence SOB. Obvious right? Well; read on…

Enter the “Management”

One day a meeting was attended by the overall manager who hardly ever visited or paid much attention to the obvious lack of progress. This manager was a woman whose name escapes me. With all the usual issues on a large construction job you might expect some helpful feedback or inspiration from someone so high up the food chain, right? Wrong. The only thing she seemed concerned about was that all references to the SOB needed to be changed to something “more appropriate” like “SOP” (her suggestion) to mean Southern OPerations building.

I had to think long and hard about that one. Finally, I realised what it was all about and my colleagues confirmed. This woman actually thought that SOB could be taken to mean Son Of a Bitch. That (still) pretty much American mid-ranking insult.

It Takes Your Breath Away…

This would mean changing thousands of references in hundreds of drawings and documents. Obviously at a cost. Yet this is what she insisted upon.

I remember thinking; REALLY??!! No; it can’t be. But it was true. This was the height of Tony Blair’s reorganisation of anything that may have once worked correctly. Such people were appearing almost out of nowhere and taking up highly paid positions in all kinds of companies. They still do of course.

In reality the acronym SOB probably does not conjure up anything to most people. Especially when being used in technical documents; you just look it up in the list of acronyms and abbreviations section of a document and there you will find the definition/meaning. If you were to visit a hospital in America as an outpatient complaining of symptoms like shortness of breath it is quite likely your record will have SOB written on it. In some circles “SOB” has a specific and, clearly in this example, important meaning. But none of this would ever be considered by managers like this woman.

Where does that leave us?

So, where does that leave us? What does that tell us about the people who run these companies? I use the term “run” loosely. They probably couldn’t run a bath if you left them alone.

When Carillion took over was its senior management any better? What do you think? I seem to recall that the ‘manager’ mentioned above left before the Carillion take-over; but sadly the new incoming management was equally confident in their own inabilities. Is it really such a surprise that Carillion folded like a deck-chair?

Just how are you supposed to explain this kind of thing to your kids as they grow up trying their best at school and making career defining decisions along the way?

Is there a new subject in schools that teaches kids how to hide in a large company, do as little as possible and get paid a lot of money for it? I doubt it; so where do these people come from?

More worryingly maybe; where do they go once they have ruined your project or company?

2017: A Quick Review – Of Sorts

As promised in a post at the turn of the year here is a little review of sorts for 2017.

Last year saw the usual mix of sad, tragic and exciting news stories from around the world. One which was both sad and tragic (for me) was the story of Charlie Gard, a subject I dedicated a few posts to last year.

Dani’s Year…

For my young son 2017 saw the end of his first year of full time school and the start of his second. As a result of all this he is now displaying basic reading and writing skills. He still has a long way to go of course but it is great that he starting to pick it up having only just turned four years old.

Dani also had his first caravan holiday in 2017. That most British of holidays in a trailer home right on the British coastline. It was also the year that he became bored of flying. No longer a novelty, more of an inconvenience. Such is the life of a modern child. I never flew in a plane until I was 16.

On the subject of travel; he is on his third ID card. The police even let him sign it. He also needs his third passport. These are required to be renewed every two years at that age as the child’s appearance alters significantly over the first six years. Fortunately the cost of new passports is a lot less in Spain.

There was another year that was mentioned rather frequently during 2017. That year is 1967. Why? you may ask…

An incredible Year…

1967 was an incredible year for many reasons. I could easily write pages about what happened during that year but one thing in particular got me doing some research.

2017 was the 50th anniversary of two huge landmarks in British legal history. This past year was a cause for celebration in the gay community as it was way back in 1967 that homosexuality was de-criminalised. This event received a lot of media coverage throughout 2017.

Also, 1967 marked another huge landmark in society. In August 1967 the abortion act was brought into British law. This 50th anniversary received substantially less attention from the media. By the time you have read this post you may feel that you know why.

Before I go any further I need to point out that I am neither for nor against abortion and definitely do not want to get into a ‘rights and wrongs’ discussion. I sit on the fence when it comes to the abortion debate. Not something I do very often as I tend to see most things very much in black and white. However, that said, these facts will almost certainly surprise you – if not shock you.

The Least Safe Place in Britain

Since being made legal there have been over nine million abortions in Great Britain. That may seem an unfeasibly high figure, but it is true. You can easily check the statistics online yourselves if you find it hard to believe. Especially when you realise that over 50 years the numbers average out to about 180,000 per year – which do not seem unrealistic. Still the overall total is something that should be considered in more detail.

That figure becomes even more incredible the more you examine it. Nine million is higher than the populations of many countries such as Serbia, Austria, Switzerland, Paraguay and Denmark to name a few.

It all begs the question: Does anyone know where the least safe place in Britain is? The answer might scare you, but it is both obvious and very real. That place is a woman’s womb. That may not be an “official” government statement but it is an indisputable fact.

Catalonian Stalemate

Meanwhile the Catalan saga rolls on. December last year saw regional elections with some of the main players either being locked up or in self-imposed exile in Belgium. The election results basically left us exactly the same as before the unilateral declaration of independence with the Catalan parliament having more or less the same make up.

Fortunately Señor Puigdemont uses his trusty droid to communicate in meetings from his new home in Belgium, somewhere on the planet Tatooine.

Back to the Present…

Less than a month into 2018 and most of the UK news already this year has been about the collapse of a huge industrial giant – Carillion. This large company has collapsed despite having been awarded plenty of multi-million-pound government contracts. Hard to imagine isn’t it? Some 20,000+ employees are said to be now out of work as a result of the collapse. Although in reality most of the skilled workers will have already found other work.

I have a tale about Carillion and more specifically the managers of such companies which I will share with you in my next post.

The Work Attitude Conundrum….The (No) Work Centre

Question:
Do I file this under grumpy old dad or simply shrug my shoulders and compartmentalise it away in my mind under “This is Spain”?

Ever heard of a high street business called “Work Centre”? A place where you can go and print, photocopy or laminate drawings and documents. They also sell a range of stationery and provide a photo printing service so can be quite useful at times. Anyway, I am sure you will be familiar with such places whatever they may be called in your country. Work Centre is widespread in Spain with offices all over Madrid.

I have used the one nearest our house on a few occasions. Last Monday was one such day.

(No) Work Centre….

I only wanted a single page. It took me nearly 10 minutes. That may not seem like a long time so let me explain. When I walked in there were 4 employees in the “work centre” and only one other customer. The customer was being attended to while the three other employees were stood in one corner talking about…well nothing in particular, but certainly not about work. The “work centre” was more like a No Work Centre. Even when one of the three attempted to join the world of work it took him forever just to print my page. Continually stopping to join in the conversation with his co-workers. Or should that be no-workers? What’s that thing people say about multi-tasking? Well you get the picture I am sure. The whole thing should have taken no more than two minutes. By now a third customer had entered the work free zone and was only attended to because the first customer was just leaving.

This is classic Spain. Not only Spain of course but definitely classic Spain. One of the things that most pisses people off about the place is ironically one of the things that makes it such a fun country to be in. Some call it a care-free attitude. But it can also be interpreted as a ‘couldn’t give a shit’ attitude – especially when it comes to work.

Paying Bills into the Bank

Although the most recent and fresh in my mind, this is nowhere near the best example I can come up with. That prize goes to a bank close to where we lived when Dani was first born.

I can’t recall which bank but it hardly matters. All banks in Spain – as far as I am aware – have similar odd policies of only allowing you to pay certain bills on specific days and times.

OK. If you are not Spanish or do not live in Spain let me explain…

If you want to pay a gas or electric bill then banks will only take the money/cheque from you on (say) Tuesday mornings between 10am and 11am. If it is a bill related to the town hall then this may be during a different timeframe, say Wednesday mornings between 10amm and midday. I really do not have the exact details to hand and certainly not for every bank but that is more or less how it works.

This one particular day – several years ago – I had to pay something to the town hall. It was that long ago I cannot even remember what it was. I went into the bank about 2 minutes past 11 o’clock fully aware of the strange rules for making payments.

The Conversation – Real and Imagined

The bank clerk looked at me then looked at the paperwork I had slid under his nose. He looked at me again and pointed to a small notice just to my left (his right). It said that these bills could only be paid into the bank between 10 and 11am on Tuesdays. It was a Tuesday. I didn’t need to think about that one. I looked over my shoulder quickly at the bank’s wall clock and saw that it was just past 11am.

 I looked at the bank teller and questioned, “No?” – as if to shout “are you taking the f***ing piss or what?!”

“No” he replied calmly, again pointing to the sign to his right – no doubt implying “can’t you f***ing read?”

Again I turned to look around over my shoulder – slowly this time – scanning the empty bank behind me. The only other people in there were more bank employees. There were five of us in total.

I turned to face the bank clerk again almost in slow motion as if to emphasise the fact that time was standing still in this place and not a lot was happening.

En serio?” I pleaded (Really?) – meaning, “There is nobody else in here for f*** sake!”

Then I looked over – almost gesturing – towards his co-workers who were busy doing not a great deal and repeated my plea.

En serio ?!!” – by now in a tone which at the very least suggested, “are you really that much of a c**t?”

“No” he said again; probably thinking “I wish this foreign prick would f**k off and leave me in peace”.

So, defeated and deflated, I turned in despair muttering some profanities under my breath as I traipsed out of this pretend ‘bank’.

Any Conclusions?

Sometimes that is just the way it goes in Spain. The over-bearing weight of bureaucracy that some people pretend is a hangover from the Franco era is in fact ingrained in almost every aspect of business life whether it is public or private sector. Or to put it another way; simply trying to get basic things done in Spain can, at times, be a real pain in the arse.

This kind of thing is supposedly rife these days. And clearly not only in Spain. It has been well documented by newspaper columnists and several explanations offered. One of them is that there is real a sense of entitlement in the younger generations today.

I will buy into that one. Or is that just me getting old? You tell me.

New Bedtime Stories – with a few Old Names

Bedtime Stories with a new Twist

I have had to think fast when telling bedtime stories lately.

While the old favourites like the Elves and the Shoemaker, Jack and the Beanstalk and Red Riding Hood still work most of the time, the recent obsession with Star Wars and a new (for Dani) TV show have taken story-time to a new level.

Quick TV Show Premise

That TV show is called Zak Storm. Basically, the series goes like this:

While out surfing, teenager Zak Storm gets sucked into some kind of giant wave vortex (apparently ending up in the Bermuda Triangle) after “borrowing” (stealing) his father’s necklace, which is really some mythical “eye” of some mysterious sea. Still with me? Zak ends up as the captain of a ship called The Chaos, which has its own rag tag crew and a talking sword (Calabrass). He then has to try to find his way home while fighting off skeleton pirates who appear more like robots.

Yes. Exactly!

I am not a big fan and I haven’t really been paying much attention to this TV programme. I am definitely not yet familiar with all the members of Zak’s crew so I simply decided to make them up.

Introducing the Crew….

The other day I introduced them to my son. Please be aware that no copyright infringement is intended. You just might recognise some of the characters from elsewhere…Story-time went a bit like this:

“Daddy who is on the ship with Zak?”

“Well. Let me see. Blue Beard, Peg-leg Pete and One-eyed Jack.” Names that came instantly to mind but no idea from where.

“Who else daddy?”.

I was already struggling. Then a moment of inspiration…

“There was his second in command. Roger Mellie”

(Laughing) “Roger Mellie???”

“Yes. He used to be on the telly. Then there was Biffa Bacon.”

(Laughing) “Biffa Bacon? Biffa Bacon!!? Hahahaa. What?”

“Yes. He likes to eat bacon and he hits people for the captain”

“And Biffa Cheese?” laughing to himself. “He likes cheese sandwiches.”

“No. Not on this ship. Then there was Johnny Fartpants”

More laughter…Lots more…

“He was the cook. Then there was Jimmy Two-Times. They call him that because he says everything two times, two times”.

“Daddy. Daddy. He says everything two times? He says everything two times?” (Laughs.)

“Yes. And he also had a friend, Frankie the Wop.”

And that is how it goes… We now spend most of the time discussing the ship’s crew and their special (or not so special) abilities, while I try to weave a bit of a story in between. He loves it. Almost as much as his dad.

Educational?

Incidentally, I have only just discovered that the word “wop”, whilst sometimes being used as a kind of insult, is derived from ‘WithOut Papers’. Many Italian immigrants to the USA had no papers when they arrived so they were branded ‘wops’. At least that is what I read online. It’s hard to know the truth about some of these things but that explanation seems logical enough to me. So there you go… Story-time can be quite an education.

A Three Kings Day Event With a Difference

I have filed this one under ‘Grumpy Old Dad’ but maybe I am just right. You decide…

Three years ago on his first Three Kings day children’s event at a well-known company the children received a DVD of the Disney film Frozen. Not exactly my cup of tea but an undisputed classic nonetheless. The following year it was “Big Hero 6” another excellent and popular animated film. Last year it was basically some sweets and a piece of cake (or something similar).

This year there was nothing.

Well not quite.

This Year’s Show…

There was a short stage show with Christmas songs by a group of actors who had obviously been hired specially. Three employees played the kings – as in previous years. One of the actors played a little girl who was asked about her expectations on the big day. This included a not so subtle message that what the ‘little girl’ really wanted from the three kings was to spend that day with her parents. Gifts were not really needed. It was becoming obvious that the kids were not going to receive any presents this year.

The kings finally appeared. They walked in one door and down one side of the theatre to the stage. One of them made an announcement that they had received a lot of letters from children and so had a lot of work to be getting on with (or something like that). Then they trailed off up the other side of the theatre and out through the other door. Patting a few kids on the heads as they went and sharing high (and low) fives with others – including Dani and Susana.

OK. I know. The true meaning and spirit of Christmas and all that… but seriously?

Seriously? !

The Award Goes to…

And so; – drum roll please -the Ebenezer Scrooge award for 2017 goes to Repsol, the Spanish oil giant.

It was the biggest con since Paul Newman “shot” Robert Redford in “The Sting” (awesome film by the way). And we all thought it was the Grinch that stole Christmas. Wrong.

The company is the highest contributor to the Spanish Treasury. Put another way it pays more taxes than any other company, organisation or individual. Put yet another way that means that they make a sh1t load of profit – i.e. money. So, you would think that they could afford decent gifts for their Three Kings day event right? Or any gift (if last year was anything to go by).

Not All Bad – perhaps?

Admittedly, Dani only gets invited to these things because his auntie works for the company. None of this grumpy old dad moan is about Dani getting a gift. If I want him to have something I can probably get it. It’s just that I was there to see it all and it didn’t seem right. Because the nephews, nieces and even grandchildren of employees are able to attend these events there are thousands of kids in total. Maybe as many as five thousand in the case of the main office. Even so, that still would only amount to about €40k of spending on some good presents. Probably much less if buying in such bulk. It may sound a lot but it is the proverbial drop in the ocean to this huge company.

The one good thing was that the kids really did not miss getting a present. I don’t think they even realised that they had effectively been conned out of a gift this year. I suppose that says something about the message they were trying to give out. In a way that was nice to see. Oh, and they did get some sweets and a chocolate milk drink. Still; I think a company the size of Repsol should be able to put on a good show and still give their employees children a gift.

Don’t you?

Meanwhile…

And now the big day has passed and all the excitement has disappeared as reality has dawned on the children – mine included. They are back to school today. Welcome back to earth kids.

There Goes Another One

And so, another year passes by and we enter 2018. I wanted to do a quick round up of 2017 before it ended as it was quite a year in some odd ways. Due to being away from home for a few days either side of new year I will have to make that recap in a week or so…

First Time Skiers

For the New Year period we stayed in the small town of Riaza north of Madrid. One of the reasons was the close proximity of a ski resort called La Pinilla. Dani and his cousin had their first ski lesson on the beginner’s slope at the top of the first chair lift.

It would be an exaggeration to say that they enjoyed their first experience locked onto two planks but they went through the motions nonetheless. Meanwhile those who wanted to ski made a few trips down the mountain and back up again.

It is bad enough for adults with those super uncomfortable boots but for the kids it is seriously hard work. Just getting them to put that unnatural footwear on their feet was a challenge in itself.

At least it was sunny and just enough snow. Once they were with the instructor they were more or less fine. To try and teach your own kids something so different is near impossible. Leave them with a complete stranger and hey presto! they listen.

A few days later – and in another year – they tried again. This time the weather was not so good but amazingly the kids went through the booting ritual with no fuss and had a second lesson. Now they are making progress.

Riaza

New year came with a bang. Literally. This is Spain. In the town plaza at midnight the fireworks went off and as usual some were very loud – not to Dani’s liking.

Riaza is a nice little town with an old (very small) centre built around a sand covered circular plaza. Perfect for converting into a plaza de toros. And that’s exactly what they do on occasion during the summer. The town is well known for its cordero (lamb) dishes.

At this time of the year they place a Christmas tree in the centre and decorate it with recycled (or should that be reinvented?) decorations made from used plastic bottles etc… (see photo)

And so thoughts now turn to the Three Kings and more presents for the little ones. Three days and counting…

   Geared up and ready to go? It doesn’t look like.

On the slopes. Well you will have to take it from me; there was a slight incline

      

Lavadero just outside the centre of Riaza, where the people of the village would have once gathered to do their laundry.

   

A typical Riaza doorway complete with crest.