Trees (and a Certain Flower)

One of the tools used by politicians these days to scare the people is a little thing called ‘climate change’ formerly known as ‘global warming’ and now morphing into various even more scary sounding things such as ‘climate emergency’ etc etc…

None of it scares me though. And judging by a recent chat with my son nor does it scare Dani. I say ‘scare the people’ but one could just as easily say ‘tax the people’ eh? Well work it out for yourselves. Meanwhile this is what Dani came out with the other day….

It’s all about the trees….

We were talking about oxygen (for some reason – don’t ask why). Then Dani said: “Trees produce oxygen. The trees give us what we need and we give the trees what they need”.

A phrase to knock down any eco-loon. Well maybe that’s a little unfair. What I (and many others) call eco-loons actually do have some good points to make. Not least about plastics, pollution and the general wasteful world we live in. The real offenders are the “climate change” loons. They have little or no real valid points to make apart from trying to scare the younger generation. It is a thin line between educating kids and brainwashing them. Sadly the latter seems to be more prevalent these days.

What he had to say certainly took me by surprise. He had obviously been taught that in school. Basic photosynthesis no less. I have wondered for some time now; do they still teach that in school these days? Hats off to Dani’s school at least.

You certainly hardly ever hear the climate-change-loons talking about planting trees as a possible solution do you? All they seem to bark on about (no pun intended) is paying more “carbon tax” and taking away our cars. And now, most recently (in the UK) taking away the boilers to heat our houses. Yes. With no solutions and alternatives on the table this is exactly what they are now telling us. What complete and utter crack-pots!

Which brings me to that flower.

Moonflower in fact. Not the actual flower however – a white tropical flower also known white morning glory – but that great album by Santana. It is an album that I have recently rediscovered. I say ‘rediscovered’ because I still own the vinyl (double album) version which I am sure sits somewhere in my mum’s attic. I recently bought the CD version. Even that sounds out of date now. Kids today do not realise what they are missing though.

I am actually hoping that Dani discovers it for the first time. I play it in the background while he plays. One of these days he will pick up on it and ask who it is. Then he will be hooked. This album was one of those great sounds of the seventies that kept me going through that long flight delay saga the other week.

What a great album it is! Released back in 1977 it is a clever mix of live performances interspersed with (new) studio tracks. If you have never heard it, I urge you to go out and buy it. You will definitely not regret it.

This was always (probably) my favourite Santana album. It features a cover of an old 1960s Zombies number, ‘She’s not There’ – which I also still own on 7 inch vinyl. Other tracks include ‘Let the Children Play’, a live version of the fantastic ‘Soul Sacrifice’ (a track originally recorded on their first album) and the title track ‘Flor d’Lun’ (Moonflower).

Meanwhile…waiting for another easyJet flight…

As I type this post I am waiting for another easyJet flight this time into Malpensa (Milano). And guess what? Yes. It is delayed nearly two hours. Or should that be two hours and counting?…

Time for a little Santana maybe? ….

EasyJet: The Writing is on the Wall.

Oh; what a difference a week makes. Call it coincidence. Call it irony. Something like an uncontrollable event waiting to happen. A dam about to burst. Like a cry from the movies: “Look out, she’s about to blow!”

But first a quick apology. This is a long one. Much longer than usual. I considered breaking it up into two parts (as I have done before) but I feel some of the impact would be lost so please bear with me… Here goes… Tray tables up, window blinds up, arm rests down and seat belts fastened and visible to the crew….

Timing (as they say) is everything

I could not have timed my easyJet criticism any better. This week saw a widely published story about easyJet flying with backless seats. Here is a link to one version. (There are many just search easyJet backless seat.) The company themselves had to back-track and admit that there were seats on a plane with no back support – but of course no passengers were allowed to sit in them. The damage was already done however. And not by the story itself. No. I believe the fact that easyJet’s Public Relations (PR) is so lacking in ability that this whole episode has spectacularly back-fired on them. Firstly, they tried to say that the origin of the story had no basis in fact. Bad move for sure. It may have originated from someone devilishly bending the truth but the story (tweet actually) did have good grounds for being aired. If only because it made a witty comparison with easyJet’s biggest rival Ryanair. (Which was surely the point.)

Finding the right staff is a universal problem – more on this below. Does easyJet have a PR staffing issue?

Never say ‘Never’

If easyJet’s PR people can be accused of not doing their jobs properly – which they definitely did not in this case- then Ryanair’s PR team are the exact opposite. They never sleep. Strangely, Ryanair encourage stories like that backless seat tale. They seem to work on the basis that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Only free publicity. Getting their name in the headlines. Someone at Ryanair could surely be heard saying “Shit! Why didn’t we think of that one?” (Again, probably the whole point of the original tweet for this story.)

And so; my joyous time of flying with easyJet could soon be at an end. Although I am not expecting Ryanair to be any better. It just goes to show you can never say ‘never’. After years of telling people that easyJet were much better than Ryanair and that I would never fly Ryanair I have come full circle.

Welcome to that world….

The truth is that easyJet have now become everything they were set up to oppose. They are now the large airline that takes over whole airport terminals and on which millions of travellers depend.

There’s an old saying: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Also known more officially as ‘the law of unintended consequences.’ Way back in the 1995 a young Greek-Cypriot businessman called Stelios Haji-Ioannou launched easyJet. Their main selling point was that the flights themselves were cheap. You had to pay extra for other things like snacks and drinks. It launched with the phrase “the no-frills airline” which these days has been overtaken by the more commercial and now ubiquitous terms like ”budget” or “low-cost airline”. He completely transformed the airline business. Blimey! This had a bigger impact on flying than the Hindenburg ever did!

At that time the target in their sights was not just any well-established (and large) carrier. The main target was British Airways (BA). easyJet revelled in slagging off their much larger opposition at any opportunity. They gloated at BA’s frequent delays and the general problems that BA encountered with managing such a large number of flights and passengers. EasyJet seized on any bad press that airlines like BA received.

They of course were different. You never had to worry about the complicated stuff with them. If all you wanted was a cheap seat on a flight then it really was “Easy”. Right?

Wrong.

Now Here’s the Thing….

When your company becomes that large do you really expect to maintain the same high level of staff selection and training? Of course not. When you need thousands of extra staff to run the operation (such as basically running a whole airport terminal) you can expect that some of them will not be what you are really looking for. But what the heck? You need bodies, right? Indeed with the standard of education these days I would expect that a fairly large percentage of applicants would be unsuitable…(an old dad’s dig at the current state of the education system there folks). And so it is. The evidence is clear for all to see where any large company tries to operate.

And so, to last week’s coincidence…

Following on from previous posts and the main-stream media latching on to the backless seat story, this happened…

Last weekend my flight with easyJet was delayed by over 4 hours. The reason – excuse if you will; the words are often interchangeable I have found – was that the captain noticed a strange smell just after we started boarding. I could have told him exactly what that smell was. “Shit!” Because that is what easyJet has become.

Now before anyone jumps to any wrong conclusions let me state for the record that in this case the real reason was ‘safety’. He was quite correct to raise the issue and the odd ‘smell’ had to be investigated. He was correctly following protocol. But that was never the real problem. Once again, the easyJet ground staff came to the fore. Probably equally to blame are those working in the background. The ones you never see who are supposed to be dealing with the planning and logistical operations. And finding the quickest solution to problems like this one.

Unfortunately for us passengers, it meant disembarking (without even flying) and being herded once again like cattle. We had already been left standing in a confined space (aka the boarding bridge?) for a long period. Then we were let out onto the ground. Some of us standing in the sun with no shade, for another long wait. So to then be told we had to leave the aircraft was a little too much.

Now; Milano Malpensa may not be the worst airport I have ever been in (I would need to think on that one) but trust me;: If you had to choose an airport to be stuck in, Malpensa Terminal 2 would most definitely not be it. Only one decent place to sit and eat and large queues for any other refreshment point. Packed – especially at this time of the year – and only easyJet flights. And being a safety-related issue the wait was bound to be long.

That ‘knock-on’ effect again…

It is every travellers’ worst nightmare. But even that was not enough. EasyJet saw fit to change the departure gate. Herded once again. Then left standing for yet another long wait. Even when on board (the new aircraft) there was a further delay. This time blamed on the air traffic control at our destination, Málaga. I couldn’t care less at this point. The damage was already well and truly done.

Interestingly, the ‘new’ aircraft I refer to was one already at the ‘new’ departure gate. Bound for Barcelona. So yet again easyJet decided to ‘rob Peter to pay Paul’. Rather than have our flight even further delayed they probably swapped planes. The knock-on effect being that the passengers flying to Barcelona were now going to be delayed more than was necessary.

Despite running the whole terminal easyJet still do not have any spare aircraft waiting on standby. At least that is what all the evidence would suggest.

‘Traveller’s Welfare’ pre-paid cards – one of the things the airline is obliged to do….

Before all that however the ground staff issued every passenger with prepaid plastic ‘Traveller’s Welfare’ cards to the tune of 9 Euros. I received two such cards each worth €4.50. I had an image of a cold beer in my mind. But the only places I could exchange these cards for a beer were already crowded. There was no way I was going to be able to ‘spend’ these vouchers. I held on to them.

Then on the plane when the ‘Bistro’ trolley arrived I ordered a cup of tea and a chocolate bar. The total came to exactly €4.50. I promptly presented one of the pre-paid snack cards.

“Here you go.”

“I am sorry sir. We cannot accept these on board” came the fully expected reply.

“I am also sorry. Sorry that I could not manage to spend these cards in the airport. Not only is there nowhere or hardly anything to spend them on, but, where there is anything the queues were too long. It was virtually impossible to spend them. So, you can have them as payment for this little snack. Surely if they are worth four euros fifty in the airport they can be worth the same up here?”

“We cannot accept these on-board sir” repeated the stewardess.

“Well in that case give it back to me” I said, half the chocolate bar already stuffed in my mouth. “Because that is all I have.”

There was clearly only going to be one winner in this exchange. Guess who?

OK, a little white lie there, I did have some cash but who gives a f**k at this stage right? I had had enough at this point but had completely held it together. Seriously. While other passengers were becoming more agitated throughout the unfolding delay, I was totally calm. While others were chasing EasyJet staff in a futile attempt to find out what was going on, I was watching (and smiling) from a safe distance lost in my music. Never underestimate the power of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and other classic sounds of the seventies.

More irony…

As far as I could tell they neglected to inform passengers of their rights to claim €250+ each. Yes, that’s correct. Each passenger is able to claim 250 Euros in compensation for any flight being delayed by more than 3 hours. This is European law. Were they trying to sweep this delay under the carpet and avoid paying a full plane of travellers their due? Who knows? But it is fair to assume that they were.

I have already put in my claim for compensation and easyJet have agreed to pay me some £232 (pounds) – admitting it was their fault. The delay caused me to miss the bus I had already booked and paid for to reach Marbella and see my boy. I had to take a taxi, costing me another €80. Ironically, I booked a bus an hour later than the one I could have booked – if the plane arrived on time. The reason? Because I know full well that easyJet flights are now always late. For me there has not been an on-time departure for well over a year and I have taken two easyJet flights per week (sometimes more) in that timeframe.

Moral in this tale?

If there is a moral in this sorry tale then it has to be this:

EasyJet have become the very thing they were set up to oppose. They have morphed into a huge airline. So large that they have taken over whole airport terminals. They can never hope to attract enough quality staff that are clearly needed to make the operation run smoothly.

They have become what they claimed their former nemesis British Airways once were.

EasyJet vs Ryanair – Let the battle commence

Step Forward Ryanair….

Having recently felt the need to vent my spleen (so to speak) with EasyJet, I also made the comparison with that other well known budget airline Ryanair. How ironic then that I ended up using that most infamous of budget airlines once again…

 Using Ryanair…

A company I needed to visit in Italy is located close to Bergamo airport. It just so happens that This coincided with my weekends in th south of Spain with my boy. Even more of a coincidence was the fact that Ryanair fly between Malaga and Bergamo. Conveniently for me eh? Well, we are about to find out…

The flight began boarding on time, as advertised on the flight information screens. A good start. Unfortunately, as soon as I got on board I noticed the stuffy climate. There was hardly any ventilation. So, those who pay the premium and board first (so called ‘Priority Boarding’) – including myself of course – managed to soak their shirts in sweat. Quite uncomfortable. Everyone seemed to be commenting on how hot it was and/or fanning themselves while trying desperately to get some respite form the overhead aircon units. Not the best of starts.

But then after that once boarding was complete and the doors were closed the aircon kicked in and off we went. Ok. Not quite. There was a slight delay while “waiting for an air traffic control slot” – that well used, official excuse.

After that I tried to sleep a little. I must have succeeded as I managed to miss the in-flight catering service. What a shame! We landed about 20 minutes late in the end.

Conclusion?

Too early to say, but I do have a few more Ryanair flights coming up in the next couple of weeks so I will reserve judgment until a later time.

Taxi and Hotel

The real fun started when I took a taxi. About 6km from my destination the taxi suffered a tyre puncture. The driver limped the car off the road to a nearby petrol station where he attempted to get it fixed/replaced. This was not going to be done quickly so I sent a message to the people I was to be working with. They came and collected me within 10 minutes. Not before the taxi driver charged me 48 Euros however! The cheeky f**ker!

My company had supposedly booked me a hotel for the week. It turned out that this was at Bergamo airport! What? An airport hotel was the last thing I needed. Then one of the guys I was working with suggested I stay at Lake Iseo. It was much closer than Bergamo airport and a much nicer place to spend a few nights. He even found a place online and phoned them to check price and availability.

I took it. A small hotel in a small town called Sarnico, right on the lake. A better price, much closer to “work” and such a beautiful setting. And, importantly with lots of great restaurants. My first ever visit to the Italian lakes. Various people have told me in the past how they had loved their time spent in the Italian lakes. It only takes a split second to see why. This work thing can be just about bearable sometimes.

Meanwhile, in Italy…

I like Italy and sometimes think that I haven’t spent enough time seeing what the country has to offer. Many people compare Italy with Spain. They say it is similar in many ways and they like it for much the same reasons; Italy, it is often said, is like Spain but more polished. Like Spain might be when it’s finished (Spain always looks like some building or roadworks needs completing). Another comparison you may hear is that Spain is like Italy in many ways but has that added chaos. Or even that Spain has that ‘couldn’t give a damn attitude’. John Hooper’s book The New Spaniards mentions this. He suggests that this is what people love about Spain. The ‘mañana attitude’ and chaotic things that can make Spain so frustrating also make it such a fun place to be.

Which reminds me: John Hooper wrote a similar book about Italy called The Italians which I feel I must now read.

Green Eggs and Ham

Here are a few Bits n Pieces from the past few weeks….

Dessert and coffee before your dinner sir?

Before I forget….To follow on from the previous post – basically a moan at the declining service offered by EasyJet – I must mention their in-flight catering.

Normally I never bother. Either I am trying to sleep (on the early morning flights) or I have something at the airport before boarding. However, last week I found myself in the position of needing to eat something on board or have to wait a few hours. I was already hungry.

I looked at the “Bistro” menu on board. I decided to go with the Meal Deal. Basically for just under 10 Euros you get a choice of “main” course, a choice of snack (mostly sweet/chocolate) and a drink. The “main” course I asked for was not available. In fact, only one (out of about 10 so called choices) was available. The other two selections were straight forward. I ordered a Kit-Kat and hot tea. After serving me my chocolate (dessert) and cup of tea the lady informed me that my “main” course had to be heated up and it would take about 10 minutes. What? Are you kidding me? Why couldn’t you have said that before serving me my dessert and drink?

When did anyone ever go into a restaurant and have their dessert and a coffee before their main course?

Needless to say, that pissed me off. Another nail in the coffin for EasyJet – as far as I am concerned. Guess who will not be dining from EasyJet’s so called ‘Bistro’ service in the future? (No prizes for the right answer – sorry.)

Green Eggs and Ham

Speaking of dining. I went on a work-related trip recently to a small town in Switzerland and almost forgot about this one. Probably as my photos were on my old mobile phone.

When I saw these eggs at breakfast, I immediately thought of Dr. Seuss. It gave me the perfect photo opportunity. I just looked that up and it was written in 1960. Four years before I was born!

I am really not sure whether they paint them or not. If not, then how and why are they green? (And there were also yellow, and red eggs.) I meant to ask at the hotel but sadly forgot. Come to think of it; why would anyone paint the shells of a hard boiled egg anyway?

Dani’s Own Blog

Dani is doing his own diary this summer. Documenting his activities in his own handwriting. We have all tried to keep a diary and it can be difficult. This Blog thing is hard enough for me so I can only imagine what it is like for my son, a young kid whose mind is running riot most of the time. It is probably more accurate to say that he is being forced to write a summer diary. But still… he sometimes seems to enjoy it.

Although he may not always want to do it he certainly has plenty to write about….

Dani in Marbella

This time of the year most of Spain seems to be on holiday. Apart of course from those who work all August to serve and accommodate the holiday-makers. Usually it gives Dani (and his cousin Susana) the chance to spend time at their grandmother’s place in Marbella. Basically, that means spending their days playing in the communal swimming pool or on the beach. All the while getting more and more tanned. More on that one later…

For myself and Dani’s mother – and indeed all parents – August can be tricky. This year I have managed to wangle my flights in an out of Malaga in line with my work. Lucky, I guess – for once. Because this August, bizarrely, my work has taken me to Italy for a few weeks. Those weeks coincide with Dani’s stint in Marbella. That means it’s Italy-Malaga flights for his old dad.

And that is where the EasyJet-Ryanair comparison becomes reality….For more on this please see the next post.

 

Flying Problems – The Knock-on “Delay”

Regular readers of this Blog will know that my airline of choice is EasyJet. Maybe that should be my default airline. There is sometimes a choice but by the time you factor in my regular membership it is really not worth considering the other options. In any case when I book in advance EasyJet are usually as cheap or cheaper as their opposition. Recently however the EasyJet operation has become very poor. I have noticed the quality service decline rapidly over the past year and this fall shows no sign of slowing.

Before I explain in detail some of their issues I must point out that, in general, the in-flight crew are never a problem. I believe the real problem lies with the management and size of operation. To put it in simple terms; EasyJet is now too big and the operation has become something they always tried to compete with (and indeed criticise) when they started up. The management clearly struggle to cope fit the business model into the now huge size of their operation.

The “Delay” Trick

When EasyJet have several flights to and from the same destination this is what they do to handle a delay.
Once one flight is “delayed” they start to increase the new “estimated” departure time. This increases slowly until the departure time of the flight is almost the same as the scheduled time of the next flight to that same destination.

Then a delay appears to the following flight time. This second (knock-on) delay begins to increase until it is clear that the flight you were initially going to board is actually the next scheduled flight.

Meanwhile the time for the (official) next scheduled flight can be seen disappearing into the distance. That one too will become the next flight in the scheduled list.

When you finally board your flight (i.e. the next scheduled flight) they give you some cock and bull story about your flight (by which they actually mean their next scheduled flight) having been delayed some other place for whatever reason…

The reason? Well it is simple. If your flight really was delayed by more than three hours then they would have to pay every passenger at least €400. This has been EU law for quite some time now.

Much better that they put you all on their next scheduled flight – which will generally be within that critical three-hour period. They then need to kick that flight down the road so every flight gets impacted. Unless of course they can recover a plane or until any genuinely delayed flight finally arrives then they can slot it into that list of scheduled flights. Probably the last flight of the day to your destination.

This is how it works…

To better illustrate this see the list below. Times are just examples
(Example) Flights from Gatwick to Madrid.
Flight 1: Scheduled departure 1300
Flight 2: Scheduled departure 1530
Flight 3: Scheduled departure 1740
Flight 4: (Last flight of the day). Scheduled departure 1930
Flight 1 is delayed (possibly genuinely) and it looks like it may be delayed till after 1600 hours. EasyJet start increasing the delay times on the departure information screens at the airport until the (new) departure time is more or less the same time as (scheduled) Flight 2 – say 1520. When you finally board and take off however it is clear that you are leaving on Flight 2. Not Flight 1!

But your overall delay time is only 2 hours 30 minutes (max) therefore within the compensation pay-out timeframe.
Meanwhile – usually an hour or more after you were informed that Flight 1 was going to be delayed – Flight 2 starts to show a delay. This delay time increases rapidly until it basically morphs into Flight 3.

And so on… By the time the final flight of the day is due any genuinely delayed flight may have caught up or been recovered/replaced. At least that is what the airline hopes will happen. That way they will never have to pay out any compensation but will have delayed many passengers by virtue of this knock-on effect.

Should I Start Flying Ryanair?

The way this lot are performing I may well start flying Ryanair. Now there’s a phrase I never thought I would hear myself say, never mind write!

Maybe I need to clarify that statement. A couple of months ago I read a Newsweek article (link here) which listed the ‘15 worst airlines in the world’ as voted for by passengers. The list was the result of a survey by a group called Air-Help.
Ryanair faired slightly better than EasyJet; coming in at 5th worst. EasyJet came in 3rd worst. Although on closer inspection of the data EasyJet actually came out slightly better than Ryanair on both timing and “service”.

Well what do you know? I am about to find out….

 

What do Busy Airports and Father Ted have in common?

I am playing catch up again. I have been busy and have neglected my (Dani’s) blog posts. So here goes. Right off the top of my head and thinking back a few weeks…

Return to Madrid

We returned from Dani’s week long visit to his nana’s via Liverpool airport. By now the holiday season getting into full swing. The airport was busy. People seem to find money for holidays no matter what. In fact looking around the airport I was amazed how poor most of them looked. They may be able to afford exotic foreign holidays by many seem unable to afford any new jeans. So many of them waking around with holes and rips in their pants.

Fashion! (turn to the left)

I believe it is the fashion. I just laugh. Practically in their faces. I even saw a girl with big holes in the front of her denim jacket. Then as she passed I looked round and saw that the back of this ‘garment’ was virtually missing. Basically one huge hole. I almost pissed my pants (with no holes or rips I might add). I laughed aloud actually. Because it reminded me of my favourite sketch from that classic comedy series Father Ted. The ‘Dirty House’ episode to be precise.

Here is a youtube link to that sketch. Absolute classic. It makes me feel like having a Father Ted binge watch. Yet these people think it is OK to walk around in such gear. They even pay good money for it. In the case of that “jacket” she really only paid for a collar, two sleeves and the shoulders. To quote a Father Jack; What the feck!

Fashion! Indeed. We really are ‘the goon squad’ – as the legendary Bowie sang.

Dani managed to visit a beach in North Wales and go in the sea for the first time this year. The weather was that good. Sadly I have lost the photographic evidence. My phone packed in recently and led to a fairly long running saga – more on that one to come. Which brings me onto anther subject.

Mobile phones.

Why are people so transfixed with them? I managed with an old one for a couple of weeks. Without one completely for a couple of days.

I am probably one of those people who can confidently say they need one. I work away from my son, I work freelance and I am often in other countries. But I hate them. Yet it seems to me that most people (especially youngsters) who would rather cut off one of their legs than give up their mobile phone. What is that all about?

Back to air travel…

And finally – for this post. While we had a good flight back to Madrid I have had a few bad experiences with a certain budget airline recently. They have definitely fallen out of favour with me. This is just a reminder to write something about that… In the very near future…

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…